Pope and World Council of Churches chief to meet this week

By staff writers
December 2, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI will welcome the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches to a private audience at the Vatican on 4 December 2010.

This will be the first meeting of the two church leaders. The Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit has been head of the WCC since January of this year.

The ecumenical body links together several hundred Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and indigenous denominations. The Catholic Church is not a member, although there is significant cooperation on faith and order and mission and society issues.

In an interview several days prior to his visit to Rome, Dr Tveit indicated the key topics he hopes the two men will discuss, which include the search for church unity, support of Christian communities in the Middle East and renewal of ecumenical commitment to common action in the world.

First on his agenda is a reaffirmation on behalf of the WCC to seek visible unity in Jesus Christ. “The calling that is the starting point of the World Council of Churches is also what is driving us today,” said the WCC General Secretary.

This calling is the vision for Christians found in John 17.21 in the New Testament, “the prayer of Jesus Christ that they all may be one”. He added, “What encourages us is that this calling is something that many share as a high priority, and I know that this is the case with Pope Benedict.”

“It is important that we speak honestly in this meeting about the challenges we have,” Tveit continued. “There are expectations for the ecumenical movement that have not been fulfilled, and there are tensions arising in and between churches. Therefore, it is even more important now to stay with our commitment and to reflect what this call implies in our daily life as Christians all over the world.”

Even so, Tveit hopes “to focus on our common calling to mission and unity and on what it is possible for us to do together”. This is particularly appropriate at the close of a year during which Christians have celebrated the 100th anniversary of the origin of the modern ecumenical movement at the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, as well as the 50th anniversary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU).

The call to be one in Christ, he explained, “is about everything we do as church, as members of the church or leadership in the church. It is definitely about how we work theologically on what the church is, how we understand the basic ecclesiological questions that are still an obstacle for visible unity – like the issues of the eucharist and ordained ministry.”

“However,” Tveit continued, “it is important for me as the leader of the WCC to point to the fact that we as a fellowship of churches in the WCC are addressing this call every day in many ways and that we do it on the ground in many parts of the world together with the Roman Catholic Church. I very much appreciate what Pope Benedict has said on many occasions: how he is committed to the work of unity, how he is committed to the mission of the church, to work for justice and peace and to the sharing of the church with new generations.”

Tveit also plans to discuss the situation of Christians in the Middle East during his audience with Benedict XVI. He notes that Pope Benedict has stressed the need for a strong Christological emphasis in the work of unity, and the WCC General Secretary has spoken of an “ecumenical movement of the cross". Tveit sees Jerusalem, site of the teaching, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, as the “source and matrix” of Christianity.

“Our witness to the gospel, our support for justice and peace, solidarity with the oppressed, initiatives for Jewish-Christian and Muslim-Christian dialogue and cooperation, all of this comes together in the Middle East, and especially in Jerusalem,” he said.

He will appeal to Pope Benedict to continue to engage in common action and advocacy to support Christian communities of the Middle East as part of the continuing ecumenical movement of the cross.


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