Catholic leader sounds 'ecumenical keynote' during Geneva visit

By agency reporter
May 11, 2011

Cardinal Kurt Koch, who since July 2010 has served as president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU), has completed his first official visit to the World Council of Churches (WCC) at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, Switzerland.

Koch came as the guest of the WCC General Secretary, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit. The visit was an opportunity for the cardinal and Tveit to discuss significant and ongoing cooperation between the Roman Catholic Church and the WCC.

During the 8-10 May 2011 visit, the cardinal met with staff members from WCC programmes and with leaders of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC).

The programme included a dinner with faculty and staff of the WCC sponsored Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, Switzerland.

Formerly the Catholic bishop of Basel, Koch returned to his native land to familiarise himself with the WCC and to discuss plans for future stages in the quest for Christian unity.

During a series of conversations, he acknowledged the importance of “harvesting the fruits” of past dialogues among churches, confessional bodies and multilateral gatherings like those sponsored by the WCC. This “harvesting” was already an emphasis of his predecessor, Cardinal Walter Kasper.

Reviewing historic agreements was a first step, to be followed by a deliberate process of “reception” of agreements in which individual churches and Christians are introduced to accords and insights achieved through dialogues, he said.

Tveit said it is essential that such agreements “not be allowed to remain hidden treasures” but must instead be widely published and discussed in local settings.

In a discussion on the role of the WCC for the one ecumenical movement involving the General Secretaries of WCC, LWF and WCRC, the General Secretary of the LWF, the Rev Martin Junge, noted the “interdependence” of multilateral conversations and bilateral dialogues.

'Bilaterals' are one-on-one encounters between pairs of confessional traditions – as in Catholic-Anglican dialogue, Lutheran-Methodist dialogue or Orthodox-Reformed dialogue. 'Multilateral' processes toward Christian unity, as often practiced through the WCC and its Faith and Order Commission, involve a wide cross-section of theological traditions.

Junge described “multiple layers of engagement” among churches and confessional families, involving complexities of interpretation based on the specifics of regional and historical patterns of diversity. He called for “trans-contextual exchanges in which the polycentricity of Christian tradition may be better understood”.

Admitting that partners in dialogue find themselves “at a complex table,” the Rev Dr Setri Nyomi, General Secretary of the WCRC, said that apart from the diversity of Christianity, there was a broad range of issues and areas that the churches are learning to address cooperatively. It is not enough to focus on the academic or purely ecclesial aspects of theology and doctrine: “Faith and Order, justice, peace, advocacy, service – all belong together!”

Junge and Nyomi expressed gratitude for the role of the WCC in “convening” diverse churches and related bodies at a common table. Tveit expressed his hope that the honesty and moral courage involved in difficult dialogue is leading to 'thick relationships' rather than the 'thin' relations fostered by less ambitious encounters among Christians.

“Ethical disagreement can threaten unity,” said Dr Tveit in regard to the risks of a frank exchange. “But when we do achieve ethical agreement on matters of justice and peace, leading to common action, that is when we build thick relationships.”

Koch was accompanied on his trip by PCPCU staff members Monsignor Gosbert Byamungu and Fr Gregory Fairbanks.

During a meditation at Tuesday morning prayer in the Ecumenical Centre chapel, Koch observed: “In today’s world, Christian witness must have an ecumenical keynote so that its melody does not sound cacophonous but symphonic. Within ecumenism therefore, there is something far more important than any aim of ecclesial politics: The daily renewal of the maturing process of the essential, namely a faith which is realised in love.”

* More information about cooperation between the WCC and the Roman Catholic Church:


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