World and regional church bodies greet Pope Francis

By staff writers
March 14, 2013

The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches has sent greetings and an assurance of continuing engagement with the Catholic Church in the era of its new pontiff, Pope Francis I.

He was joined by leaders of other churches and regional ecumenical bodies in Latin America, as well as other senior faith and civic leaders throughout the world.

The WCC chief, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, said in his communication to Rome yesterday evening (13 March 2013): “The election of a new pope, Francis I, is a turning point in the life of the Roman Catholic Church, but it also has an impact on people of other churches and faiths.”

Commenting on the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, the first pope from the Global South, Tveit said, through this fellow “pilgrim of justice and peace, who has lived a simple lifestyle and reflects a passion for social justice and lifting up the poor, we reaffirm our commitment to seeking justice and peace.”

“Ever since the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches have enjoyed constructive dialogue and cooperation on matters of faith, witness and the fundamental unity of the whole body of Christ,” Tveit continued.

“We have learned that we are pilgrims together in the one ecumenical movement, and we are particularly grateful for the way the Catholic Church works with us on the highly significant issues of unity, ecclesiology, mission and inter-religious dialogue.”

“Now, in close collaboration with Pope Francis, we look forward to building on this positive relationship with the Catholic Church that has been nurtured so carefully in the past,” he said.

The Roman Catholic Church is not a member of the WCC, but the instrument of the Joint Working Group has fostered close cooperation. Delegates and observers are exchanged at the time of major meetings, and the Catholic Church is formally represented in such WCC-administered bodies as the Faith and Order Commission and the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism.

Cardinal Bergoglio, former archbishop of Buenos Aires, was elected pope by the College of Cardinals on Wednesday 13 March at the conclave in the Vatican.

In Latin America WCC member church leaders reflected positively on the election of Pope Francis.

"We congratulate Francis I, the first Latin American to be elected pope. We are aware of Bergoglio's work in the Diocese of Buenos Aires and we recognise him as a person of particular sensitivity to social problems and for ecumenical dialogue, said Rev. Nilton Giese, general secretary of the Latin America Council of Churches.

"The Evangelical Church of the River Plate (Argentina) congratulates the faithful of the Roman Catholic Church by the recent election of a new pope who, for the first time in history, is from Latin America, said the Rev Antonio Carlos Alfredo Duarte Voelker, president of the Evangelical Church of the River Plate. “We are also confident that his years of experience in the pastorate will help him to promote a new vision to those who suffer persecution and marginalisation of any kind."

Dr Tveit added, “An important aspect of the ecumenical movement is a concept of mutual accountability. We in the World Council of Churches offer our cooperation to Pope Francis and the whole of the Catholic Church in this spirit. We will continue to cooperate in a loving and affirming relationship. In this way, we will grow together in grace and in hope toward that true unity of believers for which Christ prayed.”

“Today the vast majority of Christians live in the Global South,” said Tveit. “The growth of Christianity in the South is likely to continue. This shift has already had an important impact on world Christianity. It is in this context that we will move forward, working together, building our relationship and addressing the important needs of all people today.”

“Let us use this opportunity to pray for and with Pope Francis to reconfirm that we need one another, to address the challenges of the world in our time,” the WCC General Secretary concluded.

The World Council of Churches "promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world". An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.

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