Pope Francis, Koreans to attend WCC gathering
With a visit from a sitting pope and interaction with a Christian delegation from both North and South Korea, it won’t quite be business as usual during the June 16-21 meeting of the World Council of Churches’ Central Committee.
United Methodists will be among those present when the council’s governing body meets at the WCC headquarters in Geneva. Retired United Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, who serves as co-vice moderator, is the denomination’s top representative to the council.
Pope Francis’s June 21 visit at the end of the meeting is considered “a centerpiece” of the ecumenical commemoration of the council’s 70th anniversary.
Also significant is the attendance of the Korean delegation during the entire meeting. The delegates will give a presentation, to be livestreamed, from about 9 to 11 a.m. Geneva time on June 20, said Marianne Ejdersten, council director of communication.
The Korean Christians will be present when the pope arrives. Activities will include an 11:15 a.m. prayer service and 3:45 p.m. meeting at the council’s Geneva Ecumenical Centre; a 12:45 p.m. lunch with WCC leadership at the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey; and a 5:30 p.m. public mass at Palexpo, a convention center in Geneva.
Details of the June 21 visit to the World Council of Churches in Geneva by Pope Francis — a visit described by the WCC as “a gift to churches” — were announced during a May 15 press conference. Photo by Albin Hillert/WCC.
Chicago Area Bishop Sally Dyck told United Methodist News Service she was not surprised when she learned that Pope Francis would be coming to the Ecumenical Centre.
As a United Methodist member of the council’s central committee and a longtime participant in the ecumenical movement, Dyck said she is aware of the council’s long-standing efforts “to be in good relations with Rome” and of the nurturing of that relationship by the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, the current top executive.
During an earlier joint press conference at the Vatican on March 2, Tveit called the visit “a sign of hope for all who long for unity, peace and justice in a broken and divided world” and an affirmation of the common calling of Christian churches.
Although the Roman Catholic Church is not a WCC member, the Joint Working Group established in 1965 “has been a catalyst for fruitful collaboration in fields of doctrinal dialogue, ecumenical formation, mission and evangelism, youth, justice and peace, and new emerging questions relating to the life of modem societies,” said Cardinal Kurt Koch. Koch is president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Catholics are also members or consultants of various WCC bodies, including the Commission on Faith and Order and the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, he added.
Dyck is looking forward to her encounter with the pope and said she would find it “quite remarkable” if he could indicate a general support of the world council. “It’s particularly exciting,” she told United Methodist News Service. “I think Pope Francis’s initiative and perspective is certainly very much in keeping with what the World Council of Churches is working for in the world.”
Cynthia Kent, who also represents The United Methodist Church on the central committee, was raised as a Catholic and has an older sister who is a devout Catholic.
She said she is “in awe” over participating in the pope’s visit to Geneva and likes the direction in which he’s leading the Roman Catholic Church. “I can’t wait to hear what he’s got to say,” she added.
Kent, a New Jersey resident and chairperson of the denomination’s Native American International Caucus, views the World Council of Churches as a place that tries to “bring people together” and enables those of different faith groups to see each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Part of that experience, for her, comes during the central committee meetings. “We don’t all sit as United Methodists or Methodists,” she explained. “We sit with different groups, so when an issue comes up and there is a table discussion, you’re going to be listening to a different perspective.”
United Methodists belong to a huge family, she noted. “In order to be in the family of God, we have to respect all our brothers and sisters.”
The WCC family “grew out of the student and lay movements of the 19th century, the 1910 Edinburgh world missionary conference and a 1920 encyclical from the (Orthodox) Synod of Constantinople suggesting a ‘fellowship of churches’ similar to the League of Nations,” according to its website.
Between 1937-38, religious leaders representing more than 100 churches voted to found the World Council of Churches, but World War II delayed its inauguration.
The Rev. Liberato “Levi” Bautista, who is an adviser for the central committee’s program committee, noted the significance of the 70th anniversary related to the papal visit. He is the main representative at the United Nations for the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.
The World Council of Churches, he explained, is one way of demonstrating to both the world and the Christian faithful that by working together, “we are far better in our witness, we are far stronger in our prophetic voice, we are far stronger in putting forward an agenda for what might transform the world for Christ.”
Bautista pointed out that the pope’s visit also highlights the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the recent 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
All those observations, he said, bring a greater awareness of the need for Christian bodies to be united in addressing not just the core of the faith “but the very witness of that faith in a globalized world.”
Bloom is the assistant news editor for United Methodist News Service and is based in New York.