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Pope Francis models Christian unity at WCC

As World Council of Churches leaders looked on, including retired United Methodist Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, Pope Francis spoke in June about the significance of Catholic involvement in ecumenical work and pledged its commitment to the cause of Christian unity.

The World Council of Churches is an ecumenical partner supported by the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund apportionment which enables United Methodists to share a presence and a voice in the activities of several national and worldwide ecumenical organizations.

The pope's visit to the WCC Ecumenical Centre in Geneva included a morning prayer service, a lunch with council leaders, and an afternoon session with the council's Central Committee and a public mass.

Swenson, who serves as the Central Committee's co-vice moderator, was part of the top leadership group greeting and escorting the pontiff around the council's headquarters.

Pope Francis gives the blessing during an ecumenical prayer service with religious leaders from all over the world. Attending the World Council of Churches service (from left in the font row) Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, Pope Francis, Agnes Aubom. Photo by Albin Hillert, WCC.

The Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, the council's top executive, referred to the visit as a "landmark" day for ecumenical cooperation. "We will not stop here," he said. "We will continue, we can do much more together for those who need us."

The pope noted his desire to take part in the 70th anniversary celebrations as he spoke about moving towards Christian unity. He also affirmed the commitment of the Catholic Church to that cause.

Reflecting on the day's theme, "Walking, Praying and Working Together," the pope pointed out that all were ways of moving forward as one.

"Whenever we say 'Our Father,' we feel an echo within us of our being sons and daughters, but also of our being brothers and sisters," he said. "Prayer is the oxygen of ecumenism."

In his address to the central committee, Pope Francis called for a "new evangelical outreach" and said he was convinced "that an increased missionary impulse will lead us to greater unity.

"Just as in the early days, preaching marked the springtime of the church, so evangelization will mark the flowering of a new ecumenical spring."

But credibility is put to the test, the pope said, "by the way Christians respond to the cry of all those, in every part of the world, who suffer unjustly from the baleful spread of an exclusion that, by generating poverty, foments conflicts."

He encouraged Christians to be challenged to compassion by the cry of those who suffer, and to focus on "what we can do concretely, rather than grow discouraged about what we cannot." 

Linda Bloom, assistant news editor, UMNS in New York

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund enables United Methodists to share a presence and a voice in the activities of several national and worldwide ecumenical organizations. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund apportionment at 100 percent.