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Pope Francis at the WCC: prayer, engagement for long-lasting peace and world justice

“Ecumenical pilgrimage of Pope Francis to the World Council of Churches: Walking, Praying and Working together” is the motto chosen for the visit of the Holy Father to the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva. We retraced the highlights of this intense day, that will take place under the banner of prayer for Christian unity and Church engagement for world justice and peace, with Georges Lemopoulos (Ecumenical Patriarchate)

(from Geneva) A solemn prayer for Christian unity, for humankind, for the creation, is scheduled to take place in the morning hours. The afternoon will be dedicated to in-depth reflection on Church commitment for justice and peace wherever they are threatened. In the framework of this twofold track in the morning Pope Francis will visit the headquarters of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, to join in the celebration of the 70th anniversary of this ecumenical body founded in 1948, with 348 member Churches – Anglican Communion, Evangelical, Orthodox, Old Catholic Church – worldwide. Georges Lemopoulos Greek, member of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, working in the Ecumenical centre in Geneva along with a group of approximately 100 people, illustrated to SIR the preparations ahead of the Pope’s visit to the body’s historical seat.

Arrival. The Pope will be arriving at Geneva’s airport at 10.10 am, where a welcoming ceremony will take place followed by a private meeting with the President of the Confederation. Then Francis will transfer by car to the WCC, just a few kilometres’ away from the airport, accompanied by the Vatican delegation. He will be received by WCC Secretary General Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, Norwegian representative of the Lutheran Church, along with Anglican theologian Agnes Aubom, of Kenyan origin, WCC moderator, and with the two WCC vice-moderators: Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima, from the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople, and US Methodist bishop Mary Ann Swenson.

The Ecumenical Chapel. The group will then gather in the chapel of the Ecumenical Council located in the main hall to the left of the entrance. The Pope and his delegation will light candles and proceed in procession to the altar holding a Cross and a Gospel. The WCC chapel is beautiful, rich with symbols and history. Two iron-clad Crosses, created with the remains of bombs, captured our attention. The first was kept in the Library, while the other dates back to the Second World War “epitomising the Cross as an agent of transformation of death into Redemption, division into reconciliation, destruction into life and hope.”

Ecumenism as the act of walking together. The chapel, said Georges Lemopoulos, “was not originally planned as a church. Its shape resembles a tent, symbolizing Churches on the move. It represents the ecumenical movement that sets up a tent along its pilgrim way, praying to God to bestow the gift of Church unity and world peace.” Everything here transmits the idea of constant movement: from the ceiling whence fall the curtains to the precious old-and-blue mosaic decorating the wall to the left of the chapel, a gift of Patriarch Atenagora to the WCC dating back to the 1960s. It represents the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan. The architects conveyed the image of the river’s water flow along the path that leads to the altar with a special decorated flooring. “It is the baptism that unites us all in Christ”, said Georges: “To this baptism we are all called today, in our joint commitment for unity.”

Prayer. Six chairs will be placed on the altar for the Pope and Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Christian unity (who “will do everything possible to be present”, we were told by the WCC, despite health problems dating to past May), for Secretary General Rev Tveit, the moderator and the two vice-Presidents. Three-hundred guests – that include the members of WCC Central Committee, consisting in 150 delegates of world Churches who are holding their biannual meeting this week in Geneva to take stock of the work carried out so far and draft a roadmap for the future – will gather inside the Chapel where the Pope will be delivering a homily. Young people will be entrusted prayer intentions for Christian unity, for humanity and for the creation. At the end of the meeting the Pope will read a prayer for Christian unity after which he will be joined by those present in the recitation of Our Father.

The Bossey Institute and the ecumenical meeting. The Pope will then travel to the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey, located approximately twenty-five kilometres from Geneva, dedicated to the ecumenical formation of students from world countries in a multicultural environment. Here the Pope will enjoy a lunch followed by an exchange of gifts. The Ecumenical meeting in the hall adjacent the chapel is scheduled for 15.45. After the welcoming address by Secretary General Rev Tveit and the moderator Aubom, the Pope will take the floor. It’s the second highlight of the day, devoted to social commitment. In fact – the WCC made known – all speeches will focus on “issues related to peace, justice, and Church presence worldwide.” It is a theme that is particularly dear to the Ecumenical Council, which coordinates and promotes the activity of world Churches in this area through a set of projects for the promotion of solidarity and peace, with dedicated interventions in emergency situations. The WCC carries out its activity in a number of world regions that include Middle-Eastern Countries (Jerusalem, Syria, Jordan), North Korea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and South Sudan. The theme of refugees will be tackled during the conference on “Migration, xenophobia and populism” due to take place September 12 to 15 in Rome, jointly promoted by the WCC and by the Vatican Dicastery for integral human development.

“The only ecumenical movement.” The Pope will be arriving in Geneva at the end of the meeting of the WCC Central Committee, an occasion to take stock of the work done so far and plan future steps. Francis’ presence, General Secretary Rev Tweit told SIR, “highlights the one and only ecumenical movement in the world, signalling that the Catholic Church participates as a protagonist and putting a spotlight on our joint experiences of unity along with the new expressions of our joint engagement for justice and peace, for the Gospel worldwide.”

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