Pope Francis has made a landmark ecumenical day trip to Geneva on June 21, 2018 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the World Council of Churches.
Zenit was on the papal flight, traveling with Pope Francis, and was present at various events, and getting voices on the ground. During the return trip to Rome, Zenit represented the English-speaking journalists aboard to ask the Pope a question, along with the French, German and Spanish representatives.
The journalists, many of whom had woken up by 3:30 in the morning made their way to Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport, to go through security, get a special sticker on their passport, and follow various other steps of protocol, including a necessary caffè at the bar, once they reached the gate. Given the brevity of the flight, they were able to hold on to their passports; for longer trips, they are taken in the beginning and returned at the end.
When it was time to board the journalists got on a bus, which brought them to the flight. Then there was the mad rush for getting good seats, given that basically only photographers and some others have assigned seats. Then orange juice, iced tea, and snacks with nutella were distributed. Then breakfast boxes. Many chowed down. Others may not have had much appetite as they knew their one on one moment with the Pope was moments away. After taking off, the Pope would said hello to journalists, thanked them for their work, and expressed his sincere hope that this June 21 visit be one of unity. Then he would personally greeted each journalist.
The theme of the visit is an “Ecumenical Pilgrimage – Walking, Praying and Working Together” and the meeting began with a prayer service at the Ecumenical Center chapel.
He then visited the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, which is connected to the World Council of Churches and is involved with theological formation. There, 30 men and women of different countries study and share everyday life. After followed an ‘ecumenical lunch,’ which, during the papal flight press conference, the Pope told journalists that they spoke about human rights and against ‘proselytism.’
At this lunch, we can inform our readers was the following menu (though we were not present): vegetable tartare served with salad; Grilled fish & rice and sautéed vegetables. For dessert, there was lemon tart, fruit and maracuja. Bishop Swensen had blessed the meal and the lunch was in English, but the Pope’s translator was present.
Unimaginable Beauty of Knowing Jesus
During the ecumenical meeting yesterday at the WCC headquarters, the Pope reminded: “We are called to be a people that experiences and shares the joy of the Gospel, praises the Lord and serves our brothers and sisters with hearts burning with a desire to open up horizons of goodness and beauty unimaginable to those who have not been blessed truly to know Jesus.”
“What is really needed is a new evangelical outreach,” Francis stressed. Reflecting on the day’s motto of walking, praying and working together, the Holy Father also gave some advice: “Let us ask ourselves: How much do we pray for one another? The Lord prayed that we would be one: do we imitate him in this regard?”
Cardinal on Pope’s Desire for Ecumenism
Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told ZENIT:
“According to Pope Francis, to be open to other churches means first of all brotherhood and closeness. After his election as Pope, I remember, I met him and asked what he would desire for the ecumenism.”
“He replied with only one word, ‘brotherhood.’”
Friendly and fraternal relationship between different churches, the Swiss Cardinal explained, is the foundation for ecumenism. Once this is established, he added, the practical ecumenism can follow, in which churches can work together on cultural, political and social issues.
Meeting for Dinner Once a Year Isn’t Authentic Ecumenism
Nigerian priest, Father Lawrence Iwuamadi, is the dean of the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey. Before Father Lawrence, the institute had never had a Catholic dean.
“The fact that I am the first Catholic dean of the Institute,” he shared, “I think has to do with the
Spirit that Francis brought, a spirit that is difficult to explain with just one word: it is a spirit of trust, thanks to which I live and I work here, among 90% of non-Catholics, I have seen over the years how the attitude towards the Catholic Church has changed: now they appreciate what the Catholic Church does and says.”
The Catholic priest noted that even if the Christians all get along pretty well, but they do not interact much, other than ‘maybe a dinner once a year’ that doesn’t constitute much ecumenism.
“What is the main novelty that Francis brought?” he said, “As I always say, Pope Francis has a way of speaking that reaches everyone’s heart, whether they are Protestant, Orthodox or Pentecostal, so as to make them say: ‘”With this Pope, I could also associate myself with what he says.'”
“For example, when the encyclical Laudato si‘ on protecting Creation was published, the World Council of Churches held several conferences on the encyclical of a Catholic Pope. In addition to this, Pope Francis is cited very frequently in the WCC documents.”
“We must take more seriously what the Pope says, have the courage to go out and meet, is what I also understood as a professor of this institution, with 30-35 people from 25 countries and 20 Christian churches represented.”
“When people sit in front of each other, they walk together, they can understand who the other really is, then ecumenism becomes easier. First, however, there are prejudices, that is so, that other is so, but when we live together they no longer exist.”
We Will Not Stop Here
In the afternoon, Pope Francis again visited the Ecumenical Center, where the WCC does much of its work. The Catholic Church and the WCC work together for joint peace initiatives in many areas and concretely work together in projects to help the poor, counter injustices, help migrants, and so on.
The Pope cited the active Catholic presence in the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism; collaboration with the Office for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation, most recently on the important theme of education for peace; and the joint preparation of texts for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
General secretary of the World Council of Churches, Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said, “This day is a landmark. We will not stop here. We will continue, we can do much more together for those who need us.”
During the Holy Father’s Mass to some 40,000 faithful of all races and ages, who were so eager to see him that they were standing on their benches to catch a glance, the Pope reflected on the words ‘Father,’ ‘Bread’ and ‘Forgiveness.’
Speaking on prayer, he said: “Every time we make the sign of the cross at the start of the day or before any other important activity, every time we say “Our Father”, we reclaim our roots. We need those roots in our often rootless societies.”
“Let us never tire of saying “Our Father”. It will remind us that just as there are no sons or daughters without a Father, so none of us is ever alone in this world.”
Turning to bread, he stressed: “Our “daily bread”, we must not forget, is Jesus himself. Without him, we can do nothing (cf. Jn 15:5). He is our regular diet for healthy living. Sometimes, however, we treat Jesus as a side dish.”
“God frees our hearts of all sin, he forgives every last thing. Yet he asks only one thing of us: that we in turn never tire of forgiving,” he said, speaking on forgiveness, adding: “We should take a good x-ray of our heart, to find out if there are blockages within us, obstacles to forgiveness, stones needing to be removed. Then we can say to the Father: “You see this stone? I hand it over to you and I pray for this person, for that situation; even if I struggle to forgive, I ask you for the strength to do it.’”
“Forgiveness renews, it works miracles,” he said.
The Pope trip shortly thereafter came to an end, and before we knew it, we were back on the flight. And it was time for the flight, where the Holy Father noted his satisfaction for the ecumenical fruits of the visit and answered four questions to journalists for different speaking language groups.
In 2017, Roman Catholic and Protestant Lutherans jointly commemorated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with Pope Francis’ Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 2016, visit to the Swedish cities of Malmo and Lund. Zenit’s Deborah Castellano Lubov had covered the Pope’s trip to Sweden.
On the flight to Geneva, Deborah Castellano Lubov also had a moment to greet the Holy Father where she gave him a personal momento tied to a family in Buenos Aires very close to the Holy Father’s heart, which upon seeing, he stopped a moment, closed his eyes and blessed, and her recent book ‘The Other Francis’ (L’Altro Francesco) currently in Italian, Spanish and Lithuanian, and in English in 2018 and possibly in German.
Then, during the return flight, Deborah Castellano Lubov asked the Pope the following question. Here is the Vatican-provided translation of the question and answer in Italian:
Deborah Castellano Lubov:
Thank you, Your Holiness. Your Holiness, in your address today at the ecumenical meeting, you referred to the enormous power of the Gospel. We know that some of the Churches of the World Council of Churches are so-called “Churches of peace”, who believe that a Christian cannot use violence. Let us recall that two years ago, in the Vatican, there was a conference organized to reconsider the doctrine of the “righteous war”. So, Your Holiness, my question is, do you think it would be right for the Catholic Church to join with these so-called “Churches of peace” and to set aside the theory of the “righteous war”? Thank you.
A clarification: why do you say that they are “Churches of peace”?
Deborah Castellano Lubov:
They are considered “Churches of peace” because they have this concept, that a person who uses violence can no longer be considered Christian.
Thank you, I understand. You have put your finger in the wound … Today, at lunch, a Pastor said that perhaps the first human right is the right to hope, and I liked this, and it relates a little to this theme. We talked about the human rights crisis today. I think I have to start with this to arrive at your question. The human rights crisis appears clear. We speak a little of human rights, but many groups or some countries keep their distance. Yes, we have human rights but … there is not the strength, the enthusiasm, the conviction of, I do not say 70 years ago, but 20 years ago. And this is serious because we must see the causes. What are the causes for which we have arrived at this? That today human rights are relative. The right to peace is also relative. It is a human rights crisis. This I think we have to think about it thoroughly.
Then, the so-called “Churches of Peace”. I believe that all the Churches that have this spirit of peace must come together and work together, as we said in the speeches today, both I and the other people who spoke, and at lunch, it was discussed. Unity for peace. Today peace is a need because there is a risk of war … Someone said: this third world war, if it takes place, we know what weapons will be used, but if there were to be a fourth, it would be with sticks because humanity will be destroyed. The commitment to peace is a serious matter. When you think about the money that is spent on armaments! For this reason, they are “Churches of Peace”: but it is God’s mandate! Peace, brotherhood, united humanity … And all conflicts, we must not resolve them like Cain, but resolve them through negotiation, dialogue, and mediation. For example, we are in crisis of mediations! Mediation, which is a very precious legal tool, is in crisis today. Crisis of hope, crisis of human rights, crisis of mediations, crisis of peace. But then, if you say that there are “Churches of Peace”, I ask myself: are there “Churches of War”? It is difficult to understand this, it is difficult, but there are certainly some groups, and I would say in almost all religions, small groups, I will say simplifying somewhat, “fundamentalist”, who seek wars. We Catholics also have some, who always seek destruction. And it is very important to keep this in view. I do not know if I answered …
They tell me that people are asking for their dinner, that it is the right time to arrive with a full stomach …
I would like to say only one word clearly: that today was an ecumenical day, truly ecumenical. And at lunch, we said something very nice, that I will leave to you to think about and reflect upon, and to consider well: in the ecumenical movement we must remove a word from the dictionary: proselytism. Is that clear? There can be no ecumenism with proselytism, we need to choose: either you are of an ecumenical spirit, or you are a “proselyte”.
On-flight Press Conference (Full Text): https://zenit.org/articles/holy-fathers-in-flight-press-conference-on-return-from-geneva-full-text/
Pope’s Address to WCC Ecumenical Meeting (Full Text): https://zenit.org/articles/geneva-holy-fathers-address-to-wcc-ecumenical-meeting-full-text/
Pope’s Homily at Mass in Geneva: https://zenit.org/articles/the-popes-homily-at-mass-in-geneva-full-text/