Pope in Geneva: ecumenism is 'walking together' according to the Spirit

On a visit to the Ecumenical Center of the World Council of Churches, Francis invites those present to help overcome past grievances and the interests of our. " Our differences must not be excuses. Even now we can walk in the Spirit: we can pray, evangelize and serve together. This is possible and it is pleasing to God! Walking, praying and working together: this is the great path that we are called to follow today".


Geneva (AsiaNews) - Ecumenism is "walking together" according to the Spirit, "choosing the way of the Gospel with holy obstinacy", not to protect "the interests of our communities" and " is not a ploy to strengthen our own position ", but" an act of obedience towards the Lord and love towards the world".

A visit to the Ecumenical Center of the World Council of Churches (WCC), in Geneva, today gave Pope Francis the opportunity to affirm what, in his opinion, are the guidelines of the search for Christian unity, cultivating communion , overcoming "centuries-old disagreements and mutual recriminations".

Francis, who left Rome shortly after 8:30 am and arrived in Geneva shortly after 10 am, was welcomed by the President of the Swiss Confederation, Alain Berset, with whom he had a private interview of half an hour. The Pope was welcomed as soon as he alighted from the plane two Swiss guards in uniform (pictured).

The visit to the Ecumenical Center began shortly after 11 am. Francis was welcomed, among others by the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, secretary general of the WCC.  He is the third pope to visit the WCC, after Paul VI, who went there on 10 June 1969 and John Paul II on 12 June 1984. His visit took place as part of the celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the Ecumenical Council, which brings together 348 Protestant, Lutheran, Anglican and Orthodox Churches. The Catholic Church participates as an "observer" and is a full member of one of the commissions, on "Faith and Constitution".

There was a moment of ecumenical prayer in the center chapel, at the end of which Francis gave his address, articulated following the motto of the visit: "Walking, praying, working together".

"We have heard the words addressed by the Apostle Paul to the Galatians, who were experiencing conflict and division. Groups were fighting and hurling accusations at one another. It is in this context that the Apostle, twice in the space of a few verses, invites us to “walk in the Spirit” (cf. Gal 5:16.25).

Walking. We human beings are constantly on the move”. “Walking is a discipline; it takes effort. It requires patience and exercise, day after day. We have to forego many other paths in order to choose the one that leads to the goal. We have to keep that goal constantly before us, lest we go astray. Remembering the goal. Walking also demands the humility to be prepared at times, when necessary, to retrace our steps. It also involves being concerned for our travelling companions, since only in company do we make good progress. Walking, in a word, demands constant conversion. That is why so many people refuse to do it. They prefer to remain in the quiet of their home, where it is easy to manage their affairs without facing the risks of travel. But that is to cling to a momentary security, incapable of bestowing the peace and joy for which our hearts yearn. That joy and peace can only be found by going out from ourselves”.

In the Spirit. If we human beings are constantly on the move, and by closing our hearts to others we deny our very vocation, this is even more true of us Christians. For as Paul emphasizes, the Christian life involves an unavoidable decision. We can either walk in the Spirit along the path opened up by our baptism or else we can “gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). What does this last expression mean? It means thinking that the way to fulfilment is by acquiring possessions, selfishly attempting to store up here and now everything we desire. Rather than letting ourselves quietly be led where God would have us, we go our own way. It is easy to see the result of this tragic loss of direction. The thirst for material things blinds us to our companions along the way, and indifference prevails in the streets of today’s world. Driven by our instincts, we become slaves to unbridled consumerism, and God’s voice is gradually silenced. Other people, especially those who cannot walk on their own, like children and the elderly, then become nuisances to be cast aside. Creation then comes to have no other purpose than to supply our needs”.

 “Dear brothers and sisters, today more than ever the words of the Apostle Paul challenge us. Walking in the Spirit means rejecting worldliness. It means opting for a mindset of service and growing in forgiveness. It means playing our part in history but in God’s good time, not letting ourselves be caught up in the whirlwind of corruption but advancing calmly on the way whose signpost is the “one commandment: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’” (v. 14). The path of the Spirit is marked by the milestones that Paul sets forth: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (v. 22).  We are called, together, to walk along this path. This calls for constant conversion and the renewal of our way of thinking, so that it can conform to that of the Holy Spirit. In the course of history, divisions between Christians have often arisen because at their root, in the life of communities, a worldly mindset has seeped in. First, self-concern took priority over concern for Christ. Once this happened, the Enemy of God and man had no difficulty in separating us, because the direction we were taking was that of the flesh, not of the Spirit. Even some past attempts to end those divisions failed miserably because they were chiefly inspired by a worldly way of thinking. Yet the ecumenical movement, to which the World Council of Churches has made so great a contribution, came about as a grace of the Holy Spirit (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, 1). Ecumenism made us set out in accordance with Christ’s will, and it will be able to progress if, following the lead of the Spirit, it constantly refuses to withdraw into itself".

“It might be objected that to walk in this way is to operate at a loss, since it does not adequately protect the interests of individual communities, often closely linked to ethnic identity or split along party lines, whether “conservative” or “progressive”. To choose to belong to Jesus before belonging to Apollos or Cephas (cf. 1 Cor 1:12); to belong to Christ before being “Jew or Greek” (cf. Gal 3:28); to belong to the Lord before identifying with right or left; to choose, in the name of the Gospel, our brother or our sister over ourselves… In the eyes of the world, this often means operating at a loss. Let us not be afraid to operate at a loss! Ecumenism is “a great enterprise operating at a loss”. But the loss is evangelical, reflecting the words of Jesus: “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (Lk 9:24). To save only what is ours is to walk according to the flesh; to lose everything in the footsteps of Jesus is to walk in the Spirit.”

“After so many years of ecumenical commitment, on this seventieth anniversary of the World Council, let us ask the Spirit to strengthen our steps. All too easily we halt before our continuing differences; all too often we are blocked from the outset by a certain weariness and lack of enthusiasm. Our differences must not be excuses. Even now we can walk in the Spirit: we can pray, evangelize and serve together. This is possible and it is pleasing to God! Walking, praying and working together: this is the great path that we are called to follow today. And this path has a clear aim, that of unity. The opposite path, that of division, leads to conflict and breakup. We need but open our history books. The Lord bids us set out ever anew on the path of communion that leads to peace. Our lack of unity is in fact “openly contrary to the will of Christ, but is also a scandal to the world and harms the most holy of causes: the preaching of the Gospel to every creature” (Unitatis Redintegratio, 1). The Lord asks us for unity; our world, torn by all too many divisions that affect the most vulnerable, begs for unity”.

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