Pope Francis says work with World Council of Churches 'must continue'

(Photo: Osservatore Romano)World Council of Churches general secretary, Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, with Pope Francis in an audience at the Vatican on October 3, 2013.

Pope Francis says that dialogue with the World Council of Churches that began 50 years ago "must continue" despite divisions that inhibit Christian unity.

Pope Francis wrote a 50th anniversary message June 24 to Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC, for ecumenical endeavors of the Joint Working Group of the world council and the Catholic Church.

"Reflecting on these past 50 years, we should be encouraged by the collaboration which the Joint Working Group has promoted, not only in ecumenical issues, but also in the areas of interreligious dialogue, peace and social justice, and works of charity and humanitarian aid," said Pope Francis in his message to Tveit.

Church leaders in Rome are celebrating 50 years of work of the joint group in the week starting June 22.

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"The unity agenda remains at the heart of all our efforts for common witness and contributions to more justice and peace for people and creation," said Tveit addressing Roman Catholic leaders in the Italian capital.

"We are grateful and even proud of 50 years as a working group between these great major ecumenical instruments in the world, The Pontificial Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches," he noted.

SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL

The Joint Working Group is an ecumenical legacy of improved relations among churches growing from the Second Vatican Council under and it began in 1965.

Over the past 50 years, Roman Catholics have become full members of the Faith and Order Commission coordinated by the WCC.

They have provided staff in the WCC areas of evangelization and theological education and sent observer delegations to participate in WCC assemblies and other major conferences.

Reciprocal arrangements have been implemented, with active Orthodox and Protestant participation in Catholic forums.

"We must recognize, though, that in spite of the many ecumenical achievements of the past half century, Christian mission and witness still suffer due to our divisions.

"Disagreements on various subjects - in particular anthropological, ethical and social issues, as well as issues related to the understanding of the nature and conditions of the unity we seek - demand further sustained efforts," said Francis in his letter.

He turned to areas where more work on Christian unity is needed.

"Looking at the present state of the ecumenical landscape and the world at large, we have to confess that divisions among Christians are there, that we are not sharing the gifts of the Triune God and the fruits of the works of our hands through the holy Eucharistic fellowship."

While common purpose has been achieved between Roman Catholics and those in WCC member churches on baptism, the Roman Catholic Church does not allow shared Eucharist.

Tveit said there needs to be an awareness "of this deeper theological reading of our context" in a new phase of cooperation.

"What we do cannot have, is business as usual. It must be an expression of our faith and a witness to the love of God revealed in Christ.

Tveit told Vatican Radio But he says it is a significant scandal no being able to celebrate the Eucharist together, "not even in families in mixed marriages (and) that is a wound which is really hurting."

The Geneva-based WCC represents more than 500 million Christians, including most of the world's Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed churches, as well as many united and independent churches.

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