Vatican City

Pope, World Council of Churches' leaders discuss war, divisions

Everyone, including Pope Francis, expressed concern about how churches are becoming 'disunited because of other factors'

Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service

Updated: March 25, 2023 05:44 AM GMT

Bishop Bedford-Strohm, moderator of the WCC central committee, Pope Francis, and Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay, WCC general secretary, during the meeting at the Vatican on March 23. (Photo: World Council of Churches)

Recognizing how war and political differences can increase Christian divisions, believers must keep their focus on Christ and his Gospel, said members of a delegation of the World Council of Churches that met with Pope Francis.

The Rev. Jerry Pillay, general secretary of the Geneva-based WCC, and Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, moderator of the WCC central committee, met with the pope at the Vatican March 23. Vasile-Octavian Mihoc, WCC program executive for ecumenical relations and faith, was also present.

Everyone, including the pope, expressed concern during the meeting about how churches are becoming disunited because of other factors, including political and economic ones, the WCC said in a press release the same day.

We recognized that some of these aspects are certainly finding their way into churches and into church relationships and affecting them in a negative way, Rev. Pillay said in the press release.

We affirmed the centrality of Christ in our conversations, and how we can focus together on the Gospel, and how that actually helps us in our relationships in the world, the general secretary said.

Rev. Pillay said they also discussed the situation in Ukraine, sharing with Pope Francis our views about the dynamics of what is happening and expressed our concern.

We shared that we are planning a new roundtable, in which we will bring the Ukraine churches, Orthodox churches, and other church leaders together -- and also together with the Russian Orthodox Church, for three days in Geneva, the general secretary said.

The idea is to bring them all together into a conversation about what it means, in terms of Christian unity, to deal with the context of the war, he said.

According to the WCC press release, the proposed roundtable would explore how to put 'Christ in the center' with respect to Ukraine and not try to resolve the many issues between the three church organizations. Because the proposal was just announced, the WCC said there was no immediate response yet whether the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church would agree to the idea.

Bishop Bedford-Strohm said he and Pope Francis spoke about ways to strengthen church unity, saying, We agreed that it must be our common concern to set signs of unity and understanding in a divided world. For this, we need an 'ecumenism of the heart,' which gives a clear common witness to Christ even where the institutional unity of the churches has not yet been achieved.

Together we see this witness to Christ also in a clear commitment to the world: to deal with refugees in a dignified way, to overcome poverty and hunger in the world, to overcome the destruction of nature and take steps toward climate protection, he added.

Especially now, a spirituality based on Christ and the civil commitment of the churches that comes from it is important, he said. Only in this way can the churches be forces of peace and reconciliation in this world.

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