Ecumenism and Global Governance: Pope Francis in Geneva

Antonio Spadaro, SJ

 Antonio Spadaro, SJ / Church Life / 9 August 2018

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Ecumenism against the backdrop of global governance

At 8.30 a.m. on Thursday, June 21, 2018, flight AZ4000 departed Fiumicino airport heading for Geneva with Pope Francis, his entourage and accredited members of the press on board. This was Francis’ 23rd international journey. He is the third pope to have set foot in Switzerland, following Paul VI and John Paul II. For the first time, a Chinese correspondent was among the journalists on the plane.

As Francis said when he wished the journalists a pleasant flight, this was “a journey toward unity.” The voyage marked the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Amsterdam, on August 23, 1948. According to the pope, the aim of this visit was to “renew the commitment of the Catholic Church to the ecumenical cause” and “encourage cooperation with member Churches and ecumenical partners.”

The sense of the WCC as an institution and the expectations surrounding this visit were explored in an in-depth interview with Pastor Martin Robra, published by La Civiltà Cattolica and widely shared by the WCC itself.[1] For further information, please refer to this interview, available in five languages.

The Ecumenical Centre, the headquarters of the WCC, is also the headquarters of many other ecclesiastical and religious organizations, among them the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) and the Ecumenical Church Loan Fund (ECLOF). The Centre is surrounded by a large park containing various memorials, including a fragment of the Berlin Wall. Among the many works of art housed by the Centre is the Cross of Reconciliation, made of bomb fragments from World War II.

The ecumenical institution also reflects the climate of international cooperation that is palpable in Geneva. Headquarters to the United Nations, the city hosts a large number of international bodies, institutions and organizations, as well as NGOs. Effectively, it is the natural epicenter for sectors such as peace, security, disarmament, humanitarian action and law, human rights and migration. As we will see, we must consider these two elements jointly – ecumenism and global governance – to understand the meaning of Francis’ visit to the city of John Calvin.

Overview of the visit

The pope’s day – inspired by the motto “Walking, praying and working together” – included three public appearances in just over 13 hours: a shared prayer in the WCC’s Ecumenical Center, an afternoon meeting at the Visser’t Hooft Hall, likewise in the Centre, and then Mass for the country’s Catholic community in Geneva’s Palaexpo.

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