Jun 21, 2018: World Council of Churches turns 70 with Pope Francis joining the celebration
SWITZERLAND - Pope Francis joins World Council of Churches (WCC) leaders in Geneva for the 70th anniversary of the ecumenical body, with the visit prompting speculation that the Vatican might be considering membership.
WCC Secretary General Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit said the theme of the visit will be Walking, Praying, Working Together. The papal visit comes on the final day of the week-long meeting of the WCC Central Committee.
Had Pope Francis not entered the picture, news about the anniversary might have centered on the WCC and the status of Christianity in the 21st century – whether it is in decline, and whether Christian religions should be worried about Islam. If current demographic trends continue, according to recent Pew research, the number of Muslims is expected to exceed the number of Christians by the end of this century.
The WCC was founded in 1948 in Amsterdam. It describes itself as “a worldwide fellowship of 349 global, regional and sub-regional, national and local churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service.” WCC delegates assemble every six to eight years. The last WCC Assembly, the 10th, was held in Busan, South Korea.
Unity remains elusive for the WCC as it straddles the same liberal-conservative divide on theological and other issues that handicaps its member religions.
The National Catholic Register’s Edward Pentin dismisses the speculation about possible Catholic membership of the WCC, but describes it as natural because of the pope’s “zeal for today’s ecumenical movement.” Becoming a member of the global body made up of half a billion Protestant and Orthodox believers would “be a step too far” he notes, and “unthinkable to many orthodox-thinking Catholics.”
On Oct 31, 2016, Pope Francis visited Sweden to join Lutheran leaders for the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.