GENEVA – The newly elected general secretary of the World Council of Churches said that fulfilling Jesus' prayer "that they may be one" remains the global ecumenical body's primary task and can not be separated from its concern for justice, peace or creation.
The Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit told reporters at a meeting of the WCC's Central Committee in Geneva that inter-church solidarity was all the more important for Christians living in difficult circumstances and that the WCC has a vital role to play in raising and strengthening the voice of other Christians.
"We are living in a time when there is a strong need for inter-Christian solidarity in this world," Tveit said on Friday.
"There are many Christians living in minority situations but also in situations where they are part of the suffering world, which calls for solidarity, for accompanying, and for advocacy between Christians and with one another."
He said the call to unity is for all Christians, not only members of the WCC, and affirmed his commitment to working with Christian traditions still outside the WCC fold, including the Roman Catholic Church, Pentecostals, Evangelicals and charismatics.
The Global Christian Forum, he said, was one opportunity for leaders of different Christian communities and churches to speak together.
"Among some evangelical church leaders or Pentecostal leaders, for example, there is a new understanding that there is a Christian duty to respond to the needs of our neighbor," he said.
"I would say there is a mutual opening of conversation and I think we should make strong efforts to continue that."
Turning specifically to the WCC's relations with the Roman Catholic Church, Tveit said he hoped the two could develop structural and personal relationships "that will be of benefit for all of us" but refused to be drawn on the question of the Roman Catholic Church becoming a member.
"I don't want to comment on the membership of the Roman Catholic Church in the WCC at this point but it is important to say that there are many ways for us to work together and some of them we already have and they can be strengthened and we can find new ways also," he said.
Tveit also stressed the importance of fostering good relations between the WCC and Muslim leaders.
It is important, he said, that Muslims and Christians see one another "not primarily as this or that, but as human beings needing safety, needing their rights to be taken care of, and also just regular love and acceptance between us as human beings."
"Our faiths call us to that whether we are Jews, Muslims, Christians or whatever," he said.
Tveit was elected on Thursday to be the next General Secretary of the World Council of Churches. He replaces the outgoing Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, who has served in the role since 2003.