World Council of Churches general secretary, the Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on Saturday to discuss church unity and the situation of Christians in the Middle East.
Benedict suggested allowing the Bible to be the centerpiece in theological discussion and reflection as a way to strengthen visible Christian unity, according to Tveit. It was the first time Tveit had a meeting with the pope since he assumed the role of WCC general secretary in January. But it was the second time the ecumenical leader visited the Vatican this year.
“We had a very open and friendly conversation,” said Tveit. “He emphasized in a very kind and also a very strong way the importance of the World Council of Churches’ work and the ministry I am called to do as general secretary.”
Benedict, then theologian and Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, had been involved in WCC’s Commission on Faith and Order in the early 1970’s. Tveit said Benedict expressed interest in WCC’s work with theological issues and how to strengthen visible unity between churches.
The Roman Catholic Church, a single church representing more than one billion people, participates in several WCC activities, including the Faith and Order Commission, the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, and the Joint Commission of the WCC and the Roman Catholic Church. Catholic representatives also provide input in the planning of the 10th WCC Assembly in Busan, Korea in 2013.
In addition to visible church unity, Tveit and Benedict also discussed how to support Christianity in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq where the tiny population has come under increased violent attacks. They also talked about how churches can have a united witness when it comes to the conflict between Israel and Palestinians. The two agreed that there needs to be building of trust between the conflicting groups there and a commitment to continuing dialogue.
“I mentioned the great importance of the Roman Catholic Church there and how it is also contributing to the one ecumenical voice in Jerusalem,” recalled the WCC general secretary.
WCC has 349 member churches that collectively represent more than 550 million Christians worldwide. The fellowship includes the Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant and some Pentecostal and Evangelical Churches. Tveit’s trip to Rome ends Sunday.