The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) congratulated Pope Francis for being elected the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church and said it hopes to continue positive dialogue together.
The Rev. Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, secretary general of WEA, which represents more than 600 million evangelical Christians, extended his "warmest congratulations" to the newly elected Pope and affirmed his prayers for the new leader, who will head the Catholic Church "at a time filled with great challenges but also a time of great possibilities...," in a statement released Thursday.
"We look forward to building on some of the good work we have done together in the past, such as the collaboration for the document Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct," said Tunnicliffe.
"We live at a time of grave challenges for all Christian communities. Therefore, the need to find common ground for conversation and action in this world are fundamental if we are to be faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ and his kingdom on earth," he said.
In the statement, the WEA recognizes the various differences between Roman Catholics and evangelicals around the world, and expressed its hope "that fruitful conversations with the Catholic Church will continue."
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, who took the papal name Francis, was announced the successor to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Wednesday.
In Buenos Aires, the Rev. Dr. Norberto Saracco, a prominent evangelical leader in Argentina, affirmed that Pope Francis is "known for having very good relationships with evangelicals and with leaders of other faiths, in addition to being a man of prayer and a supporter of the Bible Society," WEA stated.
The WEA said it welcomes the new pope's commitment to justice and peace, especially for those who are persecuted for the sake of the Gospel and for those living on the margins of society. "It is also very encouraging that Pope Francis hails from the global south, where the majority of the world's Christians now live, and that he holds to a strong commitment to evangelism and the proclamation of Jesus," the organization stated.
Tunnicliffe had met various times with Pope Benedict XVI and looks forward to meeting Pope Francis, knowing that, "despite our differences, we can uphold one another in prayer and that the Holy Spirit will guide us and help us discern within our different communities, what tasks God has for us to do."
The secretary general plans to attend the inauguration of Pope Francis on March 19 in Rome at the invitation of the Vatican.
Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, who is the chair of the WEA's Theological Commission, wrote in his recent op-ed that by electing a non-European, "the Catholic Church has clearly accepted and given prominence to the fact that the center of gravity of world Christianity has shifted to the global south. Although popes from Poland and Germany were already a step away from Italy, the new step is away from Europe entirely, to the regions where the masses of Christians live."
Schirrmacher stated that he also hopes for "the continuation of truly fair and honest theological discussions of both our differences and commonalities."