Not only God, but today’s broken, divided world is begging for unity among Christians, Pope Francis said on an ecumenical pilgrimage to Geneva.
“Our differences must not be excuses,” he said, because as Christ’s disciples, Christians can still pray together, evangelize and serve others.
On his 23rd apostolic journey abroad on June 21, the Pope spent several hours with Christian leaders at the headquarters of the World Council of Churches, a fellowship of 350 ecclesial communities, including many Orthodox churches. The Pope came to help celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of what is the largest and broadest ecumenical fellowship in the world.
Speaking to reporters aboard the papal plane from Rome, the Pope said, “This is a trip toward unity,” representing the “desire for unity.”
He was greeted on the tarmac by dignitaries and two children in traditional dress; two former members of the Swiss Guard stood by the red carpet in the corps’ full colourful uniform, which only happens on papal trips to Switzerland. Active guard members travelling with the Pope are always in plainclothes.
Accompanied by the leadership of the WCC, the Pope attended an ecumenical prayer service, marked by songs from the Protestant traditions and the Catholic Church’s theme song for the Jubilee of Mercy. There was a common witness of faith in reciting the Nicene Creed and representatives from the Catholic Church and other Christian communities alternated readings, including a prayer of repentance, which asked God’s forgiveness for their disunity and failure to serve God and all his children.
In his speech, the Pope said, “Our lack of unity” is not only contrary to God’s will, it is “also a scandal to the world.”
“The Lord asks us for unity; our world, torn by all-too-many divisions that affect the most vulnerable, begs for unity.”
Pope Francis, the third Pope to visit the WCC, said he wanted to come as “a pilgrim in quest of unity and peace.” He thanked God for having found “brothers and sisters already making this same journey.”
The journey requires constant conversion, he said, and a renewed way of thinking that rejects worldliness and seeks to live “in the Spirit, with one’s mind bent on serving others and a heart growing in forgiveness.”
“Divisions between Christians have often arisen because at their root,” he said, “a worldly mindset has seeped in.”
“First self-concern took priority over concern for Christ,” he said, and from there, it was easy for the devil to move in, “separating us.”
Following Christ entails loss, he warned, because “it does not adequately protect the interests of individual communities, often closely linked to ethnic identity or split along party lines, whether ‘conservative’ or ‘progressive.'”
Christians must belong to the Lord above and before they identify with anything else, “right or left; to choose in the name of the Gospel, our brother and sister over ourselves,” he said.