Monday, 6 December 2010

WCC General Secretary meets the Pope

Olav Tveit Fykse (left), Secretary General of the
World Council of Churches
meets Pope Benedict XVI. in the Vatican.
Photo: epd-bild / L'Osservatore Romano
Slogging through the snow last week might have put some readers in mind of the ecumenical winter.  This has come about in Britain as ecumenists look back to the late nineteen eighties and feel relationships are chillier today than they were.  It seems there is a similar feeling across Europe.

The Norwegians have a saying, '"In Norway there is no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing".  The new General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Olav Fykse Tveit, a Norwegian Lutheran pastor, conveyed his view of ecumenical winter at a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday 4 December 2010, with a gift of Norwegian gloves.  These were presented to the Pope in 'an inlaid wooden box from Syria as a reminder of deep concern for and solidarity with the people and Christian communities of the Middle East. Inside the box were some more personal gifts, the gloves with a book of poetry by Olav H. Hauge which contains in Norwegian and English one of Tveit's favourite poems by Hauge "The Dream we Carry".'

The blog post, Holding hands in a warm grasp whatever the weather, continues by explaining, 'Since coming into office at the WCC Tveit has tried to rehabilitate the meaning of winter, as a time for reflection and preparation. Communicators sometimes find this a bit difficult to deal with as there is also much talk of ecumenical winter. Tveit's clear message with the gloves was that however cold the actual or ecumenical weather there are always ways in which we can reach out to each other, support one another and walk hand in hand to carry forwards the work of unity and being one together.'

At a Radio Vatican interview, Tveit explained his view of the ecumenical winter further, "I want to use an image: one says that we may now have an ecumenical winter. And as a Norwegian I ask back: what's so terrible in the winter? We know that winter can be beautiful, but also that winter is only a four different seasons. In the winter we have a time to think, to reflect on what we have been through and what we can expect from the future and prepare well. So I think that we do not focus so much on the needs, which is not as good as it was, but what new possibilities can open new doors that we do. We see, for example the new year with the Pentecostal churches and the evangelical churches now an openness to ecumenical work is growing. We also see that the younger generation has a more natural access to the ecumenical process. You do not understand why we can no longer be one, why can not we work together. Therefore I have hope. This is part of the winter. You look toward spring and summer and I know that they come from. "  (Translated from Italian.)

The meeting was a one to one conversation, with no other staff present.  "... we talked about our common task. We have quite a lot of talk about the importance of the ecumenical task, even if common challenges here and see if we see any indications that the ecumenical awareness is perhaps not as strong as it was. I have as a representative of the Ecumenical Council stressed quite strongly that we are not a western Protestant organization, but a global ecumenical fellowship of churches. And so we also have the privilege of the diversity of these churches to bring together and that we in this Commission, both theologically and cooperate in the mission very closely with the Catholic Church. But also that we do in many countries in very local contexts across a large and important collaboration between our Churches and the Roman Catholic Church."

On the situation of Christians in the Middle East, Tveit said, "... we have emphasized very strongly the importance of this situation in the Middle East as a joint responsibility and a duty for us. How can we strengthen the churches there, how we can encourage the dialogue we can work together inter-religious, so we strengthen a higher level of confidence and a new will to find solutions.   ... We talked about how his (the Pope's) trip to the Holy Land in 2008 and the Synod this year, were very important and that the message of the Synod was very important: there must be a new way in which the rights and be peace movement, which are used by both sides taken seriously. You have to show a new willingness to find solutions."
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