Pope Benedict XVI has pledged to continue working with the World Council of Churches – the world’s biggest church grouping – in promoting Christian unity.
"We look forward to continuing this journey of hope and promise, as we intensify our endeavours towards reaching that day when Christians are united in proclaiming the Gospel message of salvation for all," said Pope Benedict in a message to the WCC’s ninth assembly which opened in Porto Alegre on 14 February.
The Roman Catholic Church is not a member of the WCC, which groups more than 340 churches in more than 100 countries mainly from the Protestant and Christian Orthodox traditions representing more than 550 million people.
Still, it cooperates with the council in many projects and serves on some of its committees, and the Catholic Church belongs to some national church groupings including the National Council of Christian Churches in Brazil which is hosting the WCC gathering on a Catholic university campus.
Pope Benedict – then Professor Joseph Ratzinger – was from 1968 to 1975 a member of the WCC’s Faith and Order Commission, which has Catholics as full members and seeks to promote church unity through theological dialogue.
The day after his election as pontiff in 2005 Pope Benedict described his primary task as helping Christian unity and said he would do "everything in his power to promote the fundamental cause of ecumenism".
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos I who is seen by many as the spiritual leader of Eastern Orthodox Christians worldwide, underlined in his message to the gathering the commitment of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the WCC and to the ecumenical movement as a whole.
"It will continue to offer its witness and to share the richness of its theological and ecclesial tradition in the search for unity among Christian churches, in all efforts towards reconciliation and peace," he noted.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the WCC and leaders of faith communities to support the world body in its efforts to promote peace, advance development and defend human dignity.
"At a time when some would seek to divide the human family by exploiting differences among peoples, the United Nations needs more than ever the support of men and women of faith like you," said Annan.
(c) Ecumenical News International