by George Arende.
Calvin lived in Geneva from 1536 up to the time of his death in 1564, and his work in the city galvanized other forces to spread reformed theology across Europe. The ‘City of Calvin,’ as it is popularly known, is at the heart of the reformation.
This backdrop brought significant meaning to the visit of a pope who has championed causes of peace and justice in his papacy. On the invitation of World Council of Churches (WCC), the pope was willing to walk, talk and work with members of the protestant churches.
The Argentinian pontiff arrived in the ‘City of Calvin’ to pomp and color. People queued along the roads to wave and to get a glimpse of the 81 year pope. On arrival at the ecumenical center for the 70th anniversary celebrations, the pope was received by his host WCC General Secretary Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit and WCC Central Committee moderator Dr. Agnes Abuom, among other church leaders.
The pontiff joined other faithful at the WCC chapel for an ecumenical service, where he urged for greater church unity. He said he had “desired to come” to Geneva in quest for peace and unity. “Looking at our own journey, we see a reflection of ourselves in some of the experiences of the early communities. How difficult it is to overcome hard feelings and to foster communion!” he said.
‘Our difference must not be excuses. We can pray, evangelize and serve together’, said the pope.
[Unity] is possible and pleasing to God while the opposite leads to conflict and breakup, he added.
The pope concluded his message with a plea that ‘Lord asks us for unity; our world [is] torn by divisions that affect vulnerable [and] begs for unity’.
Pope Francis and his entourage then left for a ‘papal lunch’ at the Bossy institute amidst heavy police presence.
At Bossy Institute, the pope was presented with disability symbolic wooden carved cross made by Karim Okiki from Kenya and a water bottle from the Ecumenical Water Network.
Call for new evangelical outreach
The Central Committee members and other invited dignitaries gathered for an ecumenical meeting later in the afternoon. The WCC general secretary, Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit termed the visit a “milestone in the relations among the churches”.
He referred to the 50 year-relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the WCC as one of “truth and love” which offers lessons on “what it means to be a fellowship of churches”. Tveit praised the pope for “commitment to holy ministry of unity, serving justice and peace”.
On her part, WCC central committee moderator Dr. Agnes Abuom praised the co-operation between WCC and pontifical council on peace efforts in South Sudan, Burundi, Colombia and the Korean peninsula.
“The concern of reunification has always been a high priority for the ecumenical family”, said Abuom. Being a Thursday, gender justice campaign symbols were visible in the black attire many chose for the day. The moderator explained to the pope why many people were in black “[It is] Not because we disregard and disrespect the color black, but because one of the greatest scenes that faces us in the world is rape and violence against women. We are saying, ‘No! Enough is enough!”
Pope Francis noted that the world needs “new evangelical outreach” and went further to say, “we are called to be a people that experiences and shares the joy of the Gospel, praises the Lord and serves our brothers and sisters with hearts burning with a desire to open up horizons of goodness and beauty unimaginable to those who have not been blessed truly to know Jesus”.
“Whenever we say ‘Our Father’, we feel an echo within us of our sons and daughters, but also of our being brothers and sisters”, said Pope.
“We cannot look the other way, [when] events and situations affect a greater part of humanity”, said the pontiff.
Message of forgiveness
Later on in the evening, all the attention turned to Palexpo exhibition hall, where thousands had gathered for the papal mass. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, which organized the mass, reported that more than 41,000 people were in attendance.
The pope’s message for thousands of people in the arena focused on three themes: father, bread and forgiveness.
“The words ‘our father’ reveal our identity, our life’s meaning: we are God’s beloved sons and daughters. Those words solve the problem of our isolation, our sense of being orphans”, said Pope Francis.
“Never tire of saying ‘Our Father’. It reminds us none is ever alone in this world”.
On forgiveness, the pope asked the gathered faithful to seek for forgiveness without tiring. “God frees our hearts of all sin, he forgives every last thing. Yet he asks only one thing of us: that we in turn never tire of forgiving…. We should take a good x-ray of our heart, to find out if there are blockages within us, obstacles to forgiveness, stones needing to be removed”.