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2 February 2000

Bishop Walter Kasper - First Visit to the WCC
"The ecumenical movement is one of the bright spots of the past century"

The ecumenical movement is one of the bright spots of the past century, Bishop Walter Kasper said in Geneva on Tuesday, 1 February. Describing as "positive" a two-day visit to the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity said that much had been achieved in the preceding decades, including the making of important contacts and the discovery and development of areas of convergence.

This was Bishop Kaspers first visit to the WCCs Geneva headquarters since taking up his new office in the Vatican last summer. In conversation with WCC representatives the Bishop expressed appreciation of the "valuable cooperation with the WCC", and described the work of the Commission on Faith and Order as "central" in this.

One important theme in future cooperation between the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and the WCC would be the question of baptism, the Bishop said. This will also be among the topics discussed by the Joint Working Group between the RCC and the WCC, which will meet for the first time with its new membership in May of this year in Beirut, Lebanon.

Besides topics like the mutual recognition of baptism, it would also be important to consider how far the significance of baptism as the sacramental basis of Christian unity can be expressed more clearly in liturgy, Kasper stressed: "The question is how we can celebrate our common Christian faith together."

Kasper also mentioned justification as another ecumenical challenge for the future. This was a fundamental question not only for Lutherans, but for all the Reformation churches. It would now be a case of examining how far the differentiated consensus worked out with the Lutherans could be extended to other Reformation churches and so broaden the basis of consensus, he said.

The WCC and the RCC maintain regular, close working relations. The Executive Committee of the Joint Working Groups meets twice a year, while its 35-member Plenary meets once a year. The RCC has twelve representatives on the WCCs Commission on Faith and Order, three members on the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism and consultants in other advisory bodies of the WCC. The RCC is also a member of several regional and national councils of churches.

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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.