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11.05.05 01:58 Age: 7 yrs

Pope to meet WCC head as churches look to new era

The newly elected Pope Benedict XVI will meet with the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia, from 12-14 June 2005. The announcement was made yesterday in a press conference at the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism in Athens, Greece.It will be the first official meeting between the pontiff and the head of the ecumenical body which brings together 347 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican churches across the world. Both leaders face major challenges in seeking to move the historic denominations into the global, post-Christendom era.The new Pope emphasized his commitment to Christian unity shortly after he was chosen by the College of Cardinals on 19 April to become the 265th leader of the one billion strong Catholic Church. He is known to be a strong advocate of the primacy of the Petrine office, and in proclaiming the essentially ecumenical nature of his own Church the former Cardinal Josef Ratzinger is setting the bar high for traditional unity hopes.Pope Benedict has in the past made friendly gestures towards dissident Anglicans and others holding out for a Catholic vision against what he sees as liberalizing trends - like the ordination of women and the affirmation of lesbian and gay people.The WCC itself faces many difficulties, not least dramatically declining finances. Its ninth general assembly, due to take place in Brazil next February, will be "crunch time" say insiders.The Catholic Church has observer status with the World Council of Churches, but participates fully in certain aspects of its work.Relations between the mainline Protestants who make up the bulk of the WCC's membership and Orthodox churches around the world have been tense in the post-Cold War period, in spite of the settlement about key issues concerning conciliar decision-making reached by a recent ‘special commission'.The WCC is also seeking to reach out to the fast-growing Evangelical and Pentecostal churches who mostly sit outside organized ecumenical conversation and cooperation.Meanwhile the Catholic pontiff is concerned to reinforce the influence of his own Church, which lost many members to Pentecostals in Latin America and Asia, and has been also been hit by secularizing trends in Europe and America.The meeting between Dr Kobia and Pope Benedict will occur at a crossroad point for the world's historic churches, with the settlements of the long Christendom era seriously in question, but the emergent face of the church still up for grabs.The 78-year-old Pope Benedict has set a demanding pace for himself in his first month in office, in spite of concerns stemming from ill-health in the early 1990s. He is keeping up Pope John Paul II's twice-weekly appearances to the faithful, meeting with heads of state and visiting bishops. In the next few weeks the Pope has appointments in Rome and in the Adriatic port of Bari. And in August 2005 he heads to Cologne, Germany, for World Youth Day.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia