Swiss Bishop Tapped for Unity Office

Brings "Direct Experience" of Ecumenism to Pontifical Council

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 1, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Bishop Kurt Koch of Basel, Switzerland, has been appointed to succeed Cardinal Walter Kasper as the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.



The announcement of Archbishop Koch's appointment was made today, coming simultaneously with elevation to the dignity of archbishop. Cardinal Kasper, 77, had resigned for reasons of age after more than a decade leading the council.

The 60-year-old archbishop has already served on the pontifical council since 2002, as well as being a member of the International Mixed Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. He also has formed part of the International Catholic-Lutheran Commission for Unity.

Archbishop Koch is already in Rome today, beginning his new mission. In a personal letter posted on the Basel Diocese's Web site, he explains that Benedict XVI had asked him about accepting the position as early as February.

"On that occasion, [the Pope] pointed out the importance for him that this task be carried out by someone who knows the Churches and ecclesial communities of the Reformation not only through books but through direct experience," the archbishop recounted.

Archbishop Koch affirmed the importance of the ecumenical mission, writing that "Christian unity is in fact a mission entrusted by Jesus Christ himself, and its urgency, as well as its difficulties, are manifest today."

Honor, responsibility

Kurt Koch was born in 1950 in Emmenbrucke, Switzerland. He was ordained to the priesthood at age 32 and made bishop of his diocese at age 45, in 1995. He later served for two years (2007-2009) as president of the Swiss bishops' conference.

In reference to his new post, Archbishop Koch said he is "conscious of the great honor and the great responsibility that the Pope has entrusted to me," and thanked him for his trust.

He also praised the work of his predecessor, Cardinal Kasper, saying he plans to continue his work.

The Swiss episcopal conference today praised Archbishop Koch's appointment.
 
A communiqué signed by Bishop Norbert Brunner, president of the conference, stated that "now in the global ambit, Archbishop Kurt Koch will be able to contribute his brilliant theological competencies and his fine knowledge of ecumenical relations, social questions and relations between the Church and state."