In an interview with ZENIT, the Reverend Samuel Kobia comments on the new Pope's expressed commitment to work toward the reconstruction of "full and visible unity of Christians."
Married and the father of four, he is an ordained minister of the Methodist Church of Kenya. He will visit the Vatican soon.
The World Council of Churches brings together 347 denominations and ecclesial communities in more than 100 countries and territories, representing some 400 million Christians. The Catholic Church is not a member but maintains cooperative relations with the council.
Q: The Pope has assumed as his "primary commitment" to work for the reconstruction of the "full and visible unity of Christians." I imagine that this must fill you with joy.
Reverend Kobia: I am certainly very happy that Benedict XVI puts so high on the agenda of his priorities the "full and visible unity of Christians," which is the ultimate objective of the ecumenical movement and the "raison d'être" of the World Council of Churches.
If I were to articulate my personal "wish list" for this pontificate, topping the list would be a renewed commitment on the part of the Roman Catholic Church to the ecumenical openness of the Second Vatican Council, whose vision of the Church opened itself up to the ecclesial values present among Christians of other traditions.
If Benedict XVI wishes to go forward in deepening relations and cooperation with other Christian Churches, and in exploring new ways that might bring us closer to an ever more perfect communion, he will find in the World Council of Churches a partner that is ready to go with him as far as he wishes.
Q: Benedict XVI is conscious of the fact that "good sentiments are not enough, rather concrete gestures." What concrete gesture do you expect from the Pope in the area of ecumenism?
Reverend Kobia: A categorical recognition that among the so-called ecclesial communities, there are churches that must be recognized as such. This would be a concrete gesture in the direction I have just mentioned.
This should go hand in hand with recognition of the different local ecclesial realities. Within the Roman Catholic community itself, there are local Churches that would be ready to take concrete steps on topics such as mixed marriages and eucharistic hospitality. It would be very welcome if the Pope empowered and encouraged local Churches to advance ecumenically according to their own realities.
Another concrete gesture, equally important, would be a new readiness to seek together answers to the most burning issues of our time, such as violence, injustice, poverty and the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which devastates so many lives. The latter, especially, is a human tragedy of such magnitude that it is indispensable that the churches work together to look for ways to address it from a moral point of view.
The transmission of the spiritual resources of Churches to a broken world must be an ecumenical and pastoral priority.
Q: "Theological dialogue is necessary, but above all there must be a purification of memory," said Benedict XVI. What do you think the Pope was referring to?
Reverend Kobia: Of course I cannot speak for him, but I think that to heal the wounds, which persist in memories, of a past marked by mutual condemnations and discrediting is essential for a meeting between sisters and brothers in Christ.
It is only possible if the Churches engage in real dialogue, in a spirit of humility and conversion, in a dialogue in truth and love, that allows us to share with one another the gifts that our common Lord Jesus Christ has entrusted to us.
Q: Pope Joseph Ratzinger wishes to promote contacts and understanding with representatives of various churches and ecclesial communities. Have you already thought of inviting him to the World Council of Churches, or of requesting an interview with him in Rome, for example?
Reverend Kobia: In fact, my first visit to the Vatican, in my capacity as secretary-general of the World Council of Churches, was already on the agenda for the middle of this year but, naturally, it had to be postponed.
I am confident that it will be concretized very soon, and I wait with great expectation to meet the Pope.
As regards inviting him to the headquarters of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, two of his predecessors visited us, Paul VI in 1969 and John Paul II in 1984. Therefore, without a doubt we would be ready to give him the most cordial welcome in our house when the appropriate moment comes, if he decides to grant us the honor of visiting us.