Finnish bishop gives gloves to Pope Francis, 'to keep warm in a cold world,' as unity gesture

(Photo: Vatican Media)A delegation of Finnish church representatives pose for a photo with Pope Francis and other representatives of the Roman Catholic Church in a January 2024 meeting supporting Christian unity. Photo: Vatican Media

Finnish Bishop Bo-Göran Åstrand gifted a pair of gloves to Pope Francis, described as "a modest gift," to warm the pontiff's hands "in an otherwise cold world" in an annual audience during this year's  Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

To mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Pope Francis met with Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox from Finland, encouraging them to journey together as a "pilgrim Church", Vatican News reported on Jan. 22.

Each year, Pope Francis welcomes an ecumenical delegation from Finland – comprised of Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox – to the Vatican.

This year's visit took place, as always, during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and involved an exchange of gifts and reflections.

Speaking to Pope Francis, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland Bishop Åstrand, whose country is known for its cold winters, stressed the aspect of journeying on an ecumenical pilgrimage.

He connected both with Pope Francis' visit to the World Council of Churches in Geneva in 2018 and the WCC's ongoing Pilgrimage of Justice, Reconciliation, and Unity, said the WCC, which seeks global church unity as grouping of more than half a billion Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant Christians.

Recalling the biblical passages about a man journeying from Jerusalem to Jericho and the good Samaritan, Åstrand also reflected that "Christ sends us all out into the world."

He noted that "as pilgrims, we are called to walk together in this world, in the name of compassion, reconciliation, and in the service of peace."

The audience with the Pope on Jan. 19 was part of a larger delegation visit of Finnish church representatives to Rome led by Bishop Bo-Göran Åstrand.

They included Karin Åstrand, deacon; Father Martti Savijoki SCJ; Rev. Mari Puska; Metropolit Arseni Finnish Orthodox Church; Dr. Kimmo Kääriäinen, executive director National Church Council, Department for International Relations, WCC central committee member Maria Mountraki from the Orthodox Church of Finland; Bishop Raimo Goyarrola from the Roman Catholic Church, and Rev. Lucas Snellman, head of communication for the Swedish communication department.

Pope Francis thanked the Finnish delegation for their presence, saying that "this meeting with you is a living sign in the midst of the present Week of Prayer for Christian Unity," according to the WCC.

"Let us ensure, that this annual ecumenical encounter continues to flourish and expand," said the Pope.

Pope Francis stressed the importance of always "welcoming our poor and forgotten brothers and sisters" during the Week of Prayer, including "those who feel abandoned by God or have strayed from the path of faith and hope."

Bishop Åstrand reflected that the meeting is an important expression of existing ecumenical collaboration in Finland and visiting Rome particularly during the Week of Prayer is an important tradition in terms of long-term relations between the churches.

From Rome after the audience with Pope Francis, Bishop Åstrand explained to WCC News: "In fact, this is the 39th visit to the Vatican on 19 January, the day of Saint Henrik to celebrate his life and work.

"The ecumenical tradition was established by Archbishop John Vikström and the local Catholic bishop. Every year one of the Lutheran bishops is asked to lead the delegation to meet with the Pope and the staff in the Vatican. This year it's my turn to lead the ecumenical delegation to Rome. "

Saint Henrik brought Christianity to Finland.

According to legend, he entered Finland together with the king, Saint Eric of Sweden and died as a martyr, becoming a central figure in the local Catholic Church.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is one of the largest Lutheran churches in the world and a majority of Finns belong to the church.

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