Strengthening visible Christian unity was affirmed as a common goal between the World Council of Churches and the Vatican as the leaders of the two groups shared their first private meeting on Saturday.
WCC head the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit and Pope Benedict XVI met at the Vatican for nearly a quarter of an hour during which they discussed issues of ecumenism, theology, and Christianity in the Middle East.
"We had a very open and friendly conversation," Tveit said of the meeting. "He emphasized in a very kind and also a very strong way the importance of the World Council of Churches' work and the ministry I am called to do as general secretary."
Pope Benedict also "expressed his interest in how we are now developing and planning for the work we are going to do in the future," Tveit added.
While the meeting is the first between the two leaders, Benedict, as theologian and Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, had previously been a part of the WCC's Faith & Order Commission in the early 1970's, which Tveit says is a "very important dimension" of the WCC's work.
According to Tveit, Pope Benedict said taking the approach of allowing the Bible to be a centerpiece in theological discourse and reflection was one way of strengthening visible Christian unity.
Tveit further noted that the relationship between the WCC and the Vatican is something "much more than the link between Rome and Geneva," but is rather something considered on a daily basis.
"It is a strong cooperation in commissions, but it is also a cooperation that is going on every day," Tveit said. "The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches around the world, and when I travel and meet with the member churches in many cases they describe to me how they cooperate with the Roman Catholic Church on the local level and national level."
One example of current cooperation between the Vatican and the WCC is on the January referendum in Sudan, where both WCC and Catholic churches are involved in peacemaking efforts.
"In this, the Roman Catholic Church is an extremely important actor, and in Khartoum the church has a very visible and very strong presence," Tveit said.
Tveit added that he and Benedict discussed the possibility of the pope coming to Geneva in the near future to meet with the WCC and others in the area. Tveit's visit to Rome concludes on Sunday.