WCC Latin leader hopeful pope will help deepen ecumenical dialogue

(Photo: Alessandro Bianchi)Newly elected Pope Francis (2nd L) appears on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica after being elected by the conclave of cardinals, at the Vatican, March 13, 2013.

A Latin American church leader who works with the World Council of Churches, a global body representing 560 million Christians, is hopeful that the Pope Francis' connection to the global South can strengthen ecumenical dialogue.

The election of Pope Francis, the first pontiff from Latin America, represents a "transition in Christianity," said Rev. Walter Altmann, the moderator of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee and a Lutheran pastor from Brazil.

Latin America is home to 40 percent of the world's Catholics, and while Christianity in Europe is in crisis, the faithful are booming in Latin America.

"In recent decades, there has been a radical shift to the South in world Christianity. The election of an Argentinean pope reflects this new reality, despite that most cardinals come from the North," said Altmann.

"My expectation is that his mandate can be marked by intense and deep ecumenical dialogue and cooperation."

Rev. Romi Márcia Bencke, general secretary of the National Council of Christian Churches of Brazil (CONIC), also sees areas of shared history that could contribute toward more cooperation.

The CONIC is the national council of the WCC in Brazil.

"The path of the Catholics in our continent was marked by the rich experience of liberation theology, said Bencke. "Particularly in Brazil we experience a rich ecumenical coexistence with the Roman Catholic Church, which is one of the co-founders of CONIC. Hopefully the new pope will continue to strengthen our ecumenical journey."

In his congratulatory statement, WCC general secretary Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit said the Roman Catholic Church and the WCC "are pilgrims together in the one ecumenical movement."

While the Catholic Church is not a member of the WCC, which represents 349 church bodies worldwide, the Catholic Church has been working together with the WCC on issues of unity, ecclesiology, mission and inter-religious dialogue since 1960.

"Now, in close collaboration with Pope Francis, we look forward to building on this positive relationship with the Catholic Church that has been nurtured so carefully in the past," said Tveit, a Lutheran from Norway. "An important aspect of the ecumenical movement is a concept of mutual accountability. We in the World Council of Churches offer our cooperation to Pope Francis and the whole of the Catholic Church in this spirit."

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