Pope Francis called on Christians on Thursday to "break down barriers of suspicion and fear" that have divided them since the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century and to work together to help the most needy.
Francis made a day trip to Geneva to mark the 70th anniversary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), a fellowship of 350 mostly national churches representing Protestant communities and some Orthodox Christians.
Its members represent about 500 million faithful, compared with 1.3 billion for the Roman Catholic Church, which is not a full member of the WCC.
"After centuries of conflict … charity allows us to come together as brothers and sisters," he said at the WCC headquarters in Geneva, the city where reformer John Calvin lived in the 16th century.
Francis called on Christians of all denominations to find "the courage to change the course of history, a history that had led us to mutual distrust and estrangement."
But he said Christians "cannot be reduced to a non-governmental organization."
The structure of the WCC is similar to that of the United Nations, with representatives from many independent national churches and some of its critics have said it has become overly bureaucratic.
Francis called for more teamwork among Christian denominations to spread gospel values and cooperate more on issues such as fighting poverty and injustice, and defending the environment.
Also read: The Protestant Reformation, the struggle for freedom of conscience
Romanism is now regarded by Protestants with far greater favor than in former years. In those countries where Catholicism is not in the ascendancy, and the papists are taking a conciliatory course in order to gain influence, there is an increasing indifference concerning the doctrines that separate the reformed churches from the papal hierarchy; the opinion is gaining ground that, after all, we do not differ so widely upon vital points as has been supposed, and that a little concession on our part will bring us into a better understanding with Rome. The time was when Protestants placed a high value upon the liberty of conscience which had been so dearly purchased. They taught their children to abhor popery and held that to seek harmony with Rome would be disloyalty to God. But how widely different are the sentiments now expressed!
The papal church will never relinquish her claim to infallibility. All that she has done in her persecution of those who reject her dogmas she holds to be right; and would she not repeat the same acts, should the opportunity be presented?Let the restraints now imposed by secular governments be removed and Rome be reinstated in her former power, and there would speedily be a revival of her tyranny and persecution.
Protestants have tampered with and patronized popery; they have made compromises and concessions which papists themselves are surprised to see and fail to understand. Men are closing their eyes to the real character of Romanism and the dangers to be apprehended from her supremacy. The people need to be aroused to resist the advances of this most dangerous foe to civil and religious liberty.
And let it be remembered, it is the boast of Rome that she never changes. The principles of Gregory VII and Innocent III are still the principles of the Roman Catholic Church. And had she but the power, she would put them in practice with as much vigor now as in past centuries. Protestants little know what they are doing when they propose to accept the aid of Rome in the work of Sunday exaltation. While they are bent upon the accomplishment of their purpose, Rome is aiming to re-establish her power, to recover her lost supremacy. Let the principle once be established in the United States that the church may employ or control the power of the state; that religious observances may be enforced by secular laws; in short, that the authority of church and state is to dominate the conscience, and the triumph of Rome in this country is assured.
God’s word has given warning of the impending danger; let this be unheeded, and the Protestant world will learn what the purposes of Rome really are, only when it is too late to escape the snare. She is silently growing into power. Her doctrines are exerting their influence in legislative halls, in the churches, and in the hearts of men. She is piling up her lofty and massive structures in the secret recesses of which her former persecutions will be repeated. Stealthily and unsuspectedly she is strengthening her forces to further her own ends when the time shall come for her to strike. All that she desires is vantage ground, and this is already being given her. We shall soon see and shall feel what the purpose of the Roman element is.Whoever shall believe and obey the word of God will thereby incur reproach and persecution.
The Great Controversy