The tradition of representatives of the Lutheran, Catholic, and Orthodox Churches visiting Rome during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began in 1985. So the trip has a long tradition and once again offered an interesting programme.
The delegation visited Radio Vaticana, where journalist Stefan von Kempis, responsible for the channel's German programs, spoke about how he sees the task of making programs for a global audience.
We also met Cardinal Kurt Koch and those responsible for the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity. During the meeting, the Finnish bishops reported on the situation of their own church but also on the unique ecumenical cooperation in Finland. Bishop Bo-Göran Åstrand pointed out the importance of being able to unite in prayer and action to give humanity hope, courage, and faith in the future. Catholic Bishop Raimo Goyarrola emphasised the unimaginable grace of being able to participate in a well-functioning and respectful ecumenical cooperation. Metropolitan Arseni of the Orthodox Church mentioned the possibility and importance of getting to know each other as people.
The programme also included a visit and talks with the ambassador of Finland to Italy, Matti Lassila and the staff of the Finnish Institute in Rome. In addition to hearing about their mission and activities in Rome, the programme also described the importance of good relations between church and society. Without mutual understanding, it is difficult to act together. It was particularly valuable that the ambassador of Finland to Croatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, and the Holy See (Vatican), Kalle Kankaanpää, was able to participate in the delegation throughout the week. This allowed for many discussions on the role and situation of religions in general and the situation of the Catholic Church and the Pope in particular.
The highlight of the trip was of course the private reception with the Pope. The delegation had chosen the theme of pilgrimage and presented the Pope with a pair of white warming mittens. The idea was for them to keep his blessed hands warm in an otherwise rather cold world.
During the week, we also had the opportunity to unite in prayer and celebrate several services together. As the visit fell on 19 January, the day of commemoration of the Patron Saint of Finland, Bishop Henrik, we celebrated an ecumenical mass in the Finnish chapel of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. The presence of cardinals and ambassadors, bishops and priests, a beautiful Finnish choir, and a surprising number of participants made the Mass a truly blessed moment.
What do I carry with me?
The trip offered many unforgettable memories and encounters. The most obvious and unique was of course meeting Pope Francis. Looking into his eyes, shaking his hand, and being touched by his personality. I will certainly carry that experience and feeling with me as long as I live.
Of course, it was also interesting to visit different places that I had only previously heard and read about. To actually see them and hear about their significance for the present. The trip also provided an opportunity to meet and talk to people with long experience of dealing with issues of both an ecumenical and political nature. People who, through their ministries and positions, have great significance for the churches and societies of the future.
The most significant and memorable thing was probably the new friends that the trip brought. People I had known about but not had conversations with before. People with whom I have now shared faith and life and with whom I therefore feel a special affinity and community. And perhaps this is also where I sense something of the ecumenical premise: to be able to meet and talk without prejudice about what is closest to oneself and one's church. To put aside self-centeredness and meet as people in need of help in a frozen world. In line with this year's theme of pilgrimage: walking a bit of the road together to see where it leads.