On 17 January, Pope Francis received an ecumenical delegation from Finland in a private audience. The visit was part of the pilgrimage to Rome undertaken over the last 35 years to celebrate the feast of Saint Henry, patron saint of Finland. The group of ten was guided by the Lutheran Bishop of Helsinki Teemu Laajasalo, Monsignor Marco Pasinato, Diocesan Administrator of the Catholic Diocese of Helsinki, and Metropolitan Elia of Oulu, representative of the Orthodox Church of Finland.
In his address to the Holy Father, Bishop Laajasalo stressed that “ecumenical work is a response to the prayer of Jesus that his followers may be one … it is also work that to a great extent awakens the hope that affords an example to the world of how centuries-old disputes and harsh words can be replaced by mutual understanding and a spirit of reconciliation”.
In his address, Pope Francis particularly emphasized the community of the baptized: “Christians are those who can give thanks for their baptism. This gratitude links and expands our hearts, and opens them to our neighbour, who is not an adversary but our beloved brother, our beloved sister. The community of all the baptized is not a mere ‘standing beside one another’, and certainly not a ‘standing against one other’, but wants to become an ever fuller 'standing together' ".
Referring to the theme of this year's Week of Prayer for Christian Unity ("They showed us unusual kindess", Acts 28:2), the Holy Father underlined how hospitality is an ecumenical virtue.
During a meeting with Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and his staff members, the participants of the Finnish delegation discussed issues relating to the current ecumenical dialogue.
The programme of the pilgrimage also included a Catholic Mass, during which the Lutheran Bishop Laajasalo delivered the homily, and ecumenical vespers presided over by Cardinal Koch. The two celebrations, in which the Finnish choir "Cantores Minores" also participated, took place at Santa Brigida, a convent for sisters of Saint Bridget whose apostolate is particularly centred on ecumenical prayer.