To the Reverend Dr. Chris Ferguson, General Secretary, World Communion of Reformed Churches on the occasion of the 2019 Executive Committee Meeting


Greetings and prayerful good wishes to you and the members of the Executive Committee of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) gathered in Zurich, Switzerland.

Just two years ago, the Catholic Church together with those communions embracing the Protestant Reformation, commemorated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation giving thanks for all the Lord has done, especially in the last fifty years, in “making the partial communion existing between Christians grow towards full communion in truth and charity” (Ut Unum Sint 14). Today in this “Zwinglian” year of 2019, we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformed Church in Switzerland with the preaching of Huldrych Zwingli on January 1, 1519 at the Grossmünster church in the city where you are now gathered.

Zwingli’s passion for the Word of God is of great significance for Christendom today in a time when we are seeing this passion eroding. This passion drove Zwingli to plunge into humanist studies and scholastic theology. Erasmus whom he met in 1515 pointed him to Christian antiquity – Scriptures and the church fathers – which were being discovered in a new way. Tradition tells us that Zwingli learned the Greek New Testament by heart. 

Like Martin Luther, the young reformer was appalled at the general lack of knowledge of basic Christian teachings especially among those who lived in the countryside. Indeed, many did not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandants or a single part of the Word of God.  In his sermon on that first January day of 1519, he announced that he would begin to teach the Gospel of Matthew to the congregation the following Sunday.

The careful crafting of his sermons in eloquent yet simple and familiar language made his preaching incredibly effective, bringing many for the first time to knowledge of Word of God which, St. Jerome reminds us, is knowledge of Christ himself.  Would that all of us today have a similar passion and love for the eternal Word of God. Here, there is much room for continuing and deepening dialogue and the growth of communion.

In his visit to Switzerland in 1984, the 500th anniversary of the birth of Zwingli, Pope John Paul II proposed that “the fact that we judge in a different way the complex events of the Reformation period, as well as the differences in the central questions of the faith, must not divide us forever.” The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Reformed Churches have, since 1970, been committed to ensure this division is indeed not forever. Our four fruitful international dialogues have addressed some of these central questions of faith. This is evidence of our commitment and sincere hope that the Lord’s prayer for Christian unity at the Last Supper may come to fulfillment.

It was in this great spirit of hope that I had the pleasure of gathering earlier this year at the University of Notre Dame with the leadership of the five Christian communions formally associated with the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.  This unique gathering affirmed the recent significant strides of progress in ecumenical relations and recommended ways to further develop relationships between the various traditions. Yet, perhaps the most important element of the gathering was the great urgency which we all felt in providing a convincing common witness to the “message of God’s liberating grace and hope for this world.

Today, the “broken, divided and contentious world” of which we are part, seems to have forgotten or become disinterested in this liberating message. Awakening the present and future generations to this salvific message of the Gospel will be the great task for all Christians, since there can be no justice or peace in a society where the love of God and his eternal Word does not burn brightly in the human heart.

May the risen Lord who came to gather what is scattered through one Baptism, the integrity of faith and the bond of charity, look kindly on you and all those gathered in Zurich for your Executive Committee meeting.

With my personal prayers and best wishes,


Cardinal  Kurt Koch


Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity
2 May 2019