World Council of Churches

Egypt needs peaceful and inclusive transformation in its political process

EGYPT-POLITICS-UNREST

The World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit encouraged peaceful and inclusive transformation in political systems in Egypt, while expressing “deep concern” over the escalation of violence in the country.

He shared these views in his letter to the WCC member churches in Egypt on 9 July.

With mass demonstrations before and after the ousting of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, several people have been killed and injured during the last few weeks, according to media reports.

Together with the WCC member churches in Egypt, Tveit said, “we are praying for a peaceful and inclusive transitional process, in which all parties will work together to form a government that will lead the country to stability, justice and peace,” said Tveit.

He added that the WCC strongly supports efforts of the churches in Egypt, working together with their Muslim partners, other political parties and civil society organizations, to facilitate peace building through a reconciliation and healing process on the national level.

“We are also confident that political and religious leaders in Egypt are aware that in critical historical moments of change and transformation in political systems, inclusive processes are vital for the unity of the nation,” Tveit stressed.

He also expressed confidence in the Egyptian people who are claiming dignity, freedom and equality as they seek peaceful ways to reach these common goals while respecting political and religious diversity.

WCC offers congratulations and prayers for Pope Francis I

 

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, has been elected the new pope.
Photo: VanKleinen

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), has expressed ecumenical greetings and an assurance of continuing engagement with the Roman Catholic Church in the era of its new pontiff, Pope Francis I.

Tveit said, “The election of a new pope, Francis I, is a turning point in the life of the Roman Catholic Church, but it also has an impact on people of other churches and faiths.”

Commenting on the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, the first pope from the Global South, Tveit said, through this fellow “pilgrim of justice and peace, who has lived a simple lifestyle and reflects a passion for social justice and lifting up the poor, we reaffirm our commitment to seeking justice and peace.”

“Ever since the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches have enjoyed constructive dialogue and cooperation on matters of faith, witness and the fundamental unity of the whole body of Christ,” Tveit continued.

“We have learned that we are pilgrims together in the one ecumenical movement, and we are particularly grateful for the way the Catholic Church works with us on the highly significant issues of unity, ecclesiology, mission and inter-religious dialogue.”

“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,” he said.

The Roman Catholic Church is not a member of the WCC, but the instrument of the Joint Working Group has fostered close cooperation. Delegates and observers are exchanged at the time of major meetings, and the Catholic Church is formally represented in such WCC-administered bodies as the Faith and Order Commission and the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism.

Cardinal Bergoglio, former archbishop of Buenos Aires, was elected pope by the College of Cardinals on Wednesday 13 March at the conclave in the Vatican.

In Latin America WCC member church leaders reflected positively on the election of Pope Francis.

“We congratulate Francis I, the first Latin American to be elected pope. We are aware of Bergoglio’s work in the Diocese of Buenos Aires and we recognize him as a person of particular sensitivity to social problems and for ecumenical dialogue, said Rev. Nilton Giese, general secretary of the Latin America Council of Churches.

‪”The Evangelical Church of the River Plate (Argentina) congratulates the faithful of the Roman Catholic Church by the recent election of a new pope who, for the first time in history, is from Latin America, said Rev. Antonio Carlos Alfredo Duarte Voelker, president of the Evangelical Church of the River Platte. “We are also confident that his years of experience in the pastorate will help him to promote a new vision to those who suffer persecution and marginalization of any kind.”

Tveit added, “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. We will continue to cooperate in a loving and affirming relationship. In this way, we will grow together in grace and in hope toward that true unity of believers for which Christ prayed.”

“Today the vast majority of Christians live in the Global South,” said Tveit. “The growth of Christianity in the South is likely to continue. This shift has already had an important impact on world Christianity. It is in this context that we will move forward, working together, building our relationship and addressing the important needs of all people today.”

“Let us use this opportunity to pray for and with Pope Francis to reconfirm that we need one another, to address the challenges of the world in our time,” Tveit concluded.

Full text of the WCC general secretary’s statement

 

WCC assembly, an opportunity for praying, listening and sharing

“The World Council of Churches (WCC) 10th Assembly will be an opportunity for praying, listening and sharing together. The event will provide participants a chance to listen for the voice of God, leading them to justice and peace in the world.”

 

These were the words of Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, the WCC general secretary, who spoke with the press in Seoul, Republic of Korea on 29 January.  Along with Prof. Dr Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima, vice-moderator of the WCC Central Committee and moderator of the assembly planning committee, Rev. Dr Henriette Hutabarat Lebang, general secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia, and WCC staff members, Tveit is in Seoul finalizing plans for the WCC assembly.

The WCC 10th Assembly will be held from 30 October to 8 November this year in the Korean port city of Busan.   At the press conference, Tveit introduced the WCC, its work and the theme of the assembly, “God of life, lead us to justice and peace”.

He explained that the WCC is a worldwide fellowship of churches bringing together more than 560 million Christians globally, in more than 110 countries. He said that among its diverse membership are Protestant, Orthodox, Evangelical, Pentecostal and Anglican churches, while the WCC also works in cooperation with the Roman Catholic Church.  “Through the WCC assembly, hosted by the Korean churches, we hope to respond to God’s calling for Christian unity and common witness in the world,” said Tveit.

“The WCC assembly in Korea,” Tveit said, “will make important statements on Christian unity, social issues, peace concerns for the Korean peninsula and global conflicts.”  During his visit to Korea, Tveit will be meeting with several Korean church leaders. He is also scheduled to meet the Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

On Sunday evening, 27 January, Tveit preached at the Myung Sung Presbyterian Church in Seoul, which is one of the largest Presbyterian congregations in Korea. The worship service was attended by more than 12,000 people.

 

Dare to believe peace is coming, Tveit tells Korean congregations (WCC news release of 28 January 2013)

Official website of the WCC 10th Assembly

 

Nuclear tragedy finds a human face in Fukushima

The everyday effects of radiation borne by survivors of the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan add up today to an involuntary experiment with public health, community life and environmental affairs. 

An ecumenical conference, called to listen to local residents, found that last year’s chain reaction of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear calamity has generated a “live” human tragedy, across a province, with no end in sight.

The Geiger counters that priests and parishioners pull out of their pockets like cell phones made the local anxieties and fears real for their visitors. “I cannot tell my children that there will be something good if they live,” one mother told a Buddhist priest. “A middle-aged man committed suicide in the temporary housing. Tomorrow it might be me.” The priest, Rev. Daiki Nakashita, told her story to the Inter-Religious Conference on Nuclear Issues organized by the National Christian Council in Japan in December 2012.

“The figure is surprising when we check the radiation around the house,” another woman told Nakashita. “My husband wants to have children, but I think we cannot raise children in Fukushima anymore.”  The science in play is not fiction. Children are growing up forbidden to play outdoors, young women worry that no one will want to marry them, a mother tests her rice harvest to see if she can share it with her children, families are paying off loans on radioactive homes they will never use. These are the kind of stories heard every day at a parish radiation information centre in Aizu Wakamatsu, Japan.

The center is one of many signs that citizens are not receiving full and reliable information about risks to their health. They blame government and power company officials, starting with the haphazard evacuation plans that exposed many to radiation when the disaster began.

Tohoku HELP, an ecumenical project which includes the United Church of Christ in Japan, runs food radiation measurement centres in disaster-stricken communities. Besides testing food and farm produce, the project also measures radiation levels in breast milk and urine, a service not readily available to many residents. Counsellors and chaplains are available to assist the people who come in for testing.

“We cannot get correct information about exposure to radiation…but, if we say so, then we are the ones criticized by others who want to believe that Fukushima is safe,” one survivor said.  “The most serious issues are divorce, suicide, domestic violence and violence in general. Radiation damaged not only our bodies, but also the relationships in our families and communities,” said another survivor.

The conference concluded that “there is no safe use of nuclear power, no safe level of exposure to radiation, and no compatibility between nuclear power, life and peace.” Speakers noted that the official fumbling is reminiscent of other nuclear disasters, like Chernobyl, and that the health risks and the stigma suffered by survivors are reminders of Hiroshima.

Hoping for a nuclear-free world

Christian and Buddhist clergy, as well as laypersons, told the 87 conferees from Asia, Europe and North America of their struggle to support families and communities, to cope with the disaster themselves and to challenge the official disaster response.  Conference participants resolved to initiate discussions in faith communities about “civilian and military uses of nuclear energy”, and to develop plans of action “including lifestyle changes”.  The conference began in the city of Koriyama, 100 kilometres from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and well beyond the official disaster exclusion zones. Radiation hotspots there—created when a reactor building exploded and contamination was spread by prevailing winds—are as dangerous as areas in the town nearest to the nuclear plant.

Radiation leaking from the damaged power plants has laid bare national policies and economic choices that have long gone unquestioned in Japan. “Please imagine!” one man told a priest. “A rural town, where there were no jobs, no money and no industries, was able to receive a chunk of money suddenly just by welcoming the construction of nuclear power plants.”

Fukushima’s fate puts a human face on the actual risks and consequences of nuclear energy use in Japan, and anywhere, the conference showed.  “We Japanese committed a serious sin against our Creator and our children’s future,” said Terumi Kataoka, a parishioner who directs the parish radiation center in Aizu Wakamatsu. “We do not have the luxury of a reprieve any longer.”

Kataoka fled early in the disaster to a safer part of Japan but later returned. She said, “We realized that we couldn’t be selfish and couldn’t close this church. We had to stay and help others who were escaping the disaster, too.”

“We are all here to help build a nuclear-free world together,” she told the conference.

The conferees pledged “to pray for and with the people of Fukushima and other communities suffering the harms caused by nuclear power” and to send the conference’s final statement to next year’s WCC Assembly in Busan, Republic of Korea.

(*) Jonathan Frerichs, WCC programme executive for peace building and disarmament, is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  Read the full text of conference statement “No to Nuclear Power: Faith Declaration from Fukushima 2012”

More information on WCC project “Churches engaged for nuclear arms control”

Dagmar Heller’s book places baptism in ecumenical perspective

Baptized into Christ: A Guide to the Ecumenical Discussion of Baptism, by theologian Rev. Dr Dagmar Heller of the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD), was the topic of a book launch and reception on Friday, 11 January at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, Switzerland.

Following a presentation by Heller, a professor at the Institute and staff of the Faith and Order Commission at the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva, the publication was critiqued by Christos-Filotheos Kolliopoulos, an archimandrite of the Greek Orthodox Church, and Jean-Daniel Plüss, chair of the European Pentecostal Charismatic Research Association in Switzerland and a leading Pentecostal participant in ecumenical dialogues.

Heller began by raising the question, “What happens if I change from one Christian confession to another? Would I have to be baptized again?” Despite decades of inter-church dialogue, she explained, the answer varies from church to church, “and this is where baptism becomes a problem in the ecumenical world.”

The book focuses on key points of agreement among Christians, the historical development of divergences on the issue of baptism, as well as an account of the ongoing bilateral and multilateral dialogues that point a way toward the realization of Paul’s vision in Ephesians 4:5 of Christian unity in “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”. Kolliopoulos acknowledged that Heller’s text “gives hints as to the direction in which this [dialogue] could go,” adding that a particularly “balanced” chapter on historical attitudes toward baptism, and a closing section on future discussions that need to be undertaken, struck him as particularly exciting.

“The book,” he said, “is helpful to students of the ecumenical movement, or to anyone who wants to start a serious study of the issue of baptism today.” Plüss agreed that this is “an outstanding book.” It portrays up-to-the-minute conversation about theological, ecclesiological and spiritual dimensions of ecumenical dialogue while remaining “deeply respectful” of all the participants. “Readers will learn to sympathize with others’ points of view,” he concluded.  Baptized into Christ is published by WCC Publications and will be available from 1 February through WCC distributors in UK/Europe (Gazellebookservices.co.uk) and North America (isbs.com); its length is 288 pages.

New congregational resource invites “pilgrimage to Busan”

A new online publication from the World Council of Churches (WCC) invites parishes and congregations to explore the themes of Christian unity, justice and peace in advance of the upcoming 10th Assembly of the WCC.

Entitled Pilgrimage to Busan: A Journey into Ecumenical Christianity, the six-unit resource is designed for use by congregations in study groups, adult forums, or for a day-long retreat as a way to study the theme to the upcoming assembly, “God of life, leads us to justice and peace”.

The assembly will take place 30 October to 10 November 2013 in Busan, Republic of Korea. It will be the most diverse Christian gathering of its size in the world.  ”As we move toward our 2013 assembly in Busan, we can reflect on who we are, and what we are called to do as Christians,” said the WCC general secretary, Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit.

“I hope that Christians everywhere will join this journey, exploring the exciting themes and issues of world Christianity using this resource. Meeting each other in this way, Christian communities are joined in solidarity for justice and peace.”  Each unit or “station stop” in the resource draws participants into a specific situation (for example, that of Orthodox churches in Eastern Europe, or Dalit Christians in India) and focuses on a key ecumenical theme (unity, mission, peace, justice, prayer, discipleship).

“Ecumenism is really a movement for renewing Christianity. It entails a conversion in one’s scope of concern, and it begins with encountering Christians very different from oneself,” said resource writer Rev. Dr Karen L. Bloomquist. “Through stories, reflection, prayer and exploring other linked resources, people can deepen their awareness of other Christians and their own discipleship.”

The resource includes participants’ and leaders’ guides which are available online for free download at the WCC assembly website. The resource is also suitable for printing. The leaders’ guide offers deep background on the sites, themes and issues of each unit, along with links to further resource material. The participants’ guide structures the reflection and discussion, suggesting possibilities for practical engagement that are at the heart of the “pilgrimage”.

WCC assembly congregational resource Pilgrimage to Busan

 

Myanmar churches encouraged in peace building

The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) has expressed its support for the active participation of Christians in Myanmar who promote peace at the grass-roots level.

 

In a minute on Myanmar adopted by the Central Committee on 4 September at a meeting in Crete, the WCC governing body recommended that the council’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs “continue to monitor the situation and global advocacy on peace, security, reconciliation” and “support the Myanmar Council of Churches in its mission and witness in coordinating peace and reconciliation initiatives.”

 

The WCC pledged to encourage “the Myanmar churches to advocate for the cessation of violence against the Muslim Rohingyas and a safe return of internally displaced Rohingyas to their homes.”

 

Newly created Asian Forum on Theological Education meets and sets course

Some 22 representatives of the major Asian associations of theological schools came together recently in Indonesia to discuss challenges for training of ministers and lay people in Asian churches and to set goals for a new forum on theological education.

The meeting, which was the first of the newly created “Asian Forum on Theological Education” (AFTE), took place in Jakarta from 29 August – 1 September and was hosted by the Evangelical Amanat Agung Theological Seminary.

After preparatory meetings in Bangkok (2010) and Singapore (2011), the three-day meeting was the broadest forum ever held in the region in terms of geographical and interdenominational participation.

The group agreed on guidelines spelling out the mandate and working mechanisms for the new forum, formulated a communiqué on the vision for their work, elected a continuation committee and decided to create a common website.

A comprehensive new publication on trends, challenges and needs in theological education in Asia was released during the event. (Dietrich Werner, Training to be ministers in Asia. Contextualizing Theological Education in Multi-Faith contexts, PTCA Series No 3, 2012).

Also discussed were plans to publish a major Asian Handbook for Teaching on Ecumenism as well as cooperation with the Global Digital Library for Theology and Ecumenism, the global survey and research project on theological education and the Global Ecumenical Theological Institute planned for the WCC 10th Assembly in Busan, Republic of Korea, 30 October to 8 November 2013.

The meeting was facilitated by the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Theological Education unit and prepared by an Asian coordination group led by Professor Huang Po Ho from Taiwan in cooperation with the Indonesian association of theological schools, PERSETIA.

“It is hoped that regional cooperation and exchange between the different Asian networks, churches and institutions of theological education will be greatly advanced by this new forum,” said Dietrich Werner, the WCC’s programme coordinator for Ecumenical Theological Education.

The partners at the conference committed themselves to increase cooperation among programmes for theological education in Asia in order train leaders for church and society.

They called for more mutual learning through the exchange of theological resources between the different regions within Asia and more dialogue and sharing between different denominations and church traditions.

They also committed themselves to developing more effective mechanisms ensuring quality and relevant theological education and to increased mutual solidarity in providing support mechanisms and networks for newly emerging Christian communities in Asia.

Participants included official representatives from the following associations: Programme for Theology and Cultures (PTCA), Chang Jung Christian University Taiwan (CJCU), Association for Theological Education in South East Asia (ATESEA), Indonesian Association of Theological Schools (PERSETIA), Board of Theological Education of the Senate of Serampore India (BTESSC), Bangkok Institute of Theology (BIT) Thailand, Vietnam Christian Mission/Vietnamese Initiative for Theological Education, Association for Theological Education in Myanmar (ATEM), Asian Theological Association (ATA), Trinity College Singapore (TTS), Bangladesh Council of Churches/Bangladesh Theological Association, Korean Association of Theological Schools (KAATS), China Christian Council and the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (CCC/TSPM), Overseas Council – India, Australian Catholic University, North East India Theological Association (NEITA), Lutheran World Federation – Asian network on theological education, Foundation for Theological Education in South East Asia (FTESEA).

 

WCC to hold international hearing on the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan

An international public hearing highlighting the plight of religious minorities and misuse of blasphemy law in Pakistan will be held from 17 to 19 September in conjunction with the 21st Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.   Organized by the World Council of Churches Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA), the consultation will be held at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, Switzerland, only a short distance from the United Nations. 

The event continues the WCC’s efforts to support and be in solidarity with religious minorities in Pakistan who are victimized in the name of its controversial blasphemy law.  The blasphemy cases have resulted in death penalties and mob-instigated violence since the definition of the law was inserted into the Pakistan Penal Code. Amendments to the law were made by military ruler General Zia-ul-Haq in 1980s. The blasphemy law has  often been criticized as vague and arbitrary.  The event will engage the international community, representatives of religious minorities and civil society organizations in Pakistan, specialised ministries, UN officials and representatives of international civil society organizations working on the rights of religious minority communities in Pakistan.

“The public hearing aims to heighten discussions at international levels on the deteriorating situation of the human rights of minorities in Pakistan and misuse of blasphemy law, through which the death sentence was made mandatory for blaspheming. We hope to strengthen initiatives that have greater impact on public and governments by involving ecumenical advocacy for minorities in the country,” said Dr Mathews George Chunakara, the director of CCIA. “The international hearing will also create a platform to address the concerns of persecuted religious minorities to make their voices heard in the international arena and particularly at the United Nation’s Human Rights Council,” he added.

Aung San Suu Kyi addresses CCIA consultation urging new model of reconciliation

From right to left: Mathews George Chunakara, director of CCIA, Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, Rev. Saw Shwe Lin, general secretary of the MCC and Bishop Zan Win Aung of the Methodist Church Myanmar in Yangon. © Subharta Bhumiprabhas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Profound acceptance of the others, and a willingness to be open to unity in diversity will uphold values of reconciliation, peace and security in any society and community,” said Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to the participants of international consultation on “Peace, Security and Reconciliation in Myanmar”, organized by the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

In collaboration with the Christian Conference of Asia and the Myanmar Council of Churches (MCC), the consultation took place from 2 to 5 August at the headquarters of the MCC in Yangon, Myanmar.  Offering simple but profound ways to peace building, the world icon of people’s struggle for human rights, freedom and democratization, Suu Kyi engaged in dialogue with the participants.

“One should go beyond the borders of hatred and jealousy, only then can one think of reconciliation and peace. Reconciliation will not begin only in one direction. Once reconciliation is achieved, then only peace can be attained and security can be ensured. A society that cannot achieve reconciliation will not be peaceful,” said Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi, one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners, now promotes reconciliation and peace in ethnically and politically divided Myanmar. She had been detained under house arrest for more than 15 years until her last release in November 2010.  She was awarded Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, but she received the prize finally in June this year in Oslo. While receiving the prize, Suu Kyi said, “For me receiving the Nobel Peace Prize means personally extending my concerns for democracy and human rights beyond national borders. The Nobel Peace Prize opened up a door in my heart.”

Suu Kyi spoke with the participants at the MCC headquarters and spoke about the need to find peace within oneself in order to engage in peace building. She said, “Righteous people do not exaggerate their own power, they see the good in others, which is essential for reconciliation and peace. The ability to see more good in others is a key to reconciliation and peace.

Going beyond borders for the sake of reconciliation

“If a person is jealous of the other, then that person will always hate the other. Hatred is the most dangerous human emotion. People who have no confidence in themselves try to find fault with others and they bring hatred and more negative characteristics in their relations. Through such actions they destroy peace and harmony in a community and nation. One should go beyond the borders of hatred and jealousy and then only we can think of reconciliation and peace,” added Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi’s good sense of humor and willingness to speak truth to power were evident as she urged participants to “turn your programme’s emphasis upside down by putting reconciliation first – then peace, and only when you have peace will you have security.”

In response to the ecumenical family’s sustained and ongoing concern for Suu Kyi’s struggle during the past several decades, she noted her own personal grounding in the Buddhist spiritual tradition, and expressed gratitude for the solidarity and prayers for people of all faiths.

To a question on the international community’s role in a country’s particular context of economic development, democratization and rule of law, Suu Kyi replied, “Rule of law and justice cannot be separated. Economic development is not a substitute to democracy in any society, and political development is needed to attain peace among people and communities. The international community has a key role in reconciliation and peace building in any affected societies.”

The participants thanked Suu Kyi for her willingness to meet and dialogue with participants at the consultation. They expressed gratitude for her clear, determined and principled nonviolent peace building initiatives and love for her people, a unique model for others in a conflict-affected world today.

The CCIA consultation, attempting to evolve strategies for peace building in politically and ethnically divided Myanmar, was attended by around 40 participants. The consultation suggested several action plans for wider ecumenical engagement of accompanying churches in responding to conflicts, initiating Christian participation in reconciliation and building communities of peace in Myanmar.