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Christians in army resort promote non-violence
A global church gathering on reconciliation is meeting at an army holiday resort in Greece, a country criticised by Amnesty International for its treatment of conscientious objectors. But a prominent Christian campaigner for non-violence is happy about the choice, writes Stephen Brown of Ecumenical News International.
"It's not for the churches to turn away and close their eyes, it is the mission of the church to be in the world and witness there," said Fernando Enns, a Mennonite theologian from Germany behind the 10-year-long Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010) project of the World Council of Churches.
"Maybe this is the best way we can use military sites," Enns told journalists after making a presentation on the anti-violence decade to the WCC-organized Conference on World Mission and Evangelism, taking place at the Agios Andreas Recreational Centre, 30 kilometres north-east of Athens.
The holiday centre for army officers belongs to the Greek defence ministry. The more than 500 participants at the WCC meeting are greeted daily by soldiers in camouflage fatigues. The clatter of helicopters from nearby military installations hovering overhead breaks the silence in a tent set aside by conference organizers for worship.
On Wednesday this week, Amnesty International said Greek law was "clearly discriminatory against conscientious objectors to military service", and it urged the Greek authorities to end "repeated prosecutions against individual conscientious objectors".
Enns' Mennonite denomination is a Christian group with a strong pacifist tradition. He acknowledged careful reflection about whether the meeting should take place at the site. But, he said, "The best thing you can do as peacemakers is to go where the army is and worship there."
One aim of the Decade to Overcome Violence is to promote work by
churches for peace, justice, and reconciliation.
"It has already created awareness first of all of the culture of violence we live in," Enns told Ecumenical News International. "Peace-building and overcoming violence are at the heart of the Gospel message."
The theme of the 8-day WCC meeting in Athens is: "Come, Holy Spirit, heal and reconcile: Called in Christ to be reconciling and healing communities."
Organizers said the Agios Andreas recreational centre, which functioned as the international press centre for the 2004 Olympics in Greece, offered the best facilities for the conference.
"There would have been criticism if we had met in a five-star hotel," noted conference moderator Ruth Bottoms, a British Baptist.
(c) Ecumenical News International, PO Box 2100, CH - 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland. Reproduced by Ekklesia with kind permission.