Church leaders urge dialogue with muslims following cartoon controversy
Christians and Muslims should work together to "put out the fire" caused by the controversial publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, according to Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
The publication of the cartoons, which first appeared last year in a Danish paper and have been reprinted in more than 60 papers since, has led to demonstrations all over the world, some of them violent.
Speaking in answer to a question at the first press conference of the 9th WCC Assembly in Porto Alegre, Kobia said, "Violent reactions, as well as justifying these cartoons as an expression of freedom of speech, continue to put fuel on the fire." He said that both Christians and Muslims had a responsibility to promote tolerance and address ignorance about the other.
He added that while freedom of speech was a fundamental human right, "When it is used to humiliate people's values and dignity, it devalues the foundation it is based on."
WCC moderator Catholicos Aram I also spoke to the question, saying, "In this small world we are living as one community. Like it or not, we are neighbours, we are no longer strangers." He added that respecting diversity meant respecting democratic values, "not imposing our traditions on our neighbours".
The WCC has not yet had the opportunity to make a formal statement on the issue, though according to Aram I, a statement would be made during the course of the Assembly.
Kobia noted that interreligious dialogue amid religious plurality will be the topic of a plenary session at the Assembly on Friday. Following the plenary, speakers of various faiths will bring greetings. An ecumenical conversation and several mutir„o workshops will also deal with that theme.
Other issues addressed at the press conference included the significance of the first WCC Assembly in Latin America, the WCC's relationship with and visibility in the secular media, work on women's issues, and concerns of youth at the Assembly.
Bishop Adriel de Souza Maia, president of the National Council of Churches of Brazil (CONIC), said the Assembly's presence is important. "We want this Assembly to be a voice for unity and tolerance", de Souza said. Bishop Federico J. Pagura, WCC president from Latin America, added that the region is "waiting to have a word of hope" from the WCC amid difficult times.
Nerissa Celestine, a youth delegate from the West Indies, said that youth will have a voice at the Assembly, but they want their involvement to extend well past Porto Alegre. This week, she said, was just "a beginning for hard work in the ecumenical movement". She identified violence committed against and by young people and the overall involvement of youth in ecumenism as key issues of interest.