Churches back global justice at World Social Forum

By staff writers
January 19, 2007

Ceremonies in Nairobi's Holy Family Roman Catholic Basilica and All Saints Anglican Cathedral, together with a procession from one to the other church, are part of events being organized by the All Africa Conference of Churches/Caritas Ecumenical Platform to mark the opening of the 7th World Social Forum (WSF).

On the theme "People's struggles, people's alternatives", this year's WSF takes place in Africa for the first time, from 20-25 January 2007. The venue is Nairobi, Kenya, and the shared AACC/Caritas platform is coordinating a broad range of joint workshops, ecumenical worship services, and other events in Nairobi as well as providing for an ecumenical pavilion where church-related groups will be able to share, coordinate and show-case their concerns, insights and work.

The goal is to ensure a visible and meaningful ecumenical presence at and contribution to the Forum; the Platform is being supported by a global ecumenical coalition of organizations led by the World Council of Churches (WCC).

At the Forum, the WCC and its partners will organize different events on:

¬? wealth, poverty and ecology: this workshop will profile poverty as the direct result of wealth creation and distribution, and hunger, disease and suffering as the reverse side of over-consumption and over-development, and explore alternative ways of distributing wealth;

¬? life-giving agriculture: small farmers who practise organic/ecological agriculture will be encouraged to continue building a global life-giving agriculture forum as an alternative to corporate agriculture and the so-called "green revolution";

¬? water, environment and climate change: international and African actors will discuss strategies to look for alternative solutions to the water crisis and climate change, and to promote the human right to water with governments and civil society actors;

¬? ecological debt: because they have plundered the South's natural resources and destroyed its sources of sustenance, Northern industrialized countries are in ecological debt to the peoples of the South. Case studies from Africa, Asia, and Latin America will illustrate the impacts of this debt, and answer the question "who owes whom, and how much?"; and

¬? the "responsibility to protect": under this emerging international standard, if populations are at severe risk and their governments are not protecting them, the international community has a responsibility for doing so. How do churches - which play an important role in prevention, assistance, healing and reconciliation - deal with these issues?

An ecumenical coalition participated in the first WSF in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001 and has been present at each edition since then. But hat do ecumenical groups actually seek at the World Socil Forum?

"So far the space at the WSF has been contentious, but has provided an opportunity for groups and organizations to build synergies and common strategies," says the WCC programme executive for economic justice, Dr Rogate Mshana from Tanzania.

Beyond reporting, analysis, proclamation and networking, the upcoming WSF will offer opportunities to commit to future common actions, Mshana predicts. Networks and organizations will be asked to draft proposals for action on one of 21 "actionable themes"; these proposals must be signed by at least three organizations. On the Forum's fourth day, all proposals will be presented in one of five "forums of struggles, alternatives and actions", at which point other groups can also commit to them.

This fits in with the founding charter that defines the WSF as "an open meeting place where groups and movements of civil society opposed to neo-liberalism and a world dominated by capital or any form of imperialism […] come together to pursue their thinking, debate ideas democratically, formulate proposals, share their experiences freely, and network for effective action".

Members of the 2007 global ecumenical coalition at the WSF include the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), APRODEV, Brazil Ecumenical Forum, Caritas Internationalis, International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity (CIDSE), Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA), Frontier Internship in Mission, Koinonia, Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Pax Romana, World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), World Council of Churches, World Student Christian Federation (WSCF), the YWCA and YMCA.

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