World Council of Churches’ General Secretary, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, has had separate meetings with H.H. Abune Paulos, partriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and with Ethiopia’s president, Girma Woldegiorgis, to discuss development and regional peace.
Dr Tveit also addressed an audience of hundreds of thousands as they celebrated the Ethiopian Orthodox feast of the Holy Cross, a major event in the nation.
The General Secretary told the large gathering, “The cross is a sign of peace, and it calls us to humble ourselves in our relations with all, including our relationship with people of other faiths.”
The visit to Ethiopia was the second stop on Tveit’s first visit to Africa as WCC General Secretary, from 23-27 September 2010. The trip also included a visit to Kenya.
The Ethiopian church was one of the founding members of the WCC at its first assembly in 1948.
During Tveits’s meetings with Abune Paulos, who is one of seven WCC presidents, the two explored the success of the development wing of the Ethiopian church, the Development and Inter-Church Aid Commission (DICAC), founded in 1972.
“I think what you are doing here in Ethiopia is a good example of how development can work within the ACT Alliance,” Tveit said.
The ACT Alliance, newly formed in 2010 from ACT International and ACT Development, has become one of the largest church-related organisations in the world working on humanitarian aid and development. It represents 100 churches worldwide, many of whom are WCC member churches.
The Ethiopian church is currently not a member of the ACT Alliance.
“I hope you can continue to develop your model here and also share it in different ways and bring it as an example to the ACT Alliance board and the network we represent,” Tveit said.
The DICAC operates throughout Ethiopia by means of a network of churches and other partners working on poverty reduction. Their programmes include emergency relief, food security, rehabilitation, development, support of refugees and returnees, prevention and activities aimed at controlling HIV/AIDS.
At the meeting Tveit also described the changing mandate of the WCC, moving from a funding or operation partner to a strategic partner of the ecumenical movement.
“The WCC is called to convene ecumenical partners with member churches to reflect on how, why, who and what we should do together,” he said.
“I think, for example, it is the WCC’s role to call together the churches and act as a partner within the framework of the new ACT Alliance….this is in my mind a genuine expression of the calling of the church. We must be sure that ‘ACT’ really comes to mean what it is intended to be: Action by the Churches Together.”
Tveit cited the recent example of Haiti, where the work of the ACT Alliance in coordinating and delivering emergency relief in Haiti was impressive during the first month after the earthquake.
“But when we called a meeting with ACT Alliance partners and the church leaders in Haiti, we realised that they don’t meet. Few of the churches in Haiti were partners of the ACT Alliance, and local churches were not involved with the ACT Alliance’s day-to-day deliberations on the future of Haiti,” he said.
“I think it is important that the ACT Alliance work directly with churches, not only as operation partners, where it is possible as here (Ethiopia), but also as partners discussing strategies, the vision and also the values of this work in a local context and regional contexts.”
Tveit said that the Ethiopian churches and their related organisations are major WCC partners who enable the formulation of a vision and a strategy that show how the WCC, member churches and partners may best work together.
“I have to say thank you for your gracious presence here,” said Paulos. “The plans, attempts and efforts toward Christian unity that have been made in our country, evident in this visit, have never ceased since the inception of the WCC in 1948.”
The patriarch had invited Tviet to visit Ethiopia to attend the Demera celebration of Maskal, an annual religious holiday commemorating the discovery of the True Cross.
His visit also included meeting with other church leaders and visiting development sites.
The president of Ethiopia, Girma Woldegiorgis, told Tveit that Ethiopia was backing peace efforts in both the Somalia and Sudan conflicts. He also spoke of willingness to find a peaceful solution in Ethiopian-Eritrean affairs, stressing that determined efforts are being directed to solving the long-running conflict in Somalia.
“Ethiopia has significantly contributed to maintaining peace in Africa and across the world,” he said in the meeting with Tveit which also was attended by Agnes Abuom, a member of the WCC executive committee, and Nigussu Legesse, programme executive for the WCC’s Africa Desk.
Tveit praised Ethiopia's efforts at maintaining peace in neighbouring countries. He later told journalists that the discussions with the Ethiopian president had centred on religious tolerance and the nation’s Christian heritage as a contribution to establishing just peace.
Fredrick Nzwili is a freelance journalist from Kenya. He is a correspondent for Ecumenical News International (ENI) based in the country's capital, Nairobi.