The World Council of Churches' Executive Committee opened its bi-annual meetings this week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with a series of welcomes from local church leaders and poignant and detailed presentations on the regional humanitarian crisis in Somalia and neighbouring countries.
Recognizing that the influence of the World Council of Churches (WCC) has brought Christians closer together, Abune Paulos, patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, welcomed the Executive Committee by saying the WCC “must continue and endure for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
“I can assure you that we will continue to uphold you in our prayers,” Rev Dr Idosa Wakseyoum, president of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (Lutheran) said in his opening remarks. “We are the body of Christ and each one of us is a part of it.”
Both churches are members of the WCC fellowship of 349 churches around the world. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is a founding member of the WCC, and Paulos is the WCC president representing the Oriental Orthodox churches.
Church and ecumenical leaders from Addis Ababa attended the opening ceremony as did WCC Executive Committee members, regional aid workers and local press.
General Secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches, the Rev Dr Andre Karamaga, welcomed the committee by thanking the WCC “for having contributed enormously to our struggle for freedom, and we trust this support … will continue in this era, when our dignity is our top priority.”
The Executive Committee will spend the week reviewing the work of the WCC. Members will deliberate over budget, programme, policy and issues of public concern.
A particular concern brought to the forefront during the ceremony was the famine in Somalia which is impacting the entire Horn of Africa region, including Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti.
Robert Hedley of Brot fur die Welt (Bread for the World, Germany), Yilikal Shiferaw of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Development and Inter-Church Aid Commission, and Dr Agnes Abuom, WCC Executive Committee member from Kenya, all spoke passionately about the situation.
The crisis has been caused by a combination of ongoing conflicts, drought, poor access to food, poverty and climate change.
“There must be a road to peace through Somalia,” Hedley said after describing the details of the situation in Somalia that has been known in the region for more than a year but has received international press attention only in the past several months.
Shiferaw said some 4.5 million people require assistance with emergency food and non-food needs of approximately 400 million US dollars necessary just for July through December of this year.
Another 3.2 million dollars are required to cover other needs such as health, sanitation, water, education and agriculture, he said.
“This is the worst famine in 60 years according to the UN,” Abuom said in her report. “The dignity of the people in this region has been compromised by the lack of peace and justice,” she added.
“Did we really have to have famine?” Abuom asked, noting that this crisis has also led to an increase in violence between communities.
Hedley also questioned the reality of a famine in the 21st century. “It is almost a shame for us to be talking about famine at this time,” he said.
The Executive Committee will be taking up questions about Somalia along with their other work during their deliberations. The WCC has been involved in responding to the crisis through the ACT Alliance.
“Our world is experiencing great needs and great change seemingly all at once,” the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC General Secretary, said in his opening remarks. “This is no less true here in the African context with the desperate situation in the Horn of Africa and political change in northern Africa.”
“The world is in need of the common witness of Christ’s church at this urgent moment,” he decalred.
The World Council of Churches Executive Committee meetings end Friday, 16 September.