WCC chief highlights continuing support for MENA region

By staff writers
October 31, 2013

The plight of Christian communities in the Middle East and North Africa, and the region as a whole, will continue to be a key focus for the World Council of Churches, WCC General Secretary the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit affirmed at the end of the opening plenary of the 10th Assembly meeting in Busan, Republic of Korea.

The comment came in response to a question after his report to the Assembly, and included a reference to the MENA plenary that forms part of the gathering's work this week, which has brought together some 3,000 Christians and observers from across the world - as well as many thousands following the event digitally on Live Stream.

The affirmation was welcomed by, among others, Ekklesia associate, regional expert, churches' adviser and international lawyer Dr Harry Hagopian.

"As the WCC Assembly 2013 kicks off, the MENA region remains a major challenge," he observed on social media. "The grassroots hope for prophetic courage and lateral thinking, not safe political platitudes."

Dr Tveit was positive about the prospects for the worldwide movement for Christian unity towards justice and peace in the world, despite what some commentators have seen as a decade or more of "ecumenical winter".

Amid dramatic events, injustices and crises in the world, God is offering a “new dawn” for the ecumenical movement, he declared.

The General Secretary was reporting on the council’s work over the last seven years. He welcomed the coming of this Assembly, which he expects to be an event of humility, honesty and hope.

Dr Tveit introduced participants to WCC initiatives taken to strengthen the quest for Christian unity, Christian solidarity, promoting just peace, mission, advocacy in public witness and diakonia, ecumenical formation, fellowship of women and men, and spirituality of pilgrimage, among many other projects.

The world churches' chief spoke about the WCC’s unique “added value”, which he said derives from “churches’ experience” contributing in diverse settings to the “understanding of human dignity, human rights, freedom of religion and peace”.

He said that the WCC’s presence among other international organisations in Geneva also represents the WCC’s “added value” for church and society.

The WCC includes 345 member churches representing numerous Christian denominations and traditions around the world.

In his address, Dr Tveit expressed appreciation for the marked diversity of the WCC constituency. He said that churches have “gathered here from many places and cultures. With our diversity we bring stories, experiences, hopes, prayers and vision. We also bring our pain, our challenges, and our yearnings for justice and peace.”

Making a reference to solidarity with peoples and churches in conflict areas, including the Middle East, Dr Tveit said, “We are particularly called as a world community of Christians to be in solidarity” with those who live in the “lands where the history of our faith started and developed.”

“We think specifically of Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Palestine. With them, we believe that the way to peace is to move forward into a culture and practice of democracy and citizenship, with equal rights for all,” said Dr Tveit. “Christian solidarity cannot be exclusive,” he added.

Dr Tveit also spoke about the assembly being held in Asia, which he called a “continent of growth”. He continued, “It is also a continent marked with many worries about protection of the life of human beings and nature, and many families who do not share the growth and hope of others.”

He particularly addressed the situation of people in the divided Korean peninsula between the North and the South.

Since the last WCC assembly in Brazil, Dr Tveit said, many challenges have been addressed. Yet, he added, “It is quite remarkable that, even with fewer resources and many challenges, these years have also been a time of rich harvest.

He concluded by inviting the assembly participants to “journey together” for “just peace” so that the “pilgrimage can begin”.

* Official website of the WCC 10th Assembly: http://wcc2013.info/en

* More from Ekklesia on the WCC and its 10th Assembly: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/wcc

* Dr Harry Hagopian's articles, blogs and podcasts on Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/HarryHagopian

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