The spirit of hope and solidarity has been expressed vividly at an ecumenical gathering of European youth in Strasbourg.
The cathedral there has been packed out over the past two days at an event organised by the Taize community. Both church and civic leaders – including the Pope, the head of the UN and the Archbishop of Canterbury – have offered greetings to the 30,000 young people assembled there.
The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse-Tveit, developed his message from the theme of the WCC's tenth assembly in Busan, Korea, last year, “God of Life, lead us to justice and peace”.
"[This] says a lot about what the WCC is and what it is trying to achieve," he declared.
Dr Tveit continued: "We are living in times when we learn that solidarity can lead to justice and peace, as we honour people like the late President Mandela. We are living in times when the lack of solidarity and justice leads to conflicts that destroy the hopes of young people, furthermore, we are also living in times where the Christian presence in many parts of the world is facing shadows of darkness and uncertainty; times where churches and worship spaces are attacked and destroyed; people are kidnapped or killed because of their religious, ethnic or cultural identity. We are living in times where the human life and dignity are threatened by the lack of tolerance, the lack of love and of understanding; times where millions of families are displaced, young people are unemployed, children are deprived of proper nutrition, health services and education, because of wars, conflicts, economic crises and natural disasters.
"In this context, Christian solidarity in the light of the cross of Christ becomes not only a response, but an imperative and a foundation for all ecumenical relationships and actions. It is in this solidarity with the groaning world that we pray, 'God of life, lead us to justice and peace.'
"God in Jesus Christ is in solidarity with those who have less, those who are in pain, those who are mourning. To follow Jesus Christ means to do the same. He even became a victim of injustice and violence himself. His way to Golgotha became a way to dismantle and display the lies, the human weakness, the injustice and sin in its many dimensions. Following the resurrection it could be seen as a sacrifice for sin, once and for all, for all of us, to bring a dawn of forgiveness, reconciliation, justice and peace received through the tender compassion of our God. To be baptised into Christ is to share in the cross and the resurrection, giving us courage to hope in life and in death.
"Young people have a particularly important role to play in the pilgrimage for justice and peace. The current social and political context is witnessing a shift of the role of youth from passive recipients to active leaders. The same applies to the life of the churches and to the ecumenical movement. Without the active participation of youth in the development, operation, and ownership of programmes designed to create unity and peaceful climates, social change efforts will fail to create the transformative functions it’s meant for. We embrace the power of youth as agents of social change and leaders within the ecumenical movement. Youth are the present of our churches and societies, and not only the future. As we work together and empower each other in the pilgrimage for justice and peace we shall develop mechanisms that correspond to the pro-active and dynamic spirit of young people.
"Finally, I would like to highlight the fact that your own gathering in Strasbourg today is a sign of hope, a living image of Christian fellowship and a reflection of Christian solidarity," said the WCC General Secretary.
Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Patriarchate of Moscow, the Archbishop of Canterbury the Secretary General of the Lutheran World Federation, the Secretariat General of the Communion Mondiale d’Églises Réformées, the General Secretary of the Conference of European Churches, the Secretary General of the United Nations and the President of the European Council have also sent messages to Strasbourg.
* More on European youth gatherings from Taize: http://www.taize.fr/en_article9331.html