The World Council of Churches has expressed deep sympathy and sorrow to family, friends and colleagues who mourn the deaths of nearly 300 passengers and crew on board Malaysia Airlines flight 17 when it crashed in eastern Ukraine on 17 July en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Particular mention was made of the estimated one-third of the victims who were travelling to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, due to begin on Sunday 20 July.
“This is a profound tragedy that shocks and worries all of us; but especially for those who have lost their loved ones including our neighbours and partners at the World Health Organization (WHO) here in Geneva and groups with HIV and AIDS workers, researchers and others,” the WCC General Secretarythe Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said.
“The thoughts and prayers of the world community are with you. It is our sincere hope for the eventual healing of your minds and spirits.”
“This tragedy taking place in a highly sensitive location and situation that remains poised on the brink of terrible violence, reminds us of the fragility and sacredness of life and the need for peace in this region,” he added. “Our sympathy also goes to the people of Malaysia who are now experiencing a second airline tragedy within a few months.”
Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, the WCC Associate General Secretary for Public Witness and Diakonia, said, “The WCC is mourning the deaths of a reported 100 HIV and AIDS workers including some from the WHO.”
“I knew personally and worked with some of the people who died in this crash,” Phiri said. “It is in this context that the WCC is seriously affected by these deaths. It is painful to realise that the deaths will have a negative impact on progress that was being made in the area of HIV and AIDS research at a global level. My own relatives whose lives depend on new discoveries in HIV and AIDS research will be affected by the deaths of these people.”
Since 27 May 1974, a “Memorandum of Understanding” has been in place between the WCC (and its former Christian Medical Commission) and the WHO enabling a working relationship by “joint involvement in common endeavours on a very practical level.”
The WCC, through the CMC, became the first Non-State Faith-Based-Organisation (FBO) through which churches’ health workers could have a voice and a platform for advocacy on health policies at the annual WHO Assembly and the Executive Board.
The CMC was instrumental in WHO’s Primary Health Care Approach. Equally importantly, WHO has been instrumental in the WCC’s ecumenical response to the AIDS crisis since 1986.
The cause of the Malaysia Airlines disaster is currently under investigation. Charges and counter-charges have been levelled by opposing sides in the ongoing conflict within Ukraine.
Phiri observed, “This is a clear demonstration that any war in any part of the world affects us all.”
Tveit said that, “All efforts should be made and it should be a goal of everyone that civil aviation does not again become a target in situations of conflict”.