Challenges facing Christians today are too strong for a divided church, said World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia in Egypt recently, as he called for church unity both locally and globally. Kobia was speaking during a 16-21 June 2008 visit to WCC member churches in the country.
Among the most urgent challenges for Middle Eastern churches are the regional peace process and the migration of Christians, both of which are addressed by the 2007 Amman Call, a document in which some 130 representatives of churches and Christian organizations from six continents agreed on guiding principles for their work in the region.
A WCC delegation led by Kobia was welcomed to Egypt by the Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette, from the Coptic Orthodox Church. He greeted the visitors on behalf of patriarch Pope Shenouda III who was abroad for health treatment.
The group met Rev. Dr Safwat al Bayady and chairpersons of the different councils of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Egypt, also known as the Synod of the Nile. Kobia expressed appreciation of the Synod's contribution to the ecumenical work in the country.
The WCC general secretary greeted the Faith and Order Standing Commission, whose members were meeting in Cairo from 16-22 June. The delegation attended a session of the Commission, in which they discussed a study project on moral discernment.
The WCC delegation as well as the members of the Faith and Order Standing Commission was received by Pope Theodoros II, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa. Pope Theodoros bestowed on Kobia the Cross of the Patriarchate and congratulated him upon his contribution to the WCC. Kobia will be leaving the WCC at the end of 2008.
The delegation met the Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar University and Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Mosque Dr Mohammad Sayyed Tantawy with whom they discussed the prospects for Christian-Muslim dialogue. "An accurate mutual understanding of religions can only be achieved if Christians and Muslims see each other as human beings rather than as representatives of different faith groups," said Kobia.
Tantawy briefed the delegation on cultural and interreligious dialogue initiatives between the Coptic Orthodox, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches and the Al Azhar Mosque, considered by many one of the most influential Sunni Muslim institutions. "Preserving human dignity and procuring a safe environment for living together should be the aim of all interreligious dialogues", Tantawy said.
The Minister of religious affairs Dr Mahmoud Zakzouk met the delegation and emphasized the importance of communication in order to modify negative perceptions of Islam. "Islam is a religion of love, respect and peace; we reject all aspects of violence", stated Zakzouk.
In turn, Kobia emphasized the role of interreligious dialogue in overcoming misunderstandings and prejudices. "Christians and Muslims form together more than 55% of the world's population. If we find ways of dialogue and we live peacefully together then we will contribute to global peace", he said.
For this goal to be achieved, Kobia and Zakzouk agreed, interreligious dialogue cannot be confined to leaders, scholars and intellectuals only. Ordinary people living in interreligious settings need to be involved in interreligious dialogue if this is to have an impact on people's lives.
A meeting with the secretary general of the League of Arab Nations, Amro Moussa was an opportunity to discuss a possible cooperation in the search for peace and justice in the Middle East and in Palestine/Israel in particular.