To achieve reconciliation takes nothing less than the transformation of society, World Council of Churches general secretary the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia said in Managua, during a 2-5 November visit to Nicaragua.
Dr Kobia and a small ecumenical delegation combined a visit by the WCC general secretary to the Council's member churches in Nicaragua with an ecumenical solidarity visit within the framework of the Living Letters initiative of the Decade to Overcome Violence.
The visit took place in midst of growing tensions and sporadic violence as municipal elections were coming closer and, in an atmosphere of high political polarization, were seen as a virtual referendum about the ruling Sandinista party. The ecumenical delegation heard concerns from Nicaraguan church leaders and representatives of ecumenical organizations about the need for peace and reconciliation.
Preaching at ecumenical services in the capital city Managua and in Puerto Cabezas, on the Caribbean Sea coast, Kobia stressed the Nicaraguan churches' ministry of reconciliation in the face of a history marked by centuries of "violence and wounds" – from the Spanish colonial rule to the "so called 'low-intensity conflict' during the 1980's" through the Somoza dictatorship and the struggle for liberation from it.
"Costly reconciliation will be achieved if and when psychological, social and political transformation of a society materializes," Kobia said. As opposite to "cheap reconciliation", costly reconciliation "encompasses constructive relationships, forgiveness and justice," he added.
While forgiveness entails "unburdening the past in order to inaugurate less painful relationships in the future," justice needs to go beyond the punitive form provided by the legal system, to include "restorative justice," the only way to "deal satisfactorily with guilt and victimization".
The programme of the ecumenical visit included a Theological Forum on ecumenism and overcoming violence in Central America, ecumenical celebrations and meetings with church leaders, ecumenical organizations and representatives of civil society and government.
In Managua, Dr Kobia was presented with the Martin Luther King Order of Peace awarded by the Martin Luther King Institute of the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua.
"Religion and faith can be powerful forces of healing and reconciliation in this world," said Kobia in a lecture at the university on that occasion. "If religious intolerance has initiated conflict throughout history, interfaith dialogue is today serving as a foundation on which to ease tensions and promote peaceful co-existence, even in areas plagued by conflict."
The Martin Luther King Institute, which this year celebrates its 15th anniversary, played an instrumental role in the process that led to the United Nations General Assembly proclaiming 2009 the International Year of Reconciliation.
The WCC general secretary was declared guest of honor and presented with the keys of the city by Managua's mayor Dionisio Marenco.
The Living Letters delegation was formed by Noemí Espinoza from the Christian Reformed Church of Honduras, who is the vice moderator of the WCC's Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, and Ashley Hodgson from the Moravian Church in Nicaragua. He is a member of the international reference group for the WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence.
Until 2010, several Living Letters visits take place each year throughout the world in the context of the WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence in order to prepare for the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation which will take place in Jamaica in May 2011.
In Britain, the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign (NSC) is continuing its efforts to support the process of social change in Nicaragua, and it is seeking both further members and more funds for its work. See: http://www.nicaraguasc.org.uk/