Conflicts in Congo and Gaza, recognition of the International Year of Reconciliation, and the impact of the global economic crisis on ecumenical cooperation, and solidarity with women were among the topics for discussion and action by the World Council of Churches' Executive Committee, which met in Bossey, Switzerland, from 17 to 20 February 2009.
Calling on its member churches to pray and advocate for those who have suffered because of deadly conflicts in Gaza and Congo, the committee approved strong statements encouraging governments and civic groups to respond to these tragedies.
The suffering of innocent people in these conflicts has been staggering, the statements say.
War in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has left some 4.3 million people dead. More than 40 per cent of those killed are women and children. An additional 15 million people are malnourished because of the conflict, the statement says.
The December 2008 and January 2009 Israeli bombardment of Gaza left more than 1,500 Palestinians dead, most of them women and children. Thousands more were injured and left homeless. Four Israeli civilians were killed as a result of Hamas rockets fired into Israel.
WCC general secretary the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia said: “So many people have suffered and lost their lives because of these conflicts, and we can no longer turn a blind eye.”
“There is much we can do,” Dr Kobia added.
In the Congo statement the international community was challenged “to step up humanitarian and technical support for national reconstruction” while “helping to stimulate and guide socio-economic restitution for the people of DRC who have been cheated of their wealth through systematic international plunder of natural resources which should be destined for the well being of the Congolese people.”
It also calls for international support for the Congolese churches and the people of Congo as they pursue a sustainable peace.
The Gaza statement called on WCC member churches and related organizations to “hold their own governments to account” for the responsibilities they bear under international law to help resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict.
It also called on the “United Nations to investigate alleged war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law by the parties to the Gaza conflict.”
A third statement recognizing the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2009 was also passed by the committee.
The statement called on WCC member churches to “invest in the building of stable families as a sure source of positive socialization for gender equity and peace for both boys and girls.”
In a public hearing on reconciliation an international ecumenical panel of experts highlighted the contribution and role of churches in reconciliation processes around the world. The hearing was held on 19 February at the WCC headquarters in Geneva.
While truth is an obvious precondition for reconciliation, reconciliation is in turn a precondition for lasting peace, said the Rev Kjell Magne Bondevik, a former prime minister of Norway who chaired the panel.
However Bondevik, who is also the moderator of the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, stressed the dilemma that societies often face between justice on the one hand and peace on the other.