At the 50th meeting since its foundation in 1946, the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) decided to refocus, establishing four thematic working groups, in order better to respond to the needs of the member churches.
During their 2010 meeting, the commissioners identified four areas on which CCIA activities should be focused through thematic working groups, namely, "Peace and Security", "Dignity and Rights of Migrants and Migrant Workers", "Freedom of Religion" and "Peace in the Community". This last group will pay special attention to the Millennium Development Goals and their impacts.
The meeting was hosted by the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania at St Vlash Monastry in Durrës, Albania from 2 to 8 October 2010.
The CCIA's new focal themes resonate with the mandate of the commission during its early years. The churches had established the commission as part of the World Council of Churches (WCC), itself still in the process of formation, in order to deal with the protection and resettlement of people uprooted by World War 2 and to make the voice of the churches heard on issues of common concern, notably on religious liberty.
Freedom of religion must be recognized as a human right, said the Rev Kjell Magne Bondevik, a former prime minister of Norway, in his report as CCIA moderator, adding that the protection of holy sites needs to be considered as part of promoting peace among religions and peoples.
The group working on religious freedom will pay particular attention to church-state relations and inter-religious dialogue and cooperation. In the area of migration, the commission identified statelessness and human trafficking as special concerns. Another priority is the accompaniment of churches in conflict situations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.
The commissioners look to the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) in May 2011, to be held in Kingston, Jamaica, to prepare a conceptual basis for ecumenical peace initiatives beyond the Decade to Overcome Violence, which runs from 2001 through 2010.
"The goal of the IEPC is to engage more of the churches in the collective ecumenical potential to work for peace, focused around the major peace issues and threats of violence of the early 21st century," WCC General Secretary, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said in his address at the meeting.
"The two areas of new programme thrusts identified by the CCIA for the period until the next WCC Assembly in 2013 are the dignity and the rights of migrants, and, secondly, the freedom of religion. Our member constituencies have been requesting for the WCC to become more involved in these two areas for some time", said Dr Mathews George Chunakara, the WCC programme director for International Affairs.
"The commission noted that increasingly, large numbers of migrants and migrant workers from Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and the Pacific region are being exploited and become victims of human trafficking and human rights violations," he added.
The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical network of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.