DURING A PLENARY session held on 5 September, as part of the ongoing World Council of Churches 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany, women, men, young people, Indigenous peoples, and people living with HIV and AIDS challenged ecumenical leaders to counter multiple injustices and affirm wholeness of life.
Iemaima Jennifer Vaai, an Indigenous person, spoke at a session modelled on a dialogue practice from Fiji and across the Pacific, known as Talanoa.
“The whole of life is a process of transformation and changing the story,” she said. “A story that is ours, not someone else’s, results in being the only story. One that acknowledges a bottom-up approach of striving for justice that is affordable, sustainable, and resilient.”
Vaai continued: “In Samoa, we say ‘e le’o le fale, a’o le anofale, meaning that it is not the house itself but the spirituality of the home that makes it a household for all. One that creates virtues and ethics to be holistic and transforms our ways to contest against injustice and bring us to affirm the wholeness of life.”
Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, General Secretary of the ACT (Action of Churches Together) Alliance, challenged attendees to deconstruct the structural causes of economic-social-ecological injustices.
“We want an economic model that enables every single person and living being to thrive. We want life-affirming economic policies that recognise and lift the multiple local and, often Indigenous-driven, alternatives as part of our productive fabric”, said de Faria.
Some participants talked about this as a new eco-nomics (ecological economics) of wellbeing and flourishing.
A total conversion of our hearts, heads, and hands must be the foundation of personal, communal, societal, and institutional change, according to Ruth Mathen, a delegate of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and a programme consultant for the Christian Conference of Asia.
She believes that repentance from humanity’s “failure to obey God” is essential because the world, particularly the Asian region, requires more than half-hearted responses to the world’s alarming economic and ecological crises.
“How we live must be in accordance with what we believe and how we pray”, Ms Mathen said.
Dreaming of a Different World
Jocabed Solano, an Indigenous woman from Panama, shared her dream of a land where all can live fully and abundantly. “I dream of a world where the economy is based on a relationship of respect and harmony towards the land. I dream of a church that plays its role of light in the world and walks in defence of life and harmony.”
She went on to express her hopes for “a church that denounces evil and death towards Indigenous peoples. A church that recognises that the richness of the wealthy comes from extractivism and violence against mother earth and its inhabitants. A church that confesses and repents for its complicity in the tragedy of colonialism that took place yesterday and still takes place today. I dream of the good life where there is enough food for all, with no exception.”
The Rev Canon Gideon Byamugisha, an Anglican priest from Africa, and co-founder of The International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS, addressed the issue of affirming the wholeness of life concerning humanity and creation from a health perspective.
He talked of symbolic ‘wheels of life’ that could help drive the entire creation to drive a vehicle of health and peace, security and justice – beginning with personal introspection and repentance for greed and self-centredness, then moving toward creating spiritual environments, moral economies, and political contexts.
Byamugisha underscored the World Council of Churchess definition of health as “a dynamic state of holistic wellbeing of the individual, society, and the environment.”
The Talanoa-inspired plenary created an opportunity for open discussion that reflects a process of inclusivity, participation, and cooperation, encouraging everyone to join the ‘dance of life’ as inspired by the Oikoumene Pasifika, a cultural ensemble that provided interludes through music and movement during the session.