World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
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4 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 5

The Moderator of the World Council of Churches' Central Committee issued a strong affirmation of human rights Friday (4 December) and said that violators of those rights "must be held accountable to humanity".

His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of Cilicia (Armenian Orthodox Church), also said that the WCC's relationship with its Orthodox members, while not yet in a crisis state, was "critical" and too little had been done to bring them into "creative interaction" with the Council's western Protestant thinking and methods.

In a wide-ranging report to delegates of the WCC's Eighth Assembly, meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, 3-14 December, Aram expressed a vision of a better world if the WCC's member churches helped diverse ethnic and religious groups to learn "to live together as one community" and if ecumenical leadership took advantage of today's "committed and visionary young people".His report included an analysis of the Council's programmes in the seven years since its last Assembly in Canberra.

The 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December will be commemorated by the Assembly. Aram described current ethnic conflicts around the world that have led to "increasing violations of human rights". He deplored the fact that many individuals and nations that commit acts of genocide, war crimes and injustice were not called to justice. "The popular saying, "You can run but you cannot hide' is being turned on its head,'" he said.

Delegates and visitors applauded as Aram called for the prosecution of human rights violators. "There is a crying need to bring to justice and to make accountable those responsible for policies leading to violations of the rights and dignity of women and children, communities and nations," he said. The member churches could help to create a healthier environment for human rights by working together with other faiths to "seek a global ethics based on shared ethical values that transcend religious beliefs and narrow definitions of national interests".

Addressing an issue widely discussed before the Assembly began this week, Aram called upon Orthodox and other members of the Council to maintain their commitment to one another. Orthodox members "have played an important role" in the WCC, bringing "significant contributions to ecumenical thinking and spirituality," he said.

Even so, Orthodox churches "have not integrated themselves fully" into the life of the WCC because of Council practices and methods that were not compatible with Orthodox tradition. "Unless the Assembly takes this present situation seriously," Aram said, "I fear that the Orthodox participation will steadily dwindle." Aram's analysis of Orthodox-WCC relationships was part of his comments on the Council's Common Understanding and Vision planning document (CUV), which has led to proposed constitutional amendments that will come before the delegates at this meeting. In the next decade and the next millennium, the Moderator said, the Council will find itself facing new social and political realities. "We have all become neighbours in a "global village', black and white, rich and poor, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, followers of other faiths or atheist. Torn by our differences and tensions, we do not yet know how to live together in a world in which we are bound to live together in one community."

Referring to the Assembly theme "Turn to God - Rejoice in Hope", he said: "Turning to God implies turning to our neighbor in active love, justice and reconciliation. "On December 13th, during the 50th anniversary celebration of the WCC, we will be invited to reaffirm our commitment by saying, "We intend to stay together'."

Because of time restraints, Aram did not read aloud a large portion of his printed address, reporting on important WCC achievements in faith and order, Christian education, mission and healing ministries. He cited the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women, the integration of youth into the WCC, programmes to improve ecology and the Programme to Overcome Violence.

Four thousand international representatives and visitors are meeting in Harare for the two-week Assembly, which meets every seven years to set policy goals for the WCC and to provide a multi-cultural celebration of the Christian faith.

Contact: John Newbury, WCC Press & Information Officer
Press and Information Office, Harare
Tel: +
E-Mail: WCC media

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 332, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.