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22 March 2000

Participants at historic joint WCC/AACC meeting commit both bodies to close cooperation on Africa's life-threatening problems

The first joint meeting of the African members of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the General Committee members of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) ended on Tuesday, March 21, with a strong commitment to work closely together in the future.

The more than 50 delegates identified the following priority issues for joint future attention from the two ecumenical bodies:

  • economic justice and good governance,
  • conflict resolution, peace building and reconciliation,
  • health and education, and
  • spirituality, identity and unity.

    The delegates recognized the need for clear guidelines for their respective organizations and stressed the importance of communication and information technology in their attempts to network. They called for "vertical and horizontal" reporting and accountability at all church levels, and the "revival" of women's and youth desks in the churches.

    In her keynote speech on the first day of the meeting, WCC president Agnes Abuom gave a graphic illustration of the challenges facing Africa. She pointed out that 189 million people on the continent suffer from malnutrition while 20 million are uprooted. HIV/AIDS poses a serious threat to life. In Kenya, for example, 500 people a week die of AIDS while the figure for Zimbabwe is 700 weekly.

    "It is alarming that millions of people are dying in a world that abounds with riches," she noted, and asked "How can we all join hands to remove the death trap of poverty?" For Abuom, the global economic system is "unjust": "It sucks life out of people... [and] produces racism."

    The AACC/WCC meeting "comes at a crucial point in the life of the African people," said AACC general secretary, Clement Janda, in his opening remarks on Monday, March 20. "We have the challenges of civil wars, economic wars, political struggles, ecological problems, natural as well as human-made disasters, the scourge of AIDS and other treatable diseases."

    The AACC general secretary recommended that the two governing bodies of AACC and of WCC henceforth meet together periodically, "say every two or three years".

    In remarks read to the opening session, WCC deputy general secretary, Georges Lemopoulos, called the first joint meeting of the AACC/WCC governing bodies an "historic event". Recommendations from the consultation, he suggested, should be "full of hope and practical yet capable of firing the imagination of the people of Africa, in particular women and youth".

    "We need a common vision in order to work together in the struggle for life," was the challenge offered to African members of the WCC Central Committee and the members of the AACC General Committee by the president of the Presbyterian Church of Rwanda, Rev. André Karamaga. In his opening keynote speech on "The one ecumenical movement" Karamaga, who is a member of both ecumenical governing bodies, appealed to WCC and AACC delegates to strive towards "unity of action".

    Karamaga described four categories of people who make up the ecumenical movement:

  • local churches: men, women and children,
  • people who represent local churches on national, sub-regional, regional and international levels,
  • ecumenical officials or staff , and
  • people who work for donor agencies.

    Karamaga identified the shortcomings of all four categories of people in promoting the ecumenical movement. At the local level, churches encounter leadership, management as well as financial problems, he said, noting that churches are sometimes prisoners within "narrow boundaries" because of national or tribal interests.

    Karamaga also criticized "ecumenical functionaries" who lose touch with their local churches. "I have a problem to call ourselves a source of inspiration for the ecumenical movement," he said, and suggested that people who work for donor agencies are also out of touch with local churches.

    Responding to Karamaga's remarks, "Ecumenical instruments do not communicate with each other," noted Bishop Godfrey M. Mhogolo from Tanzania. Instead of working together, WCC and AACC compete for donor money, the Anglican Bishop said.

    At the closing session, WCC and AACC delegates decided to send a letter of solidarity to member churches in countries affected by recent floods: Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Madagascar.

    The delegates were shocked by the mass suicide of Ugandan cult followers who died on Friday, March 17, in a fire which was set deliberately, sending a message of condolences to member churches there. Letters of solidarity were also sent to other troubled parts of the continent, including Nigeria, Senegal, Congo-Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Sudan and Namibia.

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    The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, 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.