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Twelve years on, the WCC returns to Germany :
The WCC general secretary, Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, is looking forward to welcoming the Central Committee to his own country: "This is an opportunity both for our ecumenical partners in Germany and for the WCC and I hope we will make good use of it." For him it is also specially significant that the Central Committee is meeting for the first time in a reunited Germany.
In the fifty and more years of WCC history, the Central Committee has met three times in Germany - in West Berlin in1974, in Dresden in 1981 and in Hanover in 1988 - during the time when it was still a divided country The Central Committee agenda offers plenary sessions on a number of interesting issues, such as the world economy, reconciliation in Europe, the Decade to Overcome Violence and the role of the churches in a secular society; and on an interim report on the work of the Special Commission on Orthodox participation in the WCC.
One of the highlights of the forthcoming meeting will certainly be the international launch of the Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches for Peace and Reconciliation (2001 - 2010) in Berlin on Sunday, 4 February. The launch will begin with an ecumenical worship service in the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche and a public event in the House of Cultures of the World, attended by prominent guests from Germany and abroad, including the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, José Ramos-Horta, from East Timor, and the chairperson of the German Parliamentary Commission on Immigration and former president of the Bundestag, Professor Dr Rita Süssmuth.
The president of the Federal Republic of Germany, Johannes Rau, and former president Richard von Weizsäcker are among the many prominent guests who will be attending the Central Committee meeting. Among those taking part in the plenary on reconciliation and peace in Europe are Joachim Gauck, formerly the federal commissioner in charge of the papers of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic, Vladimir Federov, director of the Orthodox research institute in St Petersburg, and Paul Oestreicher, Canon Emeritus of Coventry Cathedral.
The plenary session on the world economy will seek to encourage Central Committee members to reflect critically on issues like the widening gap between rich and poor and the global financial and trade systems. According to the preparatory group, this also implies "the need to reclaim values and face the ethical challenges of economy as a matter of faith". In the plenary on the economy the WCC returns to issues already raised last year at the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Social Development (Geneva 2000) and develops them further.
Also awaited with anticipation is an interim report to be presented to Central Committee by the Special Commission on Orthodox participation in the WCC. The Commission was set up by the eighth assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1998 following tensions which surfaced between Orthodox and Protestants within the WCC in the run-up to the assembly. The Orthodox family made its dissatisfaction known in particular through a statement drafted at Thessaloniki, Greece, in May 1998. In this statement, the Orthodox churches emphasized their long ecumenical tradition and their close cooperation with the WCC, but at the same time they complained about present WCC structures which make adequate Orthodox participation difficult. Further points of criticism in the Thessaloniki statement were the stagnation of "multilateral theological discussions among Christians", the liturgical language used in the WCC, and the questions of the ordination of women and sexual orientation. Twenty-one of the WCC's 337 member churches are Orthodox; they represent more than one third of all Christians belonging to WCC member churches. The Russian Orthodox Church is the WCC's largest member church.
Note: The reports on which the interim report of the Special Commission is based will be available on the WCC's web-site as from Wednesday 31 January.
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.