World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Update
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3 April 2001

Tahitian churches denounce family violence and destruction of environment
WCC delegation in French Polynesia

cf. WCC Press Release, PR-01-10, of 19 March 2001
cf. WCC Press Update, Up-01-05, of 27 March 2001
cf. WCC Press Update, Up-01-07, of 29 March 2001

In what H.E. Archbishop Hubert Coppenrath called an "extraordinary spectacle with an important message", parishes of the Evangelical Church of French Polynesia (Eglise évangélique de Polynésie française) (EEPF) and members of the Catholic Women's League gathered at a football stadium in Tahiti, Thursday evening March 28, to mark the beginning of the World Council of Churches' (WCC) Decade to Overcome Violence, which was launched during the WCC's Central Committee meeting in Germany on February 4 . Hundreds of performers from local congregations used drama, music and Polynesian dance to denounce family violence and the destruction of the natural environment.

Standing on the playing field amid a crowd of children and young people, WCC general secretary, Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, told the crowd of 3000 that violence "has its roots in each one of us". He said that "we must break the silence about violence. We must re-establish links in communities where those links have been broken. Where there is dialogue, there is less chance for violence to take over."

Raiser was in Tahiti at the invitation of the EEPF for two days of intensive discussions with church and government officials. The visit was the final stop in his four-country visit to WCC member churches in Polynesia. Noting that Christian missionaries landed in Tahiti in the 19th century, Raiser said "It is symbolic to complete our visit where the gospel first arrived".

In his talks with Monsignor Coppenrath, Raiser called on the Roman Catholic Church and the EEPF to find ways "to show that we are linked in the one and same ecumenical movement. We are looking together for a clear expression of what unites us." Coppenrath responded by saying that the Roman Catholic Church and the EEPF shared the same concerns to preserve the values of Tahitians in the face of the pressures of consumerism. "We need to co-operate to meet this challenge", he said.

Later, in meetings with senior members of the EEPF, the High Commissioner for France, Jean Aribaud, and Oscar Temaru, leader of the country's independence movement, the WCC delegation heard repeated concern for the survival of French Polynesia's traditional culture.

The High Commissioner told the delegation that in this situation "church people have a central role that goes beyond morality." Pointing to the important role the EEPF plays in preserving Tahitian language and cultural traditions through parish schools, Jeannie Pittman, Pacific region member of the WCC's Central Committee, told the delegation "It is not just a question of preserving language. We have to learn how to use it without hiding in it."

In his response, Raiser noted that during his visit to countries in Polynesia, "I have seen the organic linking of church and civil society in a way different from that in Europe. I have seen, for example, how the church has become a part of Tahitian culture. But at the same time, there is a new generation asking questions and searching. The WCC offers a framework where these different contexts can be shared and become mutually enriching."

Members of the delegation:
Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser
Dr Elisabeth Raiser
Ms Kristine Greenaway, Director, WCC Communication
Mr John Taroanui Doom (Tahiti)

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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.