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29 January - 6 February 2001
Potsdam, Germany

3 February 2001

Central Committee prepares to launch Decade to Overcome Violence

On the eve of the launch of the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV), members of the World Council of Churches Central Committee gathered in Potsdam, Germany, Saturday (February 3) to share their worries about a brutal world and their hope for the future.

The 158-member governing body is meeting in Potsdam January 29 through February 6 and will be taking a brief bus-ride to Berlin Sunday morning (February 4) for a day of worship and commitment to the aims of the Decade.

In preparation for the event and for the Decade to follow, several members addressed the Central Committee to describe situations of violence and hope in their homelands.

His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios (Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania) said the key to the Decade’s success is faith in Christ’s power to bring peace to hearts.

"The future belongs to him who is the mighty God, the prince of peace," Anastasios told the Central Committee. "He is our peace, he reconciles us to God and to each other and gives us the ministry of reconciliation."

Anastasios described the increasing energy of the church in Albania to intervene in the midst of violence. In 1999, when NATO was bombing Yugoslavia, "hundreds of victims of violence overran the country," he said. "The church responded in love without asking about the religious identity of the victims" who were mostly Muslim. "We strongly protested the war in Kosovo. No one has the right to use religion to justify violence."

Bishop Margot Kaessmann (Evangelical Church in Germany) noted that church-sponsored childcare programmes in Germany had devised ways of helping people resolve conflict non-violently and teach their children to do the same.

She also acknowledged humorously that children can put parents in touch with their own violence. "Take it from me because I raised four children," she said "I know they can drive us so crazy we feel the violence rising inside us. Go out the door, count to 10 and calm down!"

Kaessmann also acknowledged that because of a "small minority" of violent persons in Germany, hundreds of minority persons had been killed or injured in the past eight years. The statistics include 64 deaths because of racist attacks, 119 who died in their efforts to emigrate to Germany, 92 who committed suicide rather than be deported, 10 killed by German police, and 13 killed in their home countries after being deported, according to Kaessmann.

Churches must reassert their commitment to non-violence if the Decade is to be a success, Kaessmann said.

Dr Hermen Priyaraj Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, walked among the circular tables with a microphone, interviewing members of the Central Committee.

Dr Richard Grounds (United Methodist Church), professor of anthropology at the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA, who is a member of the Seminole and Uchee nations, said he hoped indigenous people would benefit from the Decade.

"It may surprise some of you to realise that in the US, levels of police brutality and assault on our people continue at an unprecedented level," Grounds said. He told of an unarmed Kiowa woman who was shot repeatedly by police in Oklahoma.

Ideological violence by the United States against the people of Cuba was cited by the Rev. Héctor Méndez (Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba). "For 40 years we have been . . . in war, not with guns so much but 40 years of ideological war," Méndez said. "I want to tell you how terrible it is to live in such a situation."

Churches in Cuba "have sown a seed of reconciliation and this is the only bridge that exists between Cuban society and North America," he added. "All the churches, Roman Catholic and Protestant, and our seminaries are full. We thank God for the work of reconciliation that we are able to do in our situation."

Psychological violence is as destructive as physical violence, said Mrs Rosebelle Thu Lay Paw of the Myanmar Baptist Convention. "People are frightened to speak the truth," she said. She cited instances of violence against churches in Myanmar and said the churches have formed a peace and reconciliation committee to confront the situation.

The Rev. Dr Maake J. Masango (Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa) said the media was the cause of much violence in the world. "We need to fight the media that (are) producing ‘Rambo’," he said, referring to a popular but violent film. "It’s hard to do anything about it because the media are more powerful than we are. We may have to destroy the media through prayer - we pray that the TVs just blank out."

Photos from the Central Committee

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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 342, 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.