World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Update
150 route de Ferney, P.O. Box 2100, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland
E-mail: media

28 May 1999


c.f. WCC Press Update of 17 May 1999

Continuing to respond to the crisis in the Balkans, the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Conference of European Churches (CEC) in cooperation with the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) sent an ecumenical delegation to visit the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania from 17-25 May. The delegation met with church leaders and staff of ecumenical agencies, visited refugee camps and gathered information about the present situation in both countries.

"The delegation believes it is important to emphasize, over and over again if necessary, that this is not a religious conflict. Its causes are complex and solutions must recognize that complexity," says Elizabeth Ferris of the WCC International Relations team, after the delegation's return to Geneva. "We were struck by the regional dimension of the conflict. The visit made us all aware of the war's tremendous impact on neighbouring countries. Economically, politically and socially, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania are dramatically affected. Everyone in this region is touched by the war in some way."

According to Dr Antonios Papantoniou of the Church of Greece, "The effects of this conflict on the neighbouring countries will last for years. Churches should sustain their support to Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia even after media attention has moved on. Also, it is not enough to assist only the refugees when there are many nationals who are suffering because of the war. In order to prevent popular resentment towards the refugees, the international community should respond to local needs as well."

The delegation stressed the importance of meeting not only the material needs of the refugees, but also of upholding their human dignity and responding to their social and spiritual needs.

"The churches and their diaconal agencies in both countries are reaching out to the refugees with professionalism and compassion," says Ferris. "The delegation was impressed by both the quality of services being provided to the refugees, and by the concrete expressions of Christian love manifested every day by church workers and individual Christians. However, the churches are in a difficult situation: they are trying to meet the needs of their own people while welcoming an additional 500,000 refugees."

In Albania, delegation participants had the opportunity to worship in the Annunciation Orthodox Cathedral, where they were formally welcomed by His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana, Durres and All Albania.

The members of the delegation were:
- Wilhelm Nausner, representative, United Methodist Church, based in Linz, Austria;
- Dr Antonios Papantoniou, Church of Greece;
- Sylvia Raulo, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland;
- Elizabeth Ferris, WCC International Relations.
Alessandro Spanu from the Protestant Churches in Italy joined the delegation in Albania.

(The full report of the delegation's visit has now been published.)

For more information contact:
Karin Achtelstetter, Media Relations Officer
tel.: (+41 22) 791 6153 (office);
e-mail: media
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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 336, 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.