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WCC GENERAL SECRETARY BEGINS VISIT TO HURRICANE-RAVAGED HONDURAS
An international ecumenical delegation began a four-day visit to Honduras on Thursday, 21 October, with a stop at a rural resettlement village where hundreds of families are building homes to replace those destroyed by Hurricane Mitch almost one year ago.
"Listen carefully to the words of the prophet Isaiah," the Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), told people in the remote village of Buen Samaritano, located in the north of Honduras near the country's border with Guatemala. "The houses described by Isaiah are dwellings where people will be able to live without fear of being washed away again, or be chased by others from their homes. These are homes in which people will live securely, surrounded by fields from which they will harvest the fruit of their labour."
Buen Samaritano ("Good Samaritan" in Spanish) is a new village where 254 families from seven rural villages are building their own homes. Hurricane Mitch, which killed more than 5,000 people in Honduras, left thousands homelesss and washed away their old homes.
The housing construction in Buen Samaritano is jointly sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church and the Christian Commission for Development (CCD), a long-standing WCC partner in Central America. The latter has provided assistance to some 120,000 people in the wake of Hurricane Mitch. Raiser, the first WCC general secretary to visit Honduras, came here in response to an invitation from Noemi Espinoza, CCD's president.
"We have felt the solidarity and accompaniment of the World Council of Churches not just since Hurricane Mitch, but for many years before the disaster," declared Espinoza in welcoming Raiser and his delegation during a press conference at the international airport in San Pedro Sula. "The personnel of the World Council have been always present with us throughout the struggles and challenges we have faced over the years."
Espinoza said foreign churches had generously supported hurricane recovery work since Mitch, and having the WCC's general secretary come to the country allowed CCD to "present a human face that represents all that solidarity".
Raiser said the purpose of his visit here was "to see and hear for myself the testimony of people who have been struggling with the consequences of the hurricane and who have been rebuilding their lives".
The German theologian also said he wanted "to manifest that those who have been struggling have never been alone". Raiser described how a "network of ecumenical solidarity and mutual support and encouragement" among churches in the world had responded to the needs of Mitch's victims. CCD is a member of ACT international, a worldwide network of more than 75 churches and aid agencies of the WCC and the Lutheran World Federation. In the wake of Mitch and as ACT's local representative, it flew food and medicines to remote communities and cared for victims sheltering in evangelical churches in Tegucigalpa.
Raiser said that Hurricane Mitch was not purely a natural disaster, however. "The effects of the hurricane here would not have been as terrible if there had been a different form of development in Honduras, if this had been a society where people take care of each other and for nature," Raiser said.
"Catastrophes like Mitch are a mirror held up to human society," Raiser declared. "Reconstruction does not mean simply bringing things back to the way they were before, but also correcting the distortions that made the effects of the natural disaster as momentous as they have been."
The ecumenical leader got a taste of such transformation during the visit to Buen Samaritano, where Marina Rivera, a representative of the community's women, told Raiser that having lived through the emergency had made community members "more patient and compassionate with each other. Mitch has made it easier for us to feel and express solidarity with each other."
Rivera was one of several community members who shared what they had experienced during the last year. Much of the testimony offered by community members was in the form of songs and poetry the rural farmers had themselves composed. Testimonies recalled hunger and death, as well as the long process of reconstruction. An exhibit of drawings by children from the community graphically conveyed both the horror of the storm as well as the hope of building a new community.
Raiser characterized as "positive and encouraging" his visit to Buen Samaritano. "While the people there shared with us the shock they have lived through, there was no lamenting," Raiser said. "They possess a determined attitude to get on with life as a community."
Accompanying Raiser on the visit to Honduras are Marta Palma, WCC executive secretary for the Caribbean and Latin America; the Rev. Israel Batista, general secretary of the Latin American Council of Churches, and Huibert van Beek, the WCC's executive secretary for Church and Ecumenical Relation
Contact: WCC Media Relations Office, Tel. +41.22.791.61.53
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.