WCC NEWS: A newsletter of the World Council of Churches, December 1999, Number 01

Inside issue number 1
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General Secretary visits Cuba

A visit to Cuba by a WCC delegation led by the general secretary, the Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, featured a meeting with President Fidel Castro that lasted for more than four hours. Their conversation ended at three in the morning after dinner at the massive headquarters of the government’s council of state in Havana. Discussion with the 73-year-old ruler ranged over a wide variety of topics, from the thinking of St Thomas Aquinas to the problem of foreign debt.

In Geneva, Dr Raiser described the four-day visit to the Caribbean island as a mark of solidarity with Cuba’s churches and people "in the very serious economic situation resulting from the increasingly restrictive embargo imposed by the USA". He said the embargo was a part of the legacy of the cold war that had outlived its purpose. One of the strongest arguments against sanctions was that they were politically and ethically counterproductive. It was time for America and Cuba to move towards reconciliation and mutual respect.

Dr Konrad Raiser with Cardinal Jamie Ortega, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Havana during the ecumenical visit.

Dr Konrad Raiser with Cardinal Jamie Ortega,
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Havana
during the ecumenical visit.

Caridad Diego, the Cuban communist party’s head of religious affairs, spoke during the visit of a maturing of relations between the party and the island’s churches. She told Dr Raiser that he had come at a good time to learn more about Cuba. "You’ll find we’re not as bad as our enemies say, nor as good as we would like to be."

In common with the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America, the WCC has repeatedly criticized the embargo policy. Earlier this year the NCCCUSA welcomed new openings towards Cuba announced by the United States government but regretted it had turned down a senator’s call for a bipartisan commission on relations with the island.

More information: News from the ecumenical visit to Cuba

WCC News

Produced by:
WCC Public Information Team

Guest editor for this issue:
Stafford Mortimer (UK)

Managing editor:
Kristine Greenaway

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Science and Religion Work together in Armenia

Science and religion are working together in Armenia to turn away from genetically-modified food. Among projects supported by churches through the WCC are biological research into growing high-quality fruit and vegetables by natural methods and the development of solar fruit-drying technology. The export of vegetables, dried fruits such as apricots, peaches and figs, and medicinal herbs such as aloe and brionia is a prime target of the rural economy to generate jobs and income. Agricultural schemes are among more than 40 projects supported in the past three years by religious and social agencies.

One of the last duties of the assassinated speaker of the parliament, Karen Demirchian, was to welcome participants to a "roundtable" meeting, convened by the WCC, for the churches, non-governmental organizations and international Christian agencies that set up the agricultural programme.

Demirchian spoke of his appreciation of ecumenical work in Armenia, which involves Orthodox, Protestants and Roman Catholics in the form of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Armenian Evangelical Church and the Armenian Catholic Church. The roundtable meeting began with a service in memory of the late Catholicos Karekin I, who was personally instrumental in creating the programme and in securing funds for another one of its successes, a loan project benefiting 300 families and small enterprises.

Religious achievements of the programme include setting up Christian education centres, assisting Evangelical and Orthodox seminaries and restoring an historic Orthodox church. The roundtable is already planning the next three years on an expected budget of USD $451,000, which will include not only social projects, involving local churches more fully, but also ways of further reconciling the Christian traditions.

WCC Central Committee 1995 marched to the United Nations in Geneva to protest about the effects of French nuclear testing. John Doom leads followed by His Holiness Aram I (Moderator).

WCC Central Committee 1995 marched to the United Nations in Geneva to protest about the effects of French nuclear testing. John Doom leads followed by His Holiness Aram I (Moderator).

Finding the truth in the Pacific

A three-year campaign to investigate and publicise the long-term effects of French nuclear testing on citizens of French Polynesia is being co-ordinated by the WCC’s Executive Secretary for the Pacific, John Doom. A Polynesian, he has been personally concerned over Pacific tests since 1963, when the French government announced the original series that started three years later. Doom retires from the WCC on December 31 after ten years and will devote himself to the campaign, "Finding the Truth", which ends in 2002.

They call for French defence archives on 30 years of testing to be opened and for the atolls of Mururoa and Fangataufa to be registered as official French nuclear sites subject to radiological monitoring. The campaign will provide 10,000 worried former test site workers in Polynesia with independent research into effects of the tests, and will disseminate information internationally.

In 1997 independent researchers reported that 41 percent of a sample of 737 site workers from the 1960s had worked in possibly contaminated zones and 30 percent of the workers said they had no protective clothing. Last year a French journalist discovered from an official archive that severe contamination of an island in 1966 had been covered up by the military.

The campaign is being run in conjunction with the Pacific Conference of Churches and is backed by a consortium of churches and non-governmental organizations in six European countries.

More information:

Indonesia and East Timor:
The Ecumenical Response


  • Reports of Delegations and Visits
  • WCC Statements, Press Releases and Updates
  • ACT: Ecumenical Humanitarian Programme
Political moves in Indonesia

Clashes between Christians and Muslims in Ambon, on Indonesia’s northeast island of Seram, are daily claiming lives on both sides. The situation was among the latest reports from trouble spots when the WCC’s Roundtable of Indonesia’s churches, mission partners and agencies met in Hong Kong in November.

The Christian community in Ambon fears a systematic attempt to drive it out. The Protestant Church of the Moluccas’s request for an international ecumenical delegation, is receiving urgent joint attention by the WCC, the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) and the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI).

On the Hong Kong agenda were the situations in Irian Jaya and Aceh and East Timor. The meeting examined short-and long-term ecumenical responses to the situation throughout Indonesia and ways of working with its churches through this critical period.

The meeting heard the latest reports from East Timor. Rev Francisco de Vasconcelos of the Christian Church of East Timor told the meeting that his church was so dramatically affected that only four pastors remain. He spoke of the current need for reconciliation among East Timorese Christians divided by political opinion. He also said his church is readying itself for independence from the Indonesian ecumenical body, the PGI.

Stien Jalil, a PGI staff member, sends reports from West Timor, where she is helping the local church to provide over 250,000 refugees with humanitarian relief. In October WCC and CCA staff visited the East Timor refugee camp in Darwin, Australia, where up to 25,000 people have found a temporary home and health care before moving to Sydney or Melbourne. The Hong Kong meeting also heard from the Evangelical Christian Church in Irian Jaya. Its moderator, Rev. Herman Saud, reported that a vast majority of his people support the call for independence from Indonesia.

These political developments have brought new pressures on the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI). Tony Waworuntu, a member of the international affairs committees of both WCC and the Christian Conference of Asia, reminded the meeting of the PGI general assembly to be held in March 2000. He called on that assembly to elect new leadership that is "brave enough ... to put democracy into the life of the church itself."

Rev. Francisco de Vasconcelos

Rev. Francisco de Vasconcelos

East Timor pastoreEscapes death

He was dead and is alive again ... there was rejoicing at the WCC when reports of the death of the Rev. Francisco de Vasconcelos proved to be wrong.

In September the general secretary of the Christian Church of East Timor was reported to have been shot by anti-independence militias as he fled from Dili to Baucau after receiving death threats. A month later the WCC thankfully discovered that de Vasconcelos is alive and continues to minister to his flock in East Timor. He recently attended the November WCC Roundtable meeting in Hong Kong with churches from Indonesia and East Timor.

But like several Roman Catholic priests wrongly believed to have been killed, his situation remains precarious in an area tense with fears of a return to violence. Anti-independence militias had targeted church leaders and premises. At one time only four pastors of the Christian Church of East Timor remained there after 70 percent of its congregations and 27 pastors fled to the West.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu
Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town

Archbishop Tutu on the debt crisis

Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, is to address the 200 delegates to the annual meeting of the WCC’s member churches in the USA in Atlanta. Tutu, 68, who teaches in the city as a visiting professor at the Candler School of Theology, will speak at a dinner at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church on 10 December.

His subject is the international debt crisis as an obstacle to reconciliation, and he may have some forthright things to say on the Christian record toward debt-laden nations.

When, last year, he handed over to President Mandela the five-volume winding-up report of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which he had headed, it contained a trenchant attack on the country’s churches for past support of apartheid - not only those which preached a doctrinal basis for it, but also those which allowed racially separate congregations or failed to succour apartheid’s victims.

More information: Debt, Cancellation and Beyond

Konrad Raiser and Mike Moore

Konrad Raiser meeting with Mike Moore

New WTO head visits WCC

Mike Moore made time in his busy first weeks as new director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to call in at the WCC headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, in October, where he met Dr Konrad Raiser, the general secretary and staff members dealing with globalisation issues. Moore, 50, whose jobs have ranged from being a construction worker to prime minister of New Zealand, was in the global spotlight in November when 134 countries met at WTO’s third ministerial conference, in Seattle, Washington, USA.

More information: Echoes from elsewhere: Related articles.

Sarah Chakko

Sarah Chakko
First woman WCC president

Endowment honours first woman WCC president

The name of Sarah Chakko, the first female president of the WCC, is to be honoured in a cause dear to her heart. Born into a Syrian Orthodox family in South India, she earned a master’s degree in Madras and became principal of an ecumenical school in Lucknow, where she died of a heart attack in 1954, aged 49, after playing basketball with students.

The Sarah Chakko Theological Endowment Fund aims to help women, especially from the southern hemisphere or central and eastern Europe, who seek a theological education but have difficulty in getting scholarships, and who have to cope with heavy responsibilities at home.

The fund was launched by female WCC staff at the 1998 Festival for the Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women. But first comes the twin targets of raising $3 million in five years, to give the fund an annual income of $150,000, and of finding a young female intern who will help in the fund-raising for a year. Contributions can be sent to the WCC, clearly marked ‘The Sarah Chakko Theological Endowment Fund’.

For more information contact: Nyambura Njoroge

Recent WCC resources


A glossy 20-page booklet, illustrated in full colour, describing the WCC’s work and updated to its new, flexible structure and the eighth assembly at Harare, Zimbabwe. Free.


A full-colour leaflet giving details of next year’s seminars, workshops and the Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies. Free or on-line.

The Ecumenical Decade and Beyond

A 23-minute video telling the story of the extraordinary festival marking the conclusion of the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women (1988-98). Women who came from around the world to the festival at Harare, Zimbabwe, address the issues of full participation in church leadership, violence against women, sexuality and the role of women in the Orthodox tradition. An exciting diversity of views come alive through debate, prayer, play and song. CHF 29.50, USD $19.50 plus postage, from photo oikoumene, WCC.


This eight part video series includes a 23-minute introduction to imaginative efforts in seven cities around the world to challenge the culture of violence, from ministers walking streets at night to speak to gang members and drug dealers, to divided communities coming together in interfaith and multicultural activities. Seven locally-produced, 30-minute videos highlight efforts in Boston, USA; Belfast, Northern Ireland; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Durban, South Africa; Kingston, Jamaica; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Suva, Fiji. Discussion guide included. CHF 20.00, USD $20.00 plus postage, from photo oikoumene, WCC. Companion book: PEACE IN TROUBLED CITIES, CHF 15.00, USD $9.95, WCC Publications.

The long conflict in Sri Lanka

It is a war the world has forgotten. But not the Church.

While TV screens flash with other conflicts, the agony of Sri Lanka slips out of sight. The 16-year-old civil war drags on, making citizens refugees in their own country and maiming and killing children with landmines.

The government and rebel leaders are in deadlock over the national peace process. But grassroots reconciliation moves continue by the churches, one of the few only institutions that bring both ethnic groups together. Sri Lanka’s National Christian Council, for example, is half Sinhalese and half Tamil.

The council gives emergency relief to displaced people and helps their children to continue schooling. For instance, a Methodist pastor and his wife run a home for 54 displaced boys in the Mannar district, where the army patrols by day and Tamil Tigers roam at night. Among several other Christian initiatives, Methodists visit Vavuniya’s camp, which holds 7,000 people returned from India or displaced internally.
Children in school in Sri Lanka

Children in school in Sri Lanka

The boys’ home and the camp had other special visitors when the WCC and the Christian Conference of Asia held a consultation in Sri Lanka for 36 Asian church leaders on the rights of displaced people. Before business began, the international delegates divided into three groups to visit distant camps.

Elizabeth Ferris, a WCC International Affairs executive, recalled: "Our van passed through at least 150 military checkpoints, and as darkness fell we were stopped every few minutes by soldiers carrying guns. A pastor explained: ‘The government forces control this side of the road and the Tamil Tigers control that side.’"

The Rev. Andrew Chang of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan said after seeing the camps: "I had no idea of the scale of suffering in Sri Lanka."

Supporting the island’s churches both morally and practically is a WCC priority. Clement John, an International Affairs executive, said in Geneva: "We have to remind the world community that Sri Lanka’s needs must be addressed."

Critical comments in Czech Republic

WCC general secretary, Rev Dr Konrad Raiser, responded to criticism of the WCC during his November 17-21 visit to the Czech Republic. Dissidents in the former communist state, including a number of pastors, complained to Raiser that the WCC had given no indication that it had understood their political persecution. To them the WCC seemed more intent on building a consensus with East bloc states. People in the civil rights movement felt the WCC had failed them. While not agreeing with many of the depictions of the historical course of events, Raiser acknowledged that he took the criticism seriously. Raiser has called for a full and critical re-assessment of the Cold War period. The general secretary was in the Czech Republic to share in the celebrations of the tenth anniversary of the ‘Velvet Revolution’ in the country. Raiser met with church leaders, representatives of theological faculties as well as the Primate of the Czech Catholic Church, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk. His conversation with State President Václav Havel ended with an invitation for Raiser to attend Forum 2000 in Prague next year. It is an annual global gathering of intellectuals, convened by Havel, which next year will discuss the role of spirituality.

Bossey Ecumenical Institute

Château de Bossey

Endowment for Ecumenical Institute

A gift of USD $1.5 million from the United Methodist Church (USA) will be celebrated at a ceremony early next year at the WCC’s Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, Switzerland. A delegation from the church will travel to the historic Château de Bossey, which looks on to Lac Léman and the French Alps, where the money will be used to endow a chair in mission.

Dr Heidi Hadsell, director of the Institute and a Presbyterian from the United States, described the gift as "an investment in the ecumenical education of global Christian leadership in the next millennium". This year the Institute set up a five-year redevelopment plan seeking $6 million in new endowments for faculty chairs and scholarships, and allocating $4 million to improved facilities. Renovation will start in April on accommodation, kitchen and reception areas.

The Institute will be doubling its current intake of 48 ordained and lay students, who benefit from graduate courses and seminars led by Protestant, Orthodox and Roman Catholic professors.

Muslim leader Imam Alhaj Jah attends opening ceremony of the CCSL General Assembly -- demonstrating religious unity in the country.

Muslim leader Imam Alhaj Jah attends opening ceremony of the CCSL General Assembly -- demonstrating religious unity in the country.

Urgent appeals from Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone the peace is on paper but the real peacemaking lies ahead. A 13 person delegation, arranged by the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) and the WCC, visited the country 14-21 November. They learned that, despite the fact a United Nations peacekeeping force will arrive in December, the people put great faith in their religious leaders to initiate the dialogues necessary for lasting peace. This would include visiting the different factions, despite the obvious uncertainties about personal security. There is close Muslim-Christian cooperation in the country and this gives people hope that religious leaders can take such initiatives. The Council of Churches in Sierra Leone will play a leading role in this.

An accord was signed between the government of Sierra Leone and the Revolutionary United Front on July 7 this year. But most people realise the peace is fragile and disarmament is a major next step. This is also a call for reconciliation among all the factions.

They have called on the international ecumenical community to pray for them, including a Day of Prayer throughout Africa for Peace in Sierra Leone, but also to assist them in advocacy and lobbying work at the international level, including at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Mr Olara A. Otunnu.

Delegation members were deeply impressed at the lack of bitterness among those who have suffered for so long. The visit has provoked a series of urgent discussions at the WCC and AACC about intensive follow-up to the appeals, especially with partner agencies and mission boards. The Sierra Leone church leadership is under strong pressure and needs urgent solidarity and support.

Recent WCC publications

Keith Clements
A Life of J.H. Oldham

From the time of the World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh in 1910 to the founding of the WCC in 1948, no one had a greater influence on mission strategy, Christian social thought and ecumenical organization than Joseph H. Oldham. Until now, no full-length biography of this ecumenical pioneer has been available. British church historian David Edwards has called this magisterial (512pp.) study by the general secretary of the Conference of European Churches "a major contribution to the history of Christianity’s encounters with the social and intellectual challenge of its twentieth century" column. Co-published with T&T Clark, Edinburgh. CHF 59.50, USD $39.90, GBP £ 24.95

Thomas F. Best and Dagmar Heller, editors

The Ecumenical Implications of Our Common Baptism
It has been suggested that recognition of one another’s baptism could create a new dynamism for the churches in the quest for Christian unity. Here is an important new resource looking at baptism in different cultures, questions about "re-baptism", baptism and worship, and baptism and ethics. CHF 15.00, USD $9.95, GBP £ 6.25

Diane Kessler, ed.

This is the official English-language report of the WCC’s eighth assembly in Harare in December 1998. After an interpretative introductory analysis of the significant ecumenical event, the book presents the texts of major addresses to the assembly, summaries of discussions, documents adopted, and lists of participants and WCC member churches. CHF 29.50, USD $19.95, GBP £ 11.95.
The text of this report is available on-line.

WCC visits divided Cyprus

Cyprus has been divided since 1974. New hopes that negotiations, now stalled for more than two years, could be reopened prompted the WCC to send a delegation to the island in October. The visit was made after the UN Security Council and the G8 nations (the seven major industrialised countries plus Russia) urged Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders to support unconditional negotiations, and following thawed relationships between the two governments after tragic earthquakes in Turkey and Greece.

The delegation made the first ecumenical visit to the island’s northern Turkish occupied area since it unilaterally declared independence in 1983. The team crossed the dividing line after a positive response to the suggestion from President Glafcos Clerides of Cyprus and Archbishop Chrysostomos of the Church of Cyprus. A wide range of church, political and community leaders were consulted in both parts of the island, including the Acting UN Special Representative in Cyprus, James Holger.

The WCC renewed support for those courageous enough to seek reconciliation between the two sides and called on the religious communities to engage in those initiatives.

The team was led by the Very Rev. Dr Georges Tsetsis, of the WCC Central and Executive Committees, accompanied by Dr Ernie Regehr, a Canadian Mennonite specialist in conflict transformation and Salpy Eskidjian, of the WCC’s International Relations staff.

General Secretary’s Christmas message

As the new millennium dawns, "noisy and glittering public festivities will in many places overshadow the remembrance of the nativity of Jesus Christ", warns Rev Dr Konrad Raiser in his Christmas message. But it is the birth of Jesus, affirms the general secretary of the WCC, which offers hope to the world and demands a message of reconciliation from the churches.

"Many will be entering the new millennium with anxiety and fear of the unknown," he says. "Similar forebodings filled many people at the time when Jesus was born. Remarkably, after two thousand years, the life and message of this son of the Jewish people continues to attract men and women who find in him the source of hope and certainty for their lives."

Raiser acknowledges that the millennium that is closing "has been a period of Christian division, strife and mutual condemnation. The desire to spread or defend a Christian culture and civilization has spawned violence and war, injustice and oppression." And although the closing century has seen the emergence of the ecumenical movement, it has also been the most violent period in history.

So this Christmas the churches’ message should be one of reconciliation: "reconciliation between Christians, Jews and Muslims in Israel and Palestine... reconciliation between Christians and Muslims in Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Bosnia and Kosovo, reconciliation between Christians, Muslims and Hindus in India, and reconciliation among the members of the Christian family all over the world." Entrusted with a ministry of reconciliation, says Raiser, "the churches must begin in their own household".

More information: Full text of Raiser's Christmas message

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