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

Inside issue number 2
Churches Well Placed to Address Arms Proliferation

Mr Olara A. Otunnu addressing the WCC central committee.
The United Nations secretary general's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Mr Olara A. Otunnu, has welcomed the cooperation of the WCC and its commitment to support advocacy work on behalf of war-affected children. Mr Otunnu talked with WCC International Relations staff when they met in New York in March this year, during the first preparatory committee meeting of the UN 2001 conference on the "Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects".
His appreciation came against a backdrop of rising international concern about the proliferation of small arms and light weapons resulting in the wanton destruction of human life, property and social order. The special representative had earlier acknowledged the importance of developing an active dialogue and framework of co-operation with the WCC, while presenting his report to the UN General Assembly (1 October 1999) on "The Protection of Children Affected by Armed Conflicts".

Ahead of the UN 2001 conference the WCC is planning a series of regional and sub-regional meetings. The churches, it has been noted, are well placed to address the relevant social, economic and political measures needed to reduce the demand for, and reliance on, small arms by individuals and communities. Therefore, the WCC is actively encouraging its member churches to help curb the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.

WCC Eastern European Office

The status of the WCC Eastern European Office has been strengthened. The office, which is responsible for WCC programmatic co-operation in Georgia, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, is now officially headed by Mr Miroslaw Matrenczyk. Matrenczyk, who has been working for the WCC as consultant since 1994, becomes a permanent WCC staff person.

This office was established to co-ordinate and implement the WCC's non-emergency work in the Commonwealth of Independent States, with a base in Poland. The mission is to assist churches in the region in developing an effective and community-based diaconal response to social need through the development of social infrastructure, capacity building of personnel and networking of initiatives. Contact: WCC Eastern European Office
ul. Antoniuk Fabryczny 13
PL - 15-762 Bialystok
Tel: ++ 48 85 653 60 06
Fax: ++ 48 85 654 37 47

Ecumenical History in Nairobi

The expectations of the delegates were high when, for the first time in ecumenical history, the African members of the central committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the general committee members of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) gathered for an official joint meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, on Monday, 20 March.

"I envisage a unity of purpose and determination like that of the Arab League whereby we can come together as different bodies, and even as different nations in Africa, to forge common ties to solve our own problems," said Rev. Both Reath Luang, an AACC general committee member from Sudan, at the opening of the two-day meeting.

The AACC/WCC meeting comes at a crucial point in the life of Africa. Just how timely was evident in WCC president Dr Agnes Abuom's keynote speech on the first day. In a graphic illustration of the challenges facing Africa, Abuom pointed out that 189 million people on the continent suffer from malnutrition while 20 million are uprooted. HIV/AIDS poses a serious threat to life. In Kenya, 500 people a week die of AIDS while the figure for Zimbabwe is 700.

"It is alarming that millions of people are dying in a world that abounds with riches," she noted, and asked, "How can we all join hands to remove the death trap of poverty?" For Abuom, the global economic system is "unjust". "It sucks life out of people...[and] produces racism."

The more than 50 delegates also critically examined their own roles. "Can we pretend to be the source of inspiration of the one ecumenical movement?" asked the president of the Presbyterian Church of Rwanda, Rev. Dr André Karamaga, in his keynote speech.

A cross-section of participants at the WCC-AACC meeting in Nairobi. Sitting from left to right: Rev. Julius S. Nelson Jr from the United Methodist Church in Liberia and AACC general committee member; Mr Luis Samacumbi of the Evangelical Congregation Church in Angola and AACC general committee member; and Mrs Perline Razafitrimo of the Presbyterian Church of Madagascar, a AACC general committee member.
The delegates of the two ecumenical bodies are resolved to meet these challenges. With a strong commitment to work closely together in the future, they identified four fields of co-operation: economic justice and good governance; conflict resolution, peace building and reconciliation; health and education; spirituality, identity and unity. In all these areas, the importance of communication and information were stressed.

"From this experience I believe we have to interact more so as to harness the synergies that flow between us," concluded Luis Samakumbi, a youth member of the AACC general committee and the WCC Central Committee, from Angola. "What I like about the resolutions of this conference is that they are not very cash-involving. Dissemination of information for example is a simple way of empowering our people."

Late Archbishop Romero remembered

On 24 March, twenty years ago, Mgr Oscar Arnulfo Romero, archbishop of San Salvador, was slain as he was celebrating mass at a hospital with cancer patients.

On 24 March 2000, thousands of the faithful in churches around the world joined their brothers and sisters in El Salvador to remember the assassinated archbishop.

In a message to the people of El Salvador, WCC general secretary, Konrad Raiser wrote : "May the witness which Mgr Oscar Arnulfo Romero sealed with his own life continue to guide the church and the people of El Salvador in their effort to overcome violence and work towards a new social order built on justice and peace."

CPR Gets Interim General Secretary

The Conseil Protestant de Rwanda (CPR) now has an interim general secretary. Rev. Richard Murigande has been seconded to the CPR in response to an appeal made to the WCC by the heads of the CPR member churches.

The Rwanda situation has been a major WCC preoccupation since the genocide of 1994. It is in the spirit of the WCC's commitment to the churches in Rwanda and regional ecumenism that the WCC general secretary responded positively to the request. Murigande will devote 80% of his work schedule to the CPR and 20% to the WCC for one year (Jan-Dec. 2000).

Before his secondment, Murigande served as WCC secretary for African refugees (1987-1988), and later became regional secretary for Africa for the Commission of Inter-Church Aid, Refugee and World Service (CICARWS), a post he held for eleven years (1988-1999).

Healing Ministry in the Face of AIDS

Over thirty countries in Africa and Latin America have been benefiting from a WCC HIV/AIDS education programme. Local AIDS educators are using a training resource that is a blend of medical and theological perspectives, to encourage opinion leaders to tackle the problem positively, putting aside taboos or judgmental attitudes.

This programme is the expansion of a pilot project recently started in Zimbabwe and India because of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in these countries. According to UNAIDS and WHO estimates, released in 1997, in Zimbabwe more than 25% of adults, representing 1.4 million of a population of 11 million, have contracted HIV/AIDS. In India, 0.8% of adults, representing 4.1 million of a population of 960 million, are affected.

Eight representatives from these two countries adapted the training material, which they used to equip trainers from the churches, church hospitals and the health desks of religious organizations. These trainers then conducted education programmes in their own communities. The WCC’s HIV/AIDS education programme is hoping to run six workshops at regional level and 84 at local level within twelve months.

Most of the work is being done through networks like the Association of Christian Lay Centres in Africa and the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) in South America.

The WCC is also working in partnership with MAP International (Medical Assistance Programme), UN/AIDS and other major training institutions and theological colleges in Eastern and Southern Africa to include HIV/AIDS education in their curriculum, equipping pastors and lay workers to support local communities in facing the AIDS pandemic. The idea, according to WCC's Mission and Evangelism staff Dr Manoj Kurian, "is to help the churches to recapture the healing ministry".

HIV/AIDS work is only part of wider WCC initiatives providing health education at community levels, encouraging primary health care, linking church health workers to other agencies and advocating fairer use of medical resources.

A study document, Facing AIDS - The Challenge and the Churches' Response, 1997, and an accompanying study folder, Facing AIDS, are available from the Health Desk of the Mission and Evangelism Team, WCC, P.O. Box 2100, 1211, Geneva 2, Switzerland.

Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, general secretary of the WCC, recently visited WCC member churches in Indonesia and the Philippines.

During this first official visit of Raiser to these countries as general secretary, he met with church leaders, public officials, women and peace groups, where he brought up issues of militarism, violence, social and economic justice. He called for interchurch co-operation, reconciliation and conflict resolution.

In the photograph, Raiser is being received at Pearaja, Tarutung, in Indonesia by the Batak Protestant Christian Church (HKBP).

WCC at the UN Commission on Human Rights

Discrimination, human rights violations, religious intolerance and violence topped the WCC agenda presented to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) 56th session in March/April 2000.

During the six-week session the WCC raised the above issues, as well as country-specific concerns such as India. This time around the WCC laid greater emphasis on arranging other meetings alongside those of the official commission, including between national and international non-governmental organizations about the situation in Indonesia and East Timor.

The WCC called on this year's commission meeting to undertake a study of the discriminatory practice and policies based on untouchability and the caste system in India, as a manifestation of contemporary forms of slavery in the South Asian region. In its statement the WCC said, "For the last two thousand years the Dalits have continued to suffer humiliation and ill treatment despite the fact that India is the world's largest democracy with a progressive, secular and liberal constitution."

One organization working for the emancipation of Dalits, the Dalit Liberation Education Trust in Chennai, India, whose representatives attended the Commission, reported that, "every hour two Dalits are assaulted, every day three Dalit women are raped, two Dalits are murdered and two Dalit houses burned by upper-caste people".

The WCC also supported NGO representatives from Indonesia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Guatemala to attend relevant parts of the UNCHR session. Three case studies presented to the Commission were drawn from East Timor, Indonesia and Dalits in India.

Special Commission Meets

Created at the eighth assembly of the World Council of Churches, the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC has the task of improving that participation both qualitatively and quantitatively. Made up of about sixty people, of whom 50% are from the Orthodox churches and the other 50% from other member churches of the WCC, the Commission is now trying to deepen the fellowship of the WCC.

The Commission held its inaugural meeting in Morges, Switzerland, at which it decided to divide its work between four sub-committees. Two sub-committees (I and IV) met for three days (6-8 March) in Ma'arat Saydnaya, near Damascus, Syria.

While sub-committee I dealt with how existing WCC structures might be adjusted for better representation of all the churches, sub-committee IV was looking towards new models which might be workable in the WCC, such as the ones being used at national and regional levels.

However, recommendations already filtering out of the sub-committees say that WCC decision-making should be based more on consensus than majority voting, suggesting new models of representation based on families of churches in order make the WCC more active and responsible.

Apart from discussions, sub-committee members visited several Orthodox Churches and pilgrimage sites in Damascus. They attended Divine Liturgy at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch in the centre of Damascus' old town. The primate, His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim, received the participants afterwards for discussion on the situation of churches in the Middle East, their relations with each other and with Islam. Also, a visit was organized to the Women's Monastery of God near Saydnaya, a centre of piety for both Christian and Muslim pilgrims.

The dates for the other sub-committees have been fixed for 29 July -3 August for sub-committee II, and 22-24 August for sub-committee III. While sub-committee II will be meeting in the Czech Republic to discuss the style and ethos of life together in the WCC, sub-committee III will come together at the Orthodox Academy, Crete, to discuss theological convergence and differences between Orthodox and other traditions in the WCC.

Each sub-committee is expected to report to the plenary meeting, scheduled for 23-25 October in Cairo, Egypt. Since the mandate of the commission runs for at least three years, it is expected that the meetings will shuttle back and forth between the sub-committee and plenary level before a final report is submitted to the central committee of the WCC.

The churches of the Pacific are acutely aware of the disastrous effects of the activities of logging companies. One solution, in the Solomon Islands, has been to protect the environment by enabling local people to control the logging process themselves and not to abandon their land and trees to the multinationals.

Solomon Western Islands Fair Trade (SWIFT), supported by funds from the WCC and the interchurch organization for development co-operation (ICCO) in the Netherlands, teaches villagers about sustainable logging processes. They trade their logs in the Netherlands, ensuring the villagers of regular incomes.

It is part of an overall ‘Integrated Human Development’ programme initiated by former WCC president Bishop Leslie Boseto.

Copenhagen + 5 = Geneva 2000

The end of June 2000 sees the start of a new phase in social development, as the United Nations holds a Special Session of the General Assembly entitled: "World Summit for Social Development and beyond: achieving social development for all in a globalizing world". The objective is "an overall review and appraisal of the implementation of the outcomes of the Summit and to consider further actions and initiatives".

This meeting in Geneva comes five years after the Social Summit in Copenhagen. The Geneva rendez-vous, however, faces a number of challenges as it tries to pump new dynamism into social development issues. "We have to move forward with something new, or we will not move at all," says Albert Gyan of the Catholic Church of Ghana, who is following the debates within the UN Commission on Social Development as part of a WCC team preparing for the Geneva meeting.

In the run-up to the Geneva meeting June 26-30, the WCC and its member churches are planning to be more present than before, to push for concrete steps towards social development. Special warm-up sessions are presently fine-tuning the effective participation of NGO representatives.

The Justice, Peace and Creation team of the WCC has recently prepared a dossier entitled "There Are Alternatives to Globalization". This document proposes that churches use Geneva 2000 (as it is now called) as an opportunity to emphasize the goal of eradication of poverty, challenge the neo-liberal ideology, call for the cancellation of foreign debt and advocate for measures against the massive flow of speculative capital in the "casino economy".

As the UN assesses the results since Copenhagen, the WCC's agenda for Geneva 2000 focuses on the debt issue and on international financial institutions. Looking back over what has happened in the five years since Copenhagen, "I see very little, almost nothing" says Bernardo Mandlate, Methodist Bishop from Maputo, Mozambique. A series of NGO advocacy and lobbying activities continued over that period within the framework of the international campaign for debt cancellation.

For example, the WCC responded to the tragic situation in Mozambique by calling for a total cancellation of the country's debt. The acting general secretary of the WCC, Yorgo Lemopoulos, called for "a form of international solidarity which goes beyond charity to offering justice to this beleaguered nation; to make 'jubilee' a reality and create conditions for them to build houses and inhabit them, to plant vineyards and harvest their fruits." The appeal calls on the WCC member churches in the G8 nations to put pressure on their governments to forgive their bilateral debts with Mozambique and to advocate with multilateral creditors for total cancellation of money owed by Mozambique.

Recent WCC Publications

Berma Klein Goldewijk and
Bas de Gaay Fortman
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in a New Perspective

Advocacy for human rights often focuses on civil and political freedoms, while food, housing, work and health for all are seen at best as ideals, not basic human entitlements. This book argues that widespread poverty and conflict in a globalized world demand new approaches to advancing economic, social and cultural rights.
CHF 15.00, USD 9.95, GBP 6.50

Kyriaki Karidoyanes Fitzgerald, editor
Discerning the Signs of the Times

Drawing on biblical and patristic writers, the lives of saints, the work of theologians and the experiences of Orthodox women today, the contributors address key issues related to the role and place of women in the life of the church.
Co-published with Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline, Mass., USA
CHF 27.00, USD 18.00, GBP10.50

Geneviève Jacques

An Ecumenical Approach to Truth, Justice and Reconciliation
Torture, "disappearances", ethnic cleansing and even genocide continue to take place, although explicitly outlawed by international law. Many believe such atrocities persist because similar violations in the past have so often gone unacknowledged, unrepented, unpunished and unforgiven. This book challenges churches to join the quest for genuine justice, repentance and reconciliation.
CHF 9.90, USD 6.50, GBP 3.95

Lynda Katsuno-Ishii and
Edna J. Orteza, editors
A Celebration of the Woman Song

An illustrated treasury of liturgical, spiritual and artistic resources created during the Ecumenical Decade - Churches in Solidarity with Women (1988-1998): prayers, meditations, poems and reflections by Christian women from very diverse social and cultural contexts who share a longing for new community in Christ. CHF 25.00, USD 16.50, GBP 9.95

Andrew Wingate
Global Lessons in Mission and Ministry from India and Britain

On the basis of interviews over 15 years with his former students at Tamilnadu Theological Seminary in Madurai, India, the author looks at how ideas about ministry developed during a radically contextual seminary course work out in the parish. CHF 12.50, USD 7.95, GBP 4.95

Guest editor for this issue of WCC News has been Jacob Enoh Eben who works with the Communication Team of the Ecumenical Service for Peace (SeP) in Cameroon. SeP conducts research, mass communication and training (workshops and sessions) to increase the public’s contribution to non-violent social transformation. Its programme of "Democratic Peace Building" includes workshops with religious, political and community, student, youth and women groups and trade unions, as well as journalists.

In the past two years, over 300 people have completed a series of courses, which train them to become mediators in conflict situations. Jacob speaks of their highly successful campaign against war toys and firecrackers during end-of-year festivities - encouraging parents to start the culture of peace in their own homes.


One year after the major conflict in Kosovo and the NATO campaign against Yugoslavia, there are still more questions than answers with regard to the problems of the region. An international group of church journalists, co-ordinated by the WCC, visited the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro from 7 to 13 March.

Available from the WCC media relations office on request are: feature stories in English, French, German and Spanish; a detailed chronology of WCC ecumenical actions in response to the Kosovo crisis; a list of Internet resources relating to the region; and a detailed report of the WCC media visit.

Not long after this year’s "Week of Prayer of Christian Unity" ended, the booklet for 2001 was published. The theme for the 2001 Week comes from John 14:1-6: "I am the Way, and the Truth and the Life."

This material, which can be adapted for use at the local level, can be directly downloaded, or ordered from: Commission on Faith and Order, World Council of Churches, P.O. Box 2100, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland

Staff Changes

  • After a gap of some years the WCC now has an economist on staff. Dr Rogate Mshana from Tanzania will be responsible for economy and justice concerns within the Justice, Peace and Creation (JPC) staff team.

  • WCC’s preparations for the Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010) have received a boost with the arrival of Dr Deenabandhu Manchala from India, working within the JPC team.

  • Mr Feiloakitau Kaho (Fei) Tevi (Tonga) has arrived as executive secretary of the Pacific regional desk.

  • The new Asia executive secretary is Mr Mathews George Chunakara from India. He joins the Asia regional desk in June.

  • A recent WCC-organized media visit to the Balkans region was received by Mr Boris Trajkovski, elected as the president of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in December 1999.

    Mr Trajkovski is the first United Methodist head of state in the predominantly Orthodox and Muslim country. He is a lay preacher in his local 4,000 member Methodist church. He described his country, which is predominantly Macedonian Slav and Albanian, as a "bastion of inter-ethnic harmony" in a tumultuous region.

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