Message of solidarity with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem
WCC General Secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia

Letter to His Eminence Metropolitan Cornelios of Petra, Locum Tenens of the Greek
Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, 22 July, 2005

Your Eminence,

Warm ecumenical greetings from the World Council of Churches in Geneva.

Thank you for your letter of July 15 to Rev. Christopher Ferguson. He has
passed on the letter to us and he has kept us informed of the crisis that has confronted
the Patriarchate in these past months.

We have kept the Patriarchate and all faithful of your Church in Jerusalem and
the Holy Land in our thoughts and prayers during this period of travail. We appreciate
that the Holy Synod and the Brotherhood have attempted to address the crisis
within the framework of ecclesiastical law and thus worked to avoid schism
and promote the unity of the church even in the face of division and conflict. To
this end the Patriarchate submitted their actions to the Pan-Orthodox Synod
which ratified your actions.

When the State of Israel refused to recognize Irineos I as Patriarch in the years
following his election, the World Council of Churches called on Israel to respect
the integrity, authority and freedom of the church to choose its own leadership
and to govern church affairs without the interference of the state. Once again we
find that the State of Israel is violating this basic principle by continuing to recognize
Mr Irineos as Patriarch in spite of your Church’s decision to dismiss him.

We note that the Governments of Jordan and the Palestinian National Authority
have withdrawn their recognition of Mr Irineos Skopelitis.

Your Eminence, please be assured that the World Council of Churches stands
firmly with the Patriarchate in rejecting this unwarranted interference with the
freedom of the Church to choose her own leadership. We will raise this matter
directly with representatives of the State of Israel and all the governments concerned
in keeping with the principles we expressed previously.

We are equally concerned that the Israel police and security forces have violated
the sanctuary of the Monastery of the Patriarchate. In keeping with the principle
stated above it is up to the Church to decide who has authority within her
institutions, churches and monasteries. The State has no right even under the pretext
of an invitation by a leader who has been dismissed by the ecclesiastical
authorities to violate the sanctity and sanctuary of the Monastery. We will raise
this matter with the Israeli authorities calling on them to respect the leadership
of the church and the sanctity and sanctuary of churches, Holy Places and monasteries.

Your Eminence, in responding to these two difficult matters we are aware that
the current crisis confronting the Patriarchate is even more complex and touches
on other areas of historic significance. We take this opportunity to express our
concern over the transfer of property in Jaffa Gate knowing that this land deal
has deep consequences on various levels – for the status quo of Jerusalem, for relationship
between Christians and Muslims, for the whole Christian community,
and for the relationship between the Patriarchate and the Arab Palestinian faithful.

It also raises fresh concern for a just peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

We have been informed of the appointment of advocates charged with annulling
the land deal and securing the property. We are of course aware of the many pressing
issues facing the Patriarchate including the up-coming patriarchal elections.

Given the gravity and urgency of the situation, we would be remiss if we did not
pledge our help for immediate action to annul the land deal and secure the status
quo and the future of the Holy City of Jerusalem.

We would also like to extend our hope and encouragement to you, the Holy
Synod, the Brotherhood and all the faithful so that God might use this crisis as
an occasion for transformation and renewal for the “Living Stones” of the Holy
Land and so that the Palestinian Christian community may flourish and prosper
with all God’s beloved servants. May the Patriarchate, by God’s grace, emerge
from this crisis with new strength and vision.

Your Eminence, in closing allow me to reiterate the concern and prayers of the
World Council of Churches for the well-being of the Church and the unity to
which it is called. The Greek Patriarchate of Jerusalem can count on our solidarity
and support.

Peace and Grace to you.

Truly yours in our Lord
and Saviour Jesus Christ,

Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia
General Secretary

Recognition of new Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem
WCC General Secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia

Letter to H.E. Mr Itzhak Levanon, Ambassador of Israel to the United Nations in
Geneva, 22 July, 2005

Your Excellency,

We write to express our serious concern over two issues involving the State of
Israel and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, a member church of the
World Council of Churches, and to call for your cooperation in taking urgent
remedial action.

The first issue concerns the right of churches to run their own affairs. The State
of Israel is currently continuing to recognize Mr Irineos Skopelitis as Greek
Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem despite his renunciation and dismissal from office
by the church’s highest decision-making body, the Holy Synod of the Greek
Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. As your government is aware, when ex-
Patriarch Irineos refused to accept this formal renunciation of his patriarchal status
by the body that granted it, an extraordinary Pan-Orthodox Synod was held
on May 24, 2005 in Istanbul. There, the Synod of the Heads of Churches of the
Orthodox Autocephalus Churches and their representatives upheld both the decision
to dismiss ex-Patriarch Irineos and the authority of the Holy Synod in Jerusalem
to take that decision. Jerusalem’s Holy Synod subsequently reduced the ecclesiastical
rank of Mr Irineos Skopelitis to that of a monk.

The other governments involved in the case – Jordan, the Palestinian Authority,
and the Greek Government which is indirectly involved – have withdrawn their
recognition of the ex-patriarch thereby respecting the church’s right to decide
upon it’s own leadership without external interference in the exercise of that right.

The Government of Israel’s continuing refusal to recognize this decision of the
Greek Orthodox Patriarchate violates the basic principle of non-interference by
the state in the affairs of the church.

We recall that this principle was also exercised early in the tenure of ex-Patriarch
Irineos. When he was first elected, the State of Israel refused to recognize him as
patriarch for more than one year. Based on the same principle which is at stake
now, the World Council of Churches’ Central Committee called on the State of
Israel to “recognize the election of His Beatitude Patriarch Irineos I as head of the
Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem” (WCC Statement, September 2, 2002;
and letter to the Prime Minister of Israel, September 4, 2002) because he had
been duly elected by the competent church authorities.

The second matter is related to the first. It concerns the inviolability of church
precincts. As a result of the state’s continuing recognition of the ex-patriarch,
Israeli police have been stationed in the monastery of the Greek Orthodox
Patriarchate of Jerusalem at the request of the ex-patriarch and supposedly for his
protection. The duly-appointed church authorities have opposed this unwarranted
presence of the police in the monastery, but without success. In an incident on
July 13, 2004, the police stationed there allowed a group of approximately 40
men forcibly to enter the precincts of the monastery and to destroy property in
the monastery. The police watched the destruction of property and allowed the
intruders to stay on the premises for several hours despite the protests of the clergy
in charge of the monastery.

We do not accept the claim that the police presence in the church compound
is legitimized by an invitation from ex-patriarch Irineos. It has been brought to
the attention of the Israeli authorities repeatedly that he is no longer recognized
as the patriarch by the church that exercises authority over those premises. On
this point our concerns for recognition of church leadership and inviolability of
church property come together.

Police and official actions have violated church rights in this case in three ways:

by the continued non-recognition of a church decision on leadership, by maintaining
an armed presence on church precincts, and by allowing unlawful conduct
by intruders on church property.

We note with respect that the State of Israel has pledged itself to honour the
special legislation, covenants, orders and treaties on Jerusalem known as the status
quo, which protects the sanctity of Holy Places and the rights of churches to
manage their own affairs. Alarmed at the violation of principles to which Israel
has agreed, we call on your government to take the following steps to resolve this
crisis:

First, in respect of the rights of churches to manage their own affairs, to withdraw
recognition of Mr Irineos as patriarch.

Second, in like manner, to recognize Metropolitan Cornelios of Petra as Locum
Tenens of the Patriarchate and, in due course, to recognize as patriarch whosoever
will be duly elected by the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of
Jerusalem.

Third, in respect of the inviolability of church premises, we call on the Government
of Israel to remove the police from the monastery of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.

Similarly, we reiterate the long-held rule that if police are invited to enter any
church, mosque or Holy Place by the legitimate religious authorities of the site,
they do so without arms.

We make these requests mindful that justice must also be done in the case at
the heart of this crisis, namely, the irregular transfer of church lands in Jerusalem.

It is urgent that the competent authorities oversee the return of the land to its
proper owners – in the name of the law and in the interests of peace.

The member churches of the WCC and the churches of Jerusalem are resolved
to see Jerusalem become a shared city under the rule of laws that protect peace
for the two peoples who live there and for the three religions for whom it is holy.

We look to the State of Israel to share in that resolve and to fulfill its responsibilities
in these matters accordingly.

After your receipt of this letter we will seek an early opportunity to meet with
you about these concerns.

Yours sincerely,

Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia
General Secretary

Report of the general secretary
WCC General Secretary

INTRODUCTION

  1. I wish to add my word of welcome to you all as we begin this first full meeting of the Central Committee since your election or re-election at the WCC’s 9th Assembly last February. In preparing my first report to the central committee I was aware of the advice of the last central committee, which was also echoed by the Porto Alegre Assembly, that the reports of the general secretary (and the moderator, as well) be kept brief to allow more time for response and discussion by the members. I may not have kept my report to the optimal length, but it is shorter than usual. It is in three parts. The first is a brief reflection on the situation in the Middle East, which is the most pressing global issue today, and the challenge of a comprehensive and better coordinated ecumenical response in seeking lasting peace in that volatile region. This section concludes with a specific recommendation for consideration by the central committee. The second part addresses the issue of migration that remains critical to the calling of the ecumenical movement. I shall look beyond the socio-political dimensions of migration and consider migration in relation to new ecclesial realities. And the third part of this report consists of a brief reflection on how our planning work following the assembly intentionally has incorporated one dimension of the ongoing process on ecumenism in the 21st century. This shows that the recommended interactive and integrative approach is not limited to the Council’s programmes, but includes the strengthening of the relationships within the fellowship.

MIDDLE EAST

  1. Within 48 hours of the bombing of Lebanon we issued a statement in which we reiterated that the conflicts in the Middle East cannot be resolved through a military victory. Many of our member churches and ecumenical organizations joined in the call for a cease-fire. Church-related organizations at the Ecumenical Centre worked together toward a joint approach which led to our delegation’s visit to Beirut and Jerusalem. Now as we meet in this central committee there is a UN-negotiated cease-fire in place and there are plans to increase and strengthen peace keeping forces on the Israeli-Lebanese border. But it will take a great deal more to achieve a durable peace in the Middle East. It is out of this conviction that I have decided to open my report by further addressing events in this region.
  2. Events in the Middle East pose the greatest of challenges to the international community. They have engaged the ecumenical community for many years. Once again, new violence in Lebanon and northern Israel, and on-going violence associated with the occupations of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem by Israel, and also of Iraq by forces under US command, have wreaked destruction and suffering on an immense scale.
  3. The region and the world are at a crossroads. What is the future of Iraq? Will it fragment into Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish enclaves? How are events in Iraq influencing the rest of the region? Will Iran renounce its nuclear weapons ambitions, or will the international community’s inability to resolve such problems move the Middle East down the path of nuclear proliferation? How will Israel – with its nuclear arsenal – and the international community answer the same question? What are the prospects for the new Palestinian leadership? Will it have a chance to exercise its democratic mandate, a chance to prove itself and a chance to engage in equitable negotiations with Israel? Will Israelis find a way to engage in equitable negotiations with the Palestinians? What are the real prospects for peace between Israel and Palestine, given the apparent dedication of the present US administration to imposing hegemony in the Middle East?
  4. The most important issue in relation to a lasting and durable peace in the Middle East is when and how the international community will end the Israeli occupation of Arab lands, in compliance with international law and UN resolutions. Ending the occupation will allow different forces to emerge and give a new face to the Middle East. A way must be found to allow people of goodwill in Israel to begin to rebuild relations with neighbours—not only on the basis of law but also through negotiated solutions to mutual problems, and around mutually beneficial relations in the fields of commerce, culture and environment. Will moderate Muslims increasingly find themselves in a position to challenge the status quo of their societies? Will the Christian communities of the Middle East be able to sustain their historic and vital presence in the region, or will Christians continue to emigrate?
  5. One thing is apparent. A continuation of illegal occupation and related violence will mean a continuation of current trends, according to which the international rule of law becomes weaker and weaker and double standards prevail: trends in which the use of force becomes an international norm and the position of extremists is strengthened in the region and around the world.
  6. The WCC with its rich experience and background in inter-religious dialogue can make a major contribution to the Israel-Palestine peace process by working to break down the barriers and build bridges of peace between the two peoples and multiple religious communities caught up in the suffering of this conflict. Given the levels of unresolved grievance and distrust, can this be done? Is the WCC in a position to invest time and energy in what could be a lengthy and heart-breaking process? As a fellowship of Christian churches we cannot escape the challenge. I strongly believe that, together, we are capable of reaching out and building new relationships beyond our current and various customs and comfort zones, with and among Israelis, Palestinians and their neighbours.
  7. If we step back from the political and strategic discourse that characterizes much of the discussion of the Middle East, we see a situation which is fundamentally wrong. The ethical dimension must be an integral part of the equation in the search for durable peace in the Middle East. It is not right for a people, the Palestinians, to experience perpetual humiliation. It is not right that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees have lived in refugee camps for almost 60 years. It is not right that sanctions are imposed on the West Bank and Gaza as punishment for a democratic election, and that already impoverished people, especially in Gaza, are deprived of water, fuel and electricity. Nor is it right for the people of Israel to live in perpetual fear of their neighbours so that they are impelled to depend upon their military might and their powerful allies. It is not right that people in Israel huddled in shelters for a month, and people in Lebanon abandoned their homes, while rockets, artillery shells and attack aircraft screamed through the air and the UN Security Council deliberated. The world has a responsibility both to Palestine and to Israel. They deserve more from the international community than they have received thus far, especially in the fair and impartial application of international law. We need to look beyond the current headlines to the underlying moral issues in the region. It is not enough to condemn Hezbollah’s military actions without going deeper into the history of Lebanon’s relationship with Israel and other countries in the region. It is not enough to condemn Israel’s invasion of Lebanon without also grappling with the issue of Israel’s fundamental insecurity. It is not enough to criticize strategies adopted by governments without taking into account the real threats posed by groups of armed settlers and militias whose members ignore the counsels and entreaties of their own political authorities. And it is not enough to reject resistance by non-state actors without acknowledging the sincere yearning for justice that has won them support.
  8. The issue of peace in the Middle East is not just a regional issue. It is a global issue. What happens in the Middle East affects countries throughout the world. And what happens in global capitals affects the Middle East – perhaps more than any other region.
  9. I believe that the ecumenical movement has an important role to play in the search for just peace in the Middle East. I believe that if we mobilize our collective efforts, we can make a contribution – just as we made a contribution to South Africa’s struggle against apartheid. You will see in our proposed programme plans that we are suggesting that the Middle East, in all of its complexity, be a high priority in the WCC’s future programmatic work.

What does this mean in practice?

  1. At a recent meeting called by ACT International, there was a passionate plea from churches and ecumenical partners in the region to do more than issue statements. Moreover, they emphasized that while humanitarian assistance is important to address immediate and urgent needs, it is not enough. There was a strong call for a comprehensive ecumenical advocacy initiative, and the WCC was asked to convene a meeting of partners engaged in advocacy on the Middle East to develop a coordinated strategy involving churches, ecumenical organizations and specialized ministries. Building on our experiences with the Sudan Ecumenical Forum, I propose the establishment of a Palestine/Israel Ecumenical Forum that will provide a space for coordination of advocacy initiatives. The capacity of the WCC secretariat is limited, but we can provide a space where the whole ecumenical movement can mobilize to put our collective energies and resources together to contribute to a lasting peace in the Middle East.
  2. I also suggest that our advocacy be based squarely on our moral and theological principles and on thoughtful analysis of the roots of the conflict. Alternatives need to be developed in response to difficult aspects of the political impasse. Dialogue must be an integral part of our new initiatives. In previous public statements, the central committee has suggested a way forward on the issues of Jerusalem, the occupation, the settlements, the dividing wall and other related matters. But all of us, including the churches we represent, need to do more to translate those recommendations into actions that influence the political process. We need further analysis and deeper engagement on complex issues—such as the “right of return”, Israel’s legitimate security concerns and its full recognition within mutually agreeable borders – topics which have impeded previous peace processes. For some of us, this isn’t an easy task when we see the imbalance of power in the region. But unless Israel and its neighbours are made secure and mutually recognize one another, there can be no durable peace with justice in the region.
  3. We also need to consider concrete actions we can take to support churches, ecumenical partners and people in the region. The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) has been an important expression of solidarity by the ecumenical family. But there is more that we could be doing to redress the international embargo of funds to the Palestinian Authority which leads to increasing unemployment and malnutrition among Palestinians. And we must remember that steps toward peace with justice and security in the region may serve as steps to decrease the emigration of Christians from the region.
  4. I hope that you will join this call to make the Middle East a priority, not just in our future programmatic work, but to make it central to our collective endeavours in the ecumenical movement until there is peace in the region and there are sustainable communities where all may experience life in dignity.

MIGRATION – new ecclesial realities

Practising hospitality in an era of new forms of migration

  1. Let me focus now on an issue which is one of the main features of the changing global context, with decisive consequences for the ecumenical movement locally and globally. I speak of migration, the steadily increasing movements of people around the globe.
  2. More people throughout the world are being forced to leave their homes because of wars, human rights violations, dire poverty or environmental destruction. We have seen in recent months the massive displacement of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese as a consequence of Israel’s military actions. While several hundred thousand Lebanese were able to leave their country for Syria, Cyprus and other countries, over half a million Lebanese have been displaced from their homes but remained within the country. These internally displaced people are often more vulnerable to violence and face more difficulties in accessing humanitarian assistance than those who were able to make it across an international border. While television screens were filled with pictures of some foreigners being evacuated from Lebanon, there were many other foreigners in Lebanon whose governments were unable to support their evacuation. Tens of thousands of Asian domestic workers, for example, were forced to remain in the country. The situation in Lebanon illustrates some of the complexities of migration today.
  3. From rural to urban areas, from poor to emerging economies in the South, from countries of the South to countries of the North – migration has become a trend impacting most societies worldwide. The number of international migrants has increased to more than 175 million in 2005, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Today, one in fifty people on earth are living outside their home countries, while an estimated 25 million have been forcibly displaced within their own countries. At the same time that globalization is leading to freer movement of capital, goods and services, walls are going up to limit the movement of people across borders. As the “human side” of globalization, the phenomenon of migration means that virtually all societies are multicultural and multi-religious.
  4. It was interesting to us that even as we in the WCC were planning our work for the coming years, the United Nations issued a report on international migration and development (June 2006) that explored how migration is helping countries expand their economies, meet shortages of workers and lift themselves from poverty. According to the report, migration is no longer a one-way ticket to geographic and cultural isolation. Today, immigrants are able to contribute not only to their new countries, as they have always done, but can more easily help their countries of origin as well. The vast flows of remittances – which last year exceeded $230 billion and now dwarf international aid – are only the most tangible expression of this. In addition, immigrants are using their skills and savings to help their home countries grow, even when they remain abroad. At the same time, the UN report acknowledges that migration has many negative consequences – political, economic and social – and calls on governments to strengthen instruments to protect the rights of migrants.
  5. Migration is a global issue, affecting societies around the world. Migration from Pacific countries is changing the nature of island societies and local economies. South Africa deported more than 50,000 illegal Zimbabwean immigrants in the first six months of this year as floods of people fled economic collapse in their country. Much of the domestic policy debate in the United States this year focused on immigration reform. Migrants from North Africa set out in small boats for European shores in record numbers, provoking political crises for countries such as Malta and Spain. The increasing emigration of Christians from the Middle East has long been a concern to churches in the region. Periodic crackdowns in Thailand lead to the deportation of tens of thousands of Burmese migrants who have come to Thailand because they cannot survive at home.
  6. The last central committee meeting before the Porto Alegre assembly addressed these realities through a public issue statement on “Practising hospitality in an era of new forms of migration”. This document summarizes well the impact of globalization and the post-11 September 2001 concerns for security in regard to the movement of people. The document points to both negative and positive consequences for sending and receiving countries. While remittances have far and away surpassed development aid, Africa already has lost one-third of its educated and skilled labour. “Brain drain” has severe consequences for countries like Ghana that lost to migration 60% of its graduating doctors in the 1980s. Today we can ask: how many of the skilled professionals who fled Lebanon in July and August of this year will return to help re-build their country? Receiving countries benefit from the skills and contributions of immigrants. Nevertheless, some politicians blame immigrants for unemployment, crime and other problems of their economies, thus fuelling racism and xenophobia in their societies, often with severe consequences for migrants who are subject to harassment and even murder.
  7. Addressing the emerging trends of migration, our WCC statement draws attention to the trafficking of women and children. It says, “600,000 to 800,000 human beings are trafficked every year with annual profits of US$ 8-10 billion.” In many cases the marginalization and exploitation especially of trafficked women and children, but also of adult men, amount to new forms of slavery. Because of their “illegal” status, they are left without any protection and support.
  8. The document highlights the devastating impact of military interventions and war, but also emphasizes that governmental concerns with security and migration have led to unacceptable forms of detention, imprisonment and forced deportation of refugees and asylum seekers in a number of countries. I myself have witnessed the inhuman situation in a detention camp in Australia that I suspect provides a parallel with prison conditions in Guantanamo Bay. The statement concludes with very clear and practical recommendations to the churches on how to offer hospitality to those who arrive in their countries, to combat stigma and discrimination in their societies and to challenge government policies.

New ecclesial realities

  1. Last year’s central committee statement provides a solid basis to engage with the consequences of migration in our societies. It is a real public issue statement. Migration, however, also has a very deep impact on the churches themselves with important challenges to their ecumenical relationships both locally and globally. And it is for this reason that I have decided to make it the central theme of my report.
  2. Intra-national or international migration flows have an impact on the churches from which migrants leave as well as on the churches in their host countries. This is most obviously manifest in the increasing number of new diaspora churches in all countries and regions of the world. The recent multiplication of Orthodox churches all over the world is worth mentioning particularly, as is the remarkable presence in Northern countries of many churches of African origin. Diaspora experience modifies both the “host” and the “guest” churches, and their customary theological or ecclesiological approaches. This is particularly visible in large cities, where migrant churches provide a haven and home for the most vulnerable, offering material support, cultural space, an affirmation of identity and the opportunity for religious expression. In many countries, the growth of such churches is significantly changing the religious and ecumenical scene.
  3. Geneva is a good example. For centuries, this city has attracted substantial numbers of foreigners – refugees, business people, employees of international organizations. But in recent decades the figures have drastically increased. According to government statistics the number of people in Geneva of African origin and from Eastern Europe has doubled between 1989 and 2002. Those from Asia and Latin America have increased about 50%. More than 50% of residents in the city of Geneva now come from abroad.
  4. The official figures, however, cover only those people who have been officially registered. They do not take into account the many persons without legal status – immigrants looking for a job, asylum seekers and others. This great diversity of people is also mirrored in church life. There are more than sixty Protestant communities of different origin in Geneva. While for many language, culture or ethnic background is the common denominator, others bring together people from different countries. A number of them are bilingual and provide simultaneous French-English interpretation. Some worship in the churches and community centres of the Protestant Church of Geneva, but the majority of them have found their own spaces – sometimes just a garage or a room in a basement. At the same time, other churches of Roman Catholic and Orthodox tradition have come into existence as have new religious communities of Muslim, Jewish and other faiths. It is interesting to note that most members of conservative evangelical and Pentecostal churches in Geneva are foreigners.
  5. While migrant churches are being established throughout the world, there are many cases where churches in host countries have opened their doors to migrants and have been transformed in the process. Almost all clergy ordained in the Methodist Church of Aotearoa/New Zealand, for example, are Pacific Islanders. The more conservative social theologies of Pacific Christians are changing the policies and practices of churches in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand. The Waldensian Church in Italy now has many more African members than Italian ones as a result of a deliberate decision by the church to welcome immigrants and to be transformed in the process. St. Andrew’s Church in Cairo has similarly been profoundly changed by the active participation of Sudanese Christians in its church life. For many US mainline churches, growth in church membership is happening primarily through increasing Hispanic and Asian participation.
  6. There are varying degrees of integration of migrants into the life of host churches. In some cases, churches arrange parallel services for migrants so that they may worship in their own languages. Thus, some congregations in the US will have several worship services on Sunday: in English, Spanish, Korean and Kiswahili, for example. In some cases, migrants establish mission churches, reaching out to English-speaking communities.
  7. Of course, migration is bound to change local ecumenism and its organizational expressions. The same is true for the national level. It has been quite some time since the Nigerian-founded Church of the Lord (Aladura) joined the British Council of Churches, today’s Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. But there are now developments where, in Switzerland for instance, churches of people of African origin have formed their own umbrella organization (Conference of the African Churches in Switzerland) that is now looking for membership in the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches. The Conference of European Churches has received similar requests from Korean churches and churches of African immigrants. They all say: “We are no longer foreigners. We live together with you in Europe, in this country, in this city. We see ourselves as integral to the one Church, and we wish to become a more visible expression of the Church of Christ in this place.”
  8. There are encouraging examples from various cities and countries of how the process of integration and ecumenical relationships between different churches may be fostered. I am sure that many of you representing churches from around the globe are in a position to share positive examples showing where the Holy Spirit wants to lead us with these new developments. But we also know that in the process of mutual encounter and growing together, old wounds of history, racism and cultural differences must be addressed. Historically, colonialism accompanied European migration into all regions of the world. People were driven from their lands, their livelihoods were undermined, and many were killed. Colonial conquest and the slave trade deeply changed the ethnic composition of this world in a violent and radical way, and this has left its mark even on the churches. To this day, the consequences of slavery and racism impact on relationships between churches; for instance, in the USA this history necessarily has been addressed in the process of uniting churches. The impact of migration today confronts churches with racism and xenophobia in new but similarly violent forms.
  9. Churches which seek to open themselves to people of different ethnic origins and cultural backgrounds often find the process to be more difficult than anticipated. Migrants bring with them different theological traditions, different liturgies and different music that can enrich churches – but also may divide them. Philip Jenks argues, in “The Next Christendom”, that Christian migrants from the South tend to be more socially conservative and more evangelical than the mainline churches in the North. They often gravitate towards evangelical and Pentecostal churches in the North, thus strengthening the more conservative evangelical churches and, at least indirectly, weakening certain ecumenical initiatives.
  10. Churches, like the societies of which they are a part, are grappling with the questions of assimilation versus integration. It is easier for a church to welcome migrants as long as they adapt to the traditions and policies established by the host church. This is assimilation. Integration, on the other hand, implies a willingness to accept the contributions of migrants to change the church and to create something new. This is more difficult for many to accept. It has been argued that one of the reasons migrants establish their own churches is because they don’t feel that the established churches are ready to change to accommodate their needs.

The church of the stranger

  1. Throughout the Bible and in the early church, people were called by God to love and offer hospitality to strangers and exiles (Lev. 19: 33-34; Rom. 15:7). The Bible contains many stories of people on the move, from Abram/Abraham and Sarah/Sarai to the Holy Family. Christ’s call to welcome the stranger (Matt. 25:31-45) is central to the gospel message. Welcoming the stranger is not optional for Christians. Nor is it conditional. Christ didn’t call for Christians to welcome those strangers whose papers are in order or who speak our language. Given the realities of migration today, welcoming strangers is not just about “being nice” to those who arrive on one’s doorstep. In today’s world, welcoming strangers is a justice issue, and often a political statement.
  2. It would be wrong to deny that welcoming strangers often goes hand in hand with a deep challenge to one’s own tradition and identity as a Christian and as a church. Unfortunately, it is not automatic that the experience of difference translates into the embrace of diversity and the sharing of different gifts. It requires a conscious choice to build relationships of trust and to be ready to change in the common encounter. Very often, difference is further deepened by lines drawn between differing communities that might even justify racist exclusion and oppression. The community that is called to share the bread and the wine with each other, and to follow Jesus in his ministry of healing and reconciliation, must not aggravate divisions; rather, it should become a bridge-builder. It ought to provide space for those who are different from one another to experience that they all belong to one humanity meant by God to share life on this planet.
  3. Over the centuries, Christian communities were ready to help people on the move. This was vital in times of persecution (1 Peter 4:9). Widows and deaconesses practised hospitality (1 Timothy 5:10) and served strangers even in other countries. St. Verena, a nurse from Egypt, went to Switzerland in the 3rd century. There were St. Anysia in Thessaloniki (3rd century), Olympias in Constantinople (4th century), St. Melany from Rome (5th century), Juliette the Merciful in Russia (16th century). At the edge of the city of Caesarea in Cappadocia, St. Basil began to construct a group of buildings destined to receive travellers and sick persons. In many other places similar houses were established in a ministry known as xenodochia.
  4. Many churches remember that their ancestors had to leave their villages, cities and countries for the sake of their faith; they were expelled, or fled from war and genocide. In many parts of the world, there are churches that have existed and continue to exist as churches of refugees and migrants. There are also others who remember how their church received and welcomed these refugees into their midst. The 19th-century abolitionist movement in the US and Canada gave refuge to slaves on their way into freedom. Churches in Europe joined in helping people to escape from Nazi dictatorship and the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Today, churches in South America are working together to move to safety Colombians whose lives are in danger.

The challenge to our fellowship

  1. Churches, from the very beginning of their existence, have built diaconal services for refugees and migrants. But they have always understood that the real challenge goes deeper and is indeed about sharing in solidarity the common life in Christ. Unavoidably, the situation of migrants puts the question to each of us: Who is my neighbour? Diaconia in this existential context reveals the deeper meaning of the koinonia, the fellowship in Christ.
  2. The fifteenth-century Orthodox icon of the Holy Trinity by Andrei Rubliev identifies the divine communion between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit with the communion of the three strangers who were received and fed by Abraham in the spirit of genuine hospitality (Genesis 18; Hebrews 13:2). As was expressed in the July 2004 Faith and Order Commission meeting, “through the practice of true hospitality, which transcends somehow the distinction between ‘host’ and ‘guest’, a mutual transformation takes place.”
  3. Let me conclude my reflections by posing a number of questions:

Does such true hospitality in the shared household of God provide us with an interim goal at the present stage of ecumenism? Can there be among us genuine hospitality, which helps to overcome the wounds of the past, to discover each other in new ways and to build the relationships and the community that will help us, finally, to discover and live out our oneness in Christ? Are we willing to take the necessary risks? Practising true hospitality involves recognizing our own vulnerability and being open to transformation. “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured” (Heb 13:1-3). The process of welcoming strangers also leads us to look at our own societies in new ways and to see the racism and xenophobia that may not otherwise apparent to us. Standing with migrants is politically unpopular in most regions of the world. The risks are very real, yet so is our calling.

  1. Migration is a complex phenomenon which affects our societies, our churches and our ecumenical movement. This issue merits further reflection and discussion, and you will see in our programme plans that we are calling for public hearings in different regions next year and a major global consultation on “Migration and the changing ecclesial landscape” in 2008. These reflections are meant to feed into the process on ecumenism in the 21st century, which will continue to be high on our agenda until the next assembly in 2013.

POST-ASSEMBLY PLANNING PROCESS

  1. I will not now comment in detail on the WCC Programme Plans 2007-2013 which constitute one of the main subjects on the agenda of this central committee meeting. Two plenary sessions will give us ample time for introducing the planning process, presenting the content of the proposals and preparing the central committee to take the necessary policy decisions to allow the Council to move from the planning mode to the stage of implementation.
  2. I simply wish to highlight here that, in the aftermath of the assembly, most of our efforts have been centred around the importance of ecumenical experiences and partnerships, thus – directly or indirectly – affirming the centrality in our thinking of the process on ecumenism in the 21st century.

New ways of working with ecumenical partners

  1. The assembly articulated an urgent call for an integrated and interactive approach to programmes and relationships in the Council’s work, and affirmed the Council’s leadership role in the process of engaging the wider ecumenical movement in constructive collaboration or “reconfiguration”. Our partners in this process include WCC member churches, Christian World Communions (CWCs), Regional Ecumenical Organizations (REOs), National Councils of Churches (NCCs), world mission bodies, specialized ministries, as well as Christian churches not currently in the membership of the WCC.
  2. Mindful of this call, we shared our draft planning documents with a consultation that included representatives of member churches, representatives of CWCs, REOs, ecumenical youth organizations, and specialized ministries. Though informally, we have shared our planning documents with the European ecumenical agencies (APRODEV). We received input from the US Conference for the WCC. At the WCC Round Table we discussed these plans extensively with our ecumenical partners. Given our time constraints, we did our best to consult as broadly as possible. I believe that our planning journey during the last few months has demonstrated our commitment to the imperative of constructive ecumenical cooperation in responding to the challenges of the 21st century.
  3. I hope that, more tangibly, our commitment to new ways of working was manifest in the manner we planned and monitored the visit to Lebanon and Israel/Palestine, and the way we welcomed back the ecumenical delegation. This initiative was jointly coordinated by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the Conference of European Churches and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. The composition of the three-person delegation deliberately included a Roman Catholic, Archbishop Mgr Bernard Nicolas Aubertin. The others were the Rev. Jean-Arnold de Clermont, leader of the delegation and President of CEC, and Ms Marilia Schüller, a member of the WCC’s executive staff. We made it clear that the delegation was entrusted with the mission of expressing global ecumenical solidarity with churches and people affected by the conflict in the Middle East, and that the delegation had returned with the task of transmitting the hopes and expectations of the churches in Lebanon, Palestine and Israel to the entire ecumenical family.

Cooperation with CWCs

  1. With the steering committee of the Conference of the general secretaries of CWCs, we have considered the recommendation of the assembly policy reference committee with regard to the creation of “a joint consultative commission to discuss and recommend ways to further strengthen the participation of Christian World Communions in the WCC”. The steering committee agreed that both the agenda and the terms of reference of this joint instrument are already spelled out in the policy reference committee report, and that the group itself could assume the coordinating role.
  2. Later during this meeting, a concrete proposal will be processed through the nominations committee and presented for action in order to secure the continuation of this common endeavour, keeping in mind that one of the important items on the agenda of the joint commission will be, to quote the assembly policy reference committee report, to explore “new ways of relating CWCs to the WCC, including new possibilities related to future WCC assemblies, expanded space in the structure of WCC assemblies for confessional meetings, and the vision ultimately of a broadly inclusive ecumenical assembly”.
  3. The latter is an issue that we should particularly keep in mind while receiving, during one of our subsequent sessions at this meeting, the assembly evaluation report and initiating discussion on the steps leading towards the next assembly.

Clarifying institutional roles

  1. The CEC central committee meeting earlier this year offered an appropriate occasion for continuing the discussion on policy matters raised at Porto Alegre. The Venerable Colin Williams, general secretary of CEC, dedicated a considerable section of his report to the CEC-WCC relationship and the process on ecumenism in the 21st century, quoting a substantial collection of key assembly texts, mostly from the Policy Reference Committee report. Two members of the WCC staff participated in the meeting and spoke to the process on ecumenism in the 21st century, and to the programmatic cooperation between the two organizations.
  2. The insights gained from this experience strongly affirm the urgent need for defining a meaningful and efficient distribution of tasks and roles within the ecumenical family, the aim being to achieve greater ecumenical coherence and to strengthen the impact of ecumenical action. Indeed, this is a matter I have already undertaken, and in due course I would like to discuss our findings more extensively with the broader constituency, including the REOs.

Maturation of a joint ecumenical project

  1. A frank dialogue was initiated with the continuation committee of the Global Christian Forum. We have shared openly our conceptual and ecumenical, organizational and financial prospects and difficulties. We considered together how the Global Christian Forum could be seen as a contribution to the emerging shape of ecumenism. Indeed, the Global Christian Forum is entering a decisive stage given that, in November 2007, it is intended to bring together representatives of all the main Christian traditions in the world and their global organizations at a high level of leadership. The task ahead involves taking stock of the new experiences and the new partnerships that are being created through the journey towards this global event, and undertaking a careful assessment of the whole process and its results.

New ecclesial and ecumenical challenges

  1. Without neglecting the weight of all the above-mentioned institutional ecumenical developments, one should admit that the most important and powerful ecumenical challenges come today from within the life and witness of the churches, and from their attitude towards the ecumenical movement and ecumenical organizations. The recent withdrawal or threatened withdrawal of churches from ecumenical organizations raises new questions with regard to inter-ecclesial relationships and our basic assumptions about the “one ecumenical movement”. I refer most specifically to the situation in Brazil, where the Methodist Church withdrew from CONIC, the national council of churches, only a few months after our assembly in Porto Alegre. The reason given had to do with Roman Catholic participation in CONIC. This underscores the continual need to work together to increase our efforts in strengthening ecumenism in the 21st century.
  2. The decision of the Methodist Church in Brazil and some other similar moves will have to be studied carefully by all of us, since they may affect not only ecumenism at the national level but also relationships at the global level. Indeed, the potential implications of such developments on local churches, the CWCs, the WCC and other ecumenical organizations at all levels should be of great concern as we develop a process for reconfiguring the ecumenical movement.
  3. It is encouraging, as the moderator has indicated in his report, that during this meeting of the central committee you will be invited to take a policy decision and accept into the fellowship of the WCC another Brazilian church, the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil.

CONCLUSION

  1. I began this report with words of welcome, and I have alluded to the ministry of hospitality to which Scripture invites the people of God. As you undertake your responsibilities at this first full meeting of the new central committee, I commend to you these words of the apostle Paul: “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom 15:7).
  2. We call for peace in the Middle East, justice for migrants, unity among the world’s Christians. These are grand concepts and daunting challenges. But the accomplishment of peace, justice, unity and common mission, on however large a scale, begins for us in the building of friendships. This is especially important during the early sessions of a newly elected central committee.
  3. “I have called you friends,” Jesus told his followers (John 15:15), prior to his prayer that we may all be one (17:21). Friendship is at the heart of all we do. In the end, our talk of a fellowship of churches, integrated models of working, interactive programmes and new patterns of ecumenism, depends on the formation of friendships that will abide. “I have called you friends,” Jesus tells his followers, and Paul exhorts us to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us.
  4. It is true that there remain some honest differences among the churches represented here. But we have a friend in common. So let us welcome one another, build relationships of trust and love, and continue our journey together to the glory of the Triune God.

Letter to Israeli prime minister Mr Ehud Olmert
WCC General Secretary Rev Dr. Samuel Kobia

Geneva, Switzerland, 2006, August 30 – September 6, WCC Central Committee

Your Excellency,

I write to convey the deep concern of the World Council of Churches and request remedial action at the long delay by the Government of Israel in recognizing His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilus III as the head of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. More than one year has passed since his election to that post. The other governments involved in this matter have fully recognized his patriarchy.

In addition to this unjustified delay, Your Excellency’s administration continues to recognise the duly deposed former patriarch, now monk, Irineos, in contravention of the actions of the legitimate religious representatives of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem who hold the authority to elect and install the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem. It is only their Holy Synod – not the Government of Israel – which determines who is the legitimate leader of that church.

The recently concluded meeting of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches took up the Israeli government’s action which is tantamount to interference by the state in the affairs of the church. The Central Committee has asked me, as General Secretary, to communicate their concern to you. The World Council of Churches calls for the prompt and unqualified recognition of His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilus III as the primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem by the Government of Israel.

I would end this letter with the observation that meaningful and appropriate demonstrations of respect for religion do honour to those in positions of power in every place. Nowhere is this more the case than in the divided city of Jerusalem and among communities around the world that look to it in faith and hope.

Yours sincerely,

Rev Dr. Samuel Kobia | General Secretary

WCC urges Israel to recognize Theophilus III as head of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem
WCC General Secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia

“The World Council of Churches (WCC) calls for the prompt and unqualified recognition of His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilus III as the primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem by the Government of Israel,” said WCC general secretary, Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia in a letter sent to Israel’s prime minister Ehud Olmert on 29 September.

Under long-standing agreements, the election of the patriarch of Jerusalem, the oldest and largest church in the Holy Land, is endorsed by the Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian authorities. The Israeli authorities have, however, refused to validate the August 2005 election of the leader of the WCC’s largest member church in the Holy Land, and have thus prevented the church from fulfilling its regular functions.

Qualifying this refusal as an “unjustified delay”, the WCC general secretary also objected to Israel’s continued recognition of the “duly deposed” former patriarch Irineos which, he stated, was “in contravention of the actions of the legitimate religious representatives” of the church in Jerusalem.

The WCC central committee meeting in September 2006 requested the general secretary to intervene with the Israeli government on this issue.

“I would end this letter with the observation that meaningful and appropriate demonstrations of respect for religion do honour to those in positions of power in every place. Nowhere is this more the case than in the divided city of Jerusalem and among communities around the world that look to it in faith and hope,” concluded Kobia.

Letter to the Prime Minister of Jordan, Dr Marouf Suleiman al-Bakhit
WCC General Secretary S. Kobia

 Your Excellency,

Greetings in the name of almighty God.

It is with deep concern that the World Council of Churches (WCC) received the news that your honorable government decided to withdraw its recognition from the legally elected His Beatitude Theophilos III, Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem and All Palestine. We want to express our fear that such a decision might lead to a division among the Orthodox Christian community in Jordan and Palestine with negative ecclesial and socio-political consequences.

We understand the reason behind this decision by the Jordanian government, and interpret it in terms of strengthening the Christian Arab presence and witness in Jordan and Palestine. In this sense we also welcome the recent decisions of the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate under the leadership of His Beatitude Theophilos III, to accelerate the process of satisfying the request formulated by the Arab faithful of the patriarchate.

In a period where the WCC is convening an international peace conference in Amman (17-21 June) calling the churches worldwide to coordinate their actions towards ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, and working for a just peace and reconciliation in the Middle East, this decision might prove counter productive for all peace initiatives and distract from the goals of this conference.

Although fully aware that your government’s decision does not interfere in the internal affairs of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem in terms of judging the legality of His Beatitude’s election by the Holy Synod of that church, we still believe that recognizing His Beatitude as the Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem and All Palestine is of utmost importance for the good governance of the institutions related to that patriarchate.

We therefore, very respectfully and kindly ask your honorable government to reconsider its decision so that peace and harmony within the church prevail again. Thanking you in advance for the positive attention that you will give to this special request, we look forward to have a fruitful consultation in Amman next June.

Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, General Secretary

Peace conference, Amman
WCC General Secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia

by Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia at the International Peace Conference

Amman, Jordan, 17-21 June 2007

Your Beatitudes, Your Eminences and Graces, Your Excellencies, Fellow Clergy, Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Greetings to each and every one of you in the Name of the One who is the Prince of Peace.

It is our shared privilege to be together because we are here on behalf of churches around God’s world. Here with the precious hopes of many. Here for that fragile yet unbreakable hope — so evident in this region — the hope of peace.

It is a singular privilege, as general secretary of the World Council of Churches, to open the work of this conference. In the next three days we will be taking up challenges that will test our commitment and our capacity in extraordinary ways. The journey we begin here will take us onto unknown ground. The road may be rough, the risks high.

Yet we are starting the journey from a good place for an international initiative that must be rooted in the Middle East, and that place is Jordan. Let us begin with an affirmation of where we are by paying our respects to our hosts, His Majesty King Abdullah, the government and the people of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and its churches. We are in their good hands. They have facilitated the possibility to have this conference in Jordan and we thank them most sincerely.

Jordan’s role, its historic role, has been to seek the way of peace even when that has been against the odds. So it makes sense for us to be here. At a time more urgent than we could have feared, we are here to seek the way to peace against the odds, as well.

We are here with voices ringing in our ears that the situation is now completely “hopeless”. The chair beside you may be empty because our conferees from Gaza could not come. We must keep them in our prayers instead, along with all the people of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Among them, not far from here, an urgent crisis has seized the attention of the world, and our attention too, but at the same time we are called to envision something more distant – that thing called peace, a just and sustainable resolution of the conflict and of its endemic crises. Therefore, we must not reduce our actions to immediate interventions without a plan for the future, nor can we simply make long-term proposals that ignore the present suffering of those who live under occupation or are affected by it.

The situation is grave — unending loss of life, displacement of persons, violations of human rights, humiliation of one people by another, degrading perpetrator as well as victim. Injustice is deeply rooted in the land we call ‘Holy’. Now new injustices have made the region a battlefield as well, inflaming passions and arousing fears around the world.

What is our response? As people of faith we have no alternative. We are here because there is no alternative. Our response must be to mobilize the larger ecumenical family around the imperative of a just peace. Our alternative to oppression and violence is to serve the cause of peace as an act of faith in Christ who is our Peace.

Churches around the world are waking up. They are impatient to see the end of occupation and eager for real progress toward peace. That you have come from six continents is a sign of their resolve.

Our history has prepared us to meet this challenge. The churches put Middle East peace on the WCC agenda for the first time in 1948. 60 years of discernment in WCC governing bodies has sharpened policies and tested us against a difficult objective.

The World Council of Churches believes that negotiating a just peace under the rule of law is the strongest option for ensuring the well-being and security of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. This conviction has only grown through 40 years of illegal occupation of Palestinian territory. In making policy, the WCC is attentive to those who are suffering, recognizes UN resolutions as the basis for peace, and is watchful that the Geneva Conventions determine the occupying power’s responsibilities in the meantime. Our main positions are, in headline style:

That Palestinians have the right of self-determination and the right of return;

while Israel and its legitimate security needs are recognized, as are the real threats experienced among the Jewish people.

That the life and witness of local churches guides churches worldwide in advocacy for peace.

That Jerusalem must be an open, inclusive and shared city in terms of sovereignty and citizenship

That settlements are illegal, as is their expansion;

That the Separation Barrier is a grave breach of international law and must be removed from occupied territory.

The WCC supports a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians live side by side within secure, internationally recognized borders as per UN Security Council resolutions.

We support groups on both sides working for reconciliation and peace,

and condemn violence in all its forms, whether perpetrated by the State of Israel inside Occupied Palestinian Territory or by Palestinian armed groups inside the State of Israel.

Finally, that peace in Israel and Palestine is inseparable from international peace.

These hopes are real even if they have not yet been fulfilled. We pray that they are secure with us, for the sake of those who suffer. We know that our ecumenical witness can be much more effective, and must be more effective.

In pondering our unmet potential one thing stands out. You will hear in the course of the conference examples of what churches have accomplished through advocacy for peace in various places.

Despite these many actions for peace, however, when it comes to this conflict the ecumenical family still lives in a house divided. We have often indulged ourselves in lesser arguments, while the greater prize of peace-making has not received our full strength. We have lived in the luxury of disunity, while the necessity of resolving conflict has gone begging.

In terms of mobilizing for peace we must confess that we, as a family, have displayed insufficient solidarity with the Palestinian Christian community and with the peoples in conflict.

So today the Gospel is calling us as co-workers in God’s project of hope. 1st Peter insists that we be ready to give account for that Hope which is within us. This we do by addressing three imperatives for bold prophetic witness:

  • The ethical and theological imperative for a Just Peace

  • The ecumenical imperative for unity in action

  • The Gospel imperative for costly solidarity.

These are the fundamental ingredients for the bold prophetic action that is required of us.

The ethical and theological imperative for a just peace:

We believe that peace will only prevail if it is built on justice.

As Christians, our specific contribution lies in bringing spiritual, theological and ethical perspectives to bear on the conflict. This is especially critical in a conflict such as this, which at times appears religious in nature but is in fact a struggle over land and identity. Also, where misuse of religion has become a part of the problem, the religious community has an obligation to be part of the solution.

Justice presupposes the existence of a partner. When the prophet Micah calls us to “do” justice, it is not unilaterally, by ourselves. It is with the “other”. Solutions must involve the people most directly affected. The ethical and theological perspectives we bring challenge the dead ends of imposed solutions, of using military force and of victory to those with the most arms and the most powerful allies.

This imperative of just peace means that we must measure all peace proposals against the precepts of biblical justice. Here, we have grounds for a most productive engagement with society and governments. We are concerned for all peoples and all nations. Indeed, the WCC Assembly in Porto Alegre last year called us to strive to be ‘neighbours to all’.

It is our understanding today that compliance with the relevant international laws is the best existing approximation of the demands contained in biblical justice.

To test that important fact, let us remember the tenets of biblical justice. They guarantee the rights of all people and are profoundly relational between peoples. Therefore:

1) A peace proposal must promote the unity of the Palestinian people and their aspirations for freedom

2) A proposal must embrace Israeli aspirations for a peaceful coexistence with all their neighbours in the Middle East.

3) Peace must work to bring life in dignity to all the peoples of the region.

4) A peace proposal will respect the religious diversity in the region

5) A just peace will first secure the interests of the people here and not the interests of external powers.

The ethical and theological imperative of a just peace is a necessary voice in a conflict where hope has eroded and where the powers of this world push us to think that we are powerless to face the complexity of the situation.

Rather, we are co-workers with Christ in his project of hope. Our faith compels us to be artisans of peace with justice and to accompany those who are building the peace that God wills for all peoples. This commitment is not based on a particular political ideology but springs from the very nature of faith in Jesus Christ and belongs to the Church of the Prince of Peace.

The ecumenical imperative for unity:

In all that we do and all that we are, we must work with and respond to each other. For the WCC, this means working with, and responding to, the needs and vision of our member churches. Unity is both our purpose and our methodology.

However, at this historic moment, we must confess and admit that the ecumenical family is all too often a house divided with respect to the Israel- Palestine conflict. We have not achieved the necessary degree of unity in word, thought and deed to be effective witnesses for a just peace. We must unify our thinking about the root causes of the conflict. We must address our differences about the kind of solidarity that is required. We must address theological differences that become an alibi for inaction. While we sit divided, the situation seems to be spiralling out of control and pushing the Middle East towards unbridled chaos. The violence can further polarize a world already torn by fear and anger.

We must engage each other theologically and ethically in order to embrace a justice based approach that honours real concerns about growing anti-Semitism while addressing the urgent need to end the occupation and build a just peace. It will take hard theological work to address extremism. It is painful to acknowledge that adherents to the Christian faith such as the so-called Christian Zionists, work directly against our vision of peace. At the same time, we will strengthen our inter-faith approach. To tackle divisions and conflicts, we must insist on inclusive theology in our ecumenical witness and a unified approach.

In addressing the Israel Palestine conflict, we cannot and will not act alone. This very meeting is a witness to God’s call to unity. We all know that the call to common action, coordination, cooperation and collaboration does not mean that we all think with one mind or that we will do exactly the same things. We understand through long ecumenical experience the gift of diversity and the “variety of gifts” that make the ecumenical movement so strong. At the same time, there must be “unity in all our diversity” if we are to be more effective than we have been in facing the challenge of just peace.

The gospel imperative for costly solidarity

In confronting the 3rd imperative — costly solidarity — we are reminded of St Paul’s image of the body: “we are one body and all are members of it…if one suffers all suffer ” (1 Cor 12: 15…). In this light, let us recognize and confess our failure to have adequately and faithfully support the Christians of the Middle East, particularly during this last half century.

The harsh truth is that one of the invisible victims of the occupation is the viability of the Palestinian Christian Community. In the first half of the 20th century, Palestinian Christians represented 25% of the population of historic Palestine. Now due to migration as a result of the occupation, Palestinian Christians are less than 2% of the population of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. We cannot accept this trend, nor can we let it continue.

In the very place where our faith was born, the Christian community must be viable. We must also safeguard the role that local Christian presence and witness will play in a just solution to the conflict.

Christians continue to witness for a just peace based on active but non-violent resistance to injustice and oppression. In their witness, the Christians of the Middle East show us models and possibilities for inter-religious cooperation and dialogue in the service of peace

Although under many pressures, the Christian community continues to have key roles in Palestine and in the Middle East. It maintains educational and health services available to all. The values shared through its institutions contribute to the building of a pluralistic, secular, democratic society that promotes human rights and ensures the full and equal participation of both men and women.

We see the unique contribution of the Christian Community of the Middle East and the ecumenical model of listening to and responding to the leadership of the local churches revealed in the crucial role played by the Middle East Council of Churches since its inception. All of us gathered here are indebted to and seek to build upon the faithful witness of the MECC in Christian witness for a just peace in Israel Palestine. In the work of MECC we see that Christian service with refugees, solidarity with churches, inter-religious dialogue for humanitarian service and peace and prophetic witness have laid the strong foundation on which we can build renewed efforts for international ecumenical action. In this we are clear: there can be no effective ecumenical action that does not take the local and regional role of the churches into consideration seriously.

We focus on the role of Christians not only because they are our family but also because our Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters insist that the presence of Christians is essential for a just resolution of the conflict and for post-conflict reconciliation that is needed for active co-existence and thriving together.

If Christians were to disappear as effective witnesses within Arab societies, their unique contribution towards open and democratic states would be lost. Many Muslims attest to the importance of Christians for the kind of pluralistic societies they seek.

We are called here to costly solidarity, not passive concern. Real engagement will put the Palestinian Christian community and, on a larger scale, the Christians in the Arab world, at the center of our prayers and witness.

The call to solidarity reminds us of what the preacher in Ecclesiastes wrote: “Let’s together recall that two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help….A threefold cord is not quickly broken” (4: 9-12).

Conclusion:

These three imperatives must guide the work of this conference: the ethical imperative for a just peace, the ecumenical imperative for unity in action, and the Gospel imperative for costly solidarity. The tool we have been given for our prophetic witness by the Central Committee is the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum, the goals of which are: “to catalyze and co-ordinate new and existing church advocacy for peace, aimed at ending the illegal occupation in accordance with UN resolutions, and demonstrate its commitment to inter-religious action for peace and justice that serves all the peoples of region.”

The Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum will build on past initiatives and create new ones. The Forum will bring a new opportunity for coordination and collaboration in both the ongoing and the innovative actions we undertake. The Forum will be a place where unity meets prophetic witness. We are expecting to work together more dynamically, to mobilize members of the ecumenical movement not yet involved. We expect to work on different fronts at the same time.

The forum is an open, permanent and urgent invitation to the widest possible circle of ecumenical partners to move forward in new ways. Ecumenical learning has taught us to listen to the local churches and those most affected in any conflict or crisis. We have listened and we have been asked to accompany the churches here. This we have partially done through the EAPPI. We have been asked to help facilitate cooperation and coordination and communication. This we have begun through the Jerusalem Inter-church Center. We have issued many statements and minutes and declarations speaking to the conflict and calling for peace. We are now told that the time for statements is past. The local churches and ecumenical organizations are saying: No more words without deeds. We need actions.

They need and want us to work together in new and bold ways for Peace with Justice. That is what the forum is designed to do! That is why you are here to help. Let us now turn to the work at hand and begin to launch this project of hope.

Letter to the Patriarch of Jerusalem and All Palestine
WCC General Secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia

His Beatitude Theophilos III

Patriarch of the Holy City of
Jerusalem and All Palestine

Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
of Jerusalem

Your Beatitude,

I extend my deepest spiritual greetings to Your Beatitude in Jesus Christ our Lord.

It is with great joy that we have received the news yesterday of Your Beatitude’s official recognition by the Israeli government. Although fully aware that this civil decision has no influence at all on Your Beatitude’s canonical and ecclesial status, we nevertheless consider that it makes it easier to ensure the good governance of the institutions related to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, to fulfill Your Beatitude’s pastoral duties and mission among the Orthodox faithful of the Holy Church of Jerusalem, and to make visible the Christian presence and common witness in the Holy Land.

We cannot but admire Your Beatitude’s patience and wisdom with which you have dealt with this delicate issue. As Your Beatitude is aware, the World Council of Churches, together with the wider ecumenical family, always keep the Church of Jerusalem, the Mother Church, in their hearts and prayers. Our efforts to support the Christian presence and witness in the Holy Land and in the whole Middle East region have increased with Your Beatitude’s support to the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum, this new initiative launched in Amman last June with the blessing of Your Beatitude and the support of all the heads of churches in Jerusalem. We hope that the efforts of all Churches around the world, and their commitment towards working for a just peace in the Middle East, will very soon bear their fruits so that peace with justice will prevail.

May God grant that Your Beatitude may continue to serve His Holy Church in peace and that He may keep you “safe, honorable, and healthy for many years, rightly teaching the Word of His Truth”.

While our eyes are turned to Bethlehem, waiting for the celebration of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Joy and Hope, I take this opportunity to wish Your Beatitude a Blessed Period of Advent.

Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia
General secretary

Alarming humanitarian situation in Gaza
WCC General Secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia

Geneva, 22 January 2008

Alarming humanitarian situation in Gaza

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Greetings to you in Christ and as fellow disciples of the Prince of Peace.

Like many of you, we are receiving alarming reports from Gaza, where people have been suffering for a long time from isolation, siege and collective punishment by the government of Israel.

An alarming new appeal by the heads of churches in Jerusalem notes that:

“…one and a half million people are imprisoned and without proper food or medicine. 800,000 without electricity supply; this is illegal collective punishment, an immoral act in violation of International Law. This cannot be tolerated any further. The siege over Gaza should end now.”

Mr. Constantine Dabbagh, the executive director of the Near East Council of Churches based in Gaza, reports that bakeries that used to distribute bread regularly are now unable to do so because of fuel shortages, with long queues of people hoping to get their daily staple. With electricity shortages, the much-needed refrigerators used in the three primary health clinics of the Gaza Strip are in jeopardy. This also applies to hospitals and other health facilities across Gaza.

Dr. Bernard Sabella, the executive secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches’ Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees writes that political talks between Palestinians and Israel over the Gaza Strip situation have become an urgent necessity and are demanded by all Palestinians.

For so long, we have heard from many churches and ecumenical partners that they feel helpless when confronted with the situation in Gaza. But we should always remember that in Amman, last June, we promised the churches in the Middle East, and particularly in Israel/Palestine, that together “we will act and pray and speak and work and risk reputations and lives to build with them bridges for an enduring peace among the peoples of this tortured and beautiful place”.

In response to the many calls for help, I urge you to:

Pray for an end of the suffering in Gaza.

Speak out for the people of Gaza calling for an end to the siege, an end to their collective punishments and a negotiated ceasefire. Address your parishes, the public, your governments and the embassies of governments most directly involved in the Middle East – the United States, Israel, the European Union and Russia. Attached you will find a model letter that could be used by individual people of faith to address their representatives in parliaments and governments.

Help and manifest your solidarity with the churches in Palestine. Gaza lives under collective punishment, incursions and siege. Churches and related agencies are serving some of the needs. They need our support, and Action by Churches Together is co-ordinating appeals for humanitarian aid.

Local churches in Jerusalem will feel strengthened and less abandoned when they see help coming from churches abroad. They will also greatly appreciate messages of support coming from sister churches from all over the world. I strongly encourage you to manifest your solidarity by writing directly to them (the list of heads of churches in Jerusalem is attached).

The World Council of Churches has always held that justice among the states and peoples of the Middle East must be based on the international rule of law and on rigorous implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions pertaining to the conflicts. May we continue to stand together, praying for peace with justice to embrace all concerned. As we pray, so may we believe. And so, too, be moved to action.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia,
General Secretary

[Insert name and address of one of the following:

  • Your minister of foreign affairs
  • Your representative in parliament
  • Members of the Mid-East Quartet:

– Ambassadors of the United States and of Russia in your country

– H.E. Mr Javier Solana
High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy,
Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union
he Council of the European Union
Rue de la Loi 17
1048 Brussels
Fax +32 2 281 56 94
E-Mail

– H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-Moon
Secretary-General
United Nations
1 UN Plaza
New York, NY 10017
USA
Fax: +1.212.963.5065
E-Mail

Dear (official title)

I write to you from the context of my faith with regard to the tragic situation we see before us in the news regarding the situation in Gaza. I stand in solidarity with those who are suffering, and join them in their cries for justice.

With this letter, I ask that you use the weight of your office as a public official to be in contact with public officials of the state of Israel. Ask that they put an end to the siege of Gaza and to the repetitive collective punishments of its people. Ask them to negotiate a ceasefire for Gaza as an essential step forward in the current negotiations on Israeli-Palestinian peace.

In 1948, many nations around the world signed the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights agreeing to avoid such non-humanitarian treatment of others. It is particularly the innocent who are suffering. The siege has increased violent attacks against civilians on both sides. It has cut the people of Gaza off from adequate supplies of food, medicine, electricity and fuel, and crippled essential health and sanitation services in one of the most densely populated places on earth.

I ask that you advocate for the lifting of the siege of Gaza, an end to collective punishment and the negotiation of a ceasefire for the sake of the people of Gaza and their neighbors.

In Faith,

WCC asks for prayers, advocacy and church aid for the people of Gaza
WCC General Secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia

In a statement issued yesterday, the heads of churches in Jerusalem and the Holy Land called on the international community and the state of Israel to end the current siege on the Gaza Strip which has caused most recently cuts in electricity and limited the shipments of medicine, fuel, food and other goods across the border.

The statement says the siege of Gaza has effectively imprisoned one and a half million people without proper food or medicine. The church leaders stress that “this is illegal collective punishment, an immoral act in violation of the basic human, natural as well as international laws. It cannot be tolerated anymore. The siege over Gaza should end now.”

The statement urged Palestinians to unite in ending their differences for the sake of the people in Gaza and urged Israel to act responsibly.

In a letter issued today, the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia called on the Council’s 347 member churches around the world to pray for the end of the suffering in Gaza and speak out for the people in Gaza to their governments.

“Address your parishes, the public, your governments and the embassies”, Kobia writes, “calling for an end to the siege, an end to their collective punishments and a negotiated ceasefire”.

The letter urges churches to manifest solidarity with the churches in Palestine by supporting the work done by local churches on the ground and church-related agencies like Action by Churches Together. Kobia also suggests to send messages of support directly to the local churches.