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WCC general secretary applauds churches' role in Argentina crisis

11 January 2002

As Argentina struggles with a serious economic, political and social crisis, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, has praised Argentina's churches, ecumenical organizations and civil society. In a 10 January 2002 letter to the country's churches, Raiser said he had been deeply moved by the way they had responded to what, for him, was also to some extent an "ethical and spiritual" crisis.

Raiser urged "Christians, churches, people of other faiths and all men and women committed to peace to join forces to overcome this crisis and build a society of greater justice and solidarity in Argentina, strengthening ties with other countries in the region". He also reminded politicians of their responsibility in this respect, stressing that it is essential to "put an end to corruption, impunity and abuse of power and to take immediate steps that will lead to genuine national reconciliation based on justice".

Mass protests about the disastrous state of Argentina's economy started in December. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) refused payment of a loan tranche worth billions of dollars because the country had considerably overstepped the agreed borrowing level. With debts of $132 billion, Argentina is now on the brink of bankruptcy; it has been in deep recession for the past three and a half years. Official figures put unemployment at 18.3% in October. The government of former President de la Rua, who resigned, introduced drastic cuts in public spending and strict economy measures in an attempt to meet the IMF loan conditions.

The full text of the WCC general secretary's letter follows:

"Grace to you and peace" (1 Thess.1:1) - the apostle Paul's words of greeting to the churches seem specially significant at this time.

Many reports in recent weeks have drawn attention to the distressing situation afflicting your country, Argentina. Time and again the mass media have shown pictures of violent clashes between the population and the police, looting of shops, demonstrations outside Congress and the Casa Rosada. We deeply deplore the deaths of dozens of men and women, many of them young, and the thousands of arrests that have been made. At the same time, we have also heard about the work being done by the churches and Christians of Argentina and their prayers for the situation.

Together with churches and the world-wide ecumenical movement we have shared in your suffering and we have been with you as you try to hear the cry of the people and discern the presence of the Spirit in the midst of this crisis. It is a situation marked by great confusion, anger and violence but also by signs of solidarity and genuine concern for the future on the part of the Argentinian people. From the very beginning we have been praying that the democratic institutions of your beloved country may be restored and strengthened. We give thanks to God for the witness borne by Christians and churches in Argentina at this difficult time and we ask God to strengthen them in faith, hope and love.

As many analysts, and indeed churches and ecumenical organizations themselves, have pointed out, the scale of the crisis in Argentina is alarming. Perhaps the most striking thing has been the resignation of two presidents within the space of a few days. But most worrying of all is the state of poverty and insecurity in which millions of people in Argentina find themselves living today, largely as a result of the economic policy of recent years. It is not for us to analyse the causes of this crisis, which you know only too well. Let us simply say that the situation challenges us to continue our ethical and spiritual reflection on the role and behaviour of political leaders, international financial institutions and the different sectors of society. It also gives us cause to reflect further on our own commitment to action for life, justice and solidarity.

We are moved by the cry of the Argentinian people and the way in which the churches, ecumenical organizations and other members of civil society are responding to this crisis, which is to some extent also ethical and spiritual. In the context of the Decade to Overcome Violence, launched at the beginning of 2001, we urge Christians, churches, people of other faiths and all men and women committed to peace to join forces to overcome this crisis and build a society of greater justice and solidarity in Argentina, strengthening ties with other countries in the region. As churches and other social groups have said, politicians must be called upon to act responsibly, to put an end to corruption, impunity and abuse of power and to take immediate steps that will lead to genuine national reconciliation based on justice. In the present situation this can only be done by strengthening democracy and ensuring respect and protection of human rights, as a mark of our concern for the life which God the Creator has entrusted to our care.

In the WCC's Christmas message for 2001, I recently wrote that our world will only be saved by grace and mercy. "God gives and forgives generously and offers life in fullness ( John 10:10) especially to those who are losers in our merciless world". The logic of mercy is foreign to the logic of power, violence, market forces which often governs our world. Yet, from the Christian point of view, participating in God's mercy is the condition sine qua non for obtaining justification.

With Christians all over the world I pray that you may be comforted in the faith and recall the words of the Psalmist, who was acquainted with grief, suffering and violence: "Out of the depths I cry to you, oh Lord. Lord, hear my voice! ... my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning... for with the Lord there is steadfast love" (Psalm 130).