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Report of the general secretary

06 September 2006

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

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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?

5. 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?

6. 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.

7. 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.  

8. 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. 

9. 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.

10. 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?

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. 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.

14. 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

15. 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.

16. 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.

17. 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.

18. 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.

19. 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.

20. 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.

21. 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.

22. 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

23. 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.

24. 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.

25. 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.

26. 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.

27. 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.

28. 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.

29. 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."

30. 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.

31. 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.

32. 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

33. 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. 

34. 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.

35. 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.

36. 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

37. 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.

38. 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."

39. 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.

40. 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

41. 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.

42. 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

43. 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.

44. 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.

45. 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

46. 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.

47. 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".

48. 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

49. 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.

50. 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

51. 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

52. 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.

53. 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.

54. 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

55. 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).

56. 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.

57. "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.

58. 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.