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The joint pilgrimage of justice and peace

Speech by WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit at the launch of the International Centre for Inter-Faith Peace and Harmony, 19 August 2016 in Kaduna, Nigeria.

20 August 2016

WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit

Speech at the launch of the International Centre for Inter-Faith Peace and Harmony, Kaduna, Nigeria,

19 August 2016

 

Your Eminence the Executive Governor of Kaduna State,

Your eminences, your excellencies,

Dear sisters and brothers,

 

In the midst of the struggles and pain of our world the World Council of Churches is seeking to journey on a pilgrimage of justice and peace, with our member churches, with our fellow Christians, but also with members of other faiths and all people of good will. This day is a significant one of this pilgrimage. We have come here as pilgrims, Muslims and Christians, to seek the will of God for justice and peace. We came 4 years ago and shared a vision of a centre here, today we see the vision has become reality.

Pilgrimages are for people of faith to holy places. That might be places of great historical importance for our faith. However, places where the sanctity of life, holy in the eyes of the Holy God, is under threat can also be holy places. Like here in Kaduna. We are today in the city that has been known by many for the fights with religious connotations. We are now in a city that shall be known also for its witness to inter-religious peace and harmony. This place can be a holy place in a new way, bringing a new vision and a new reality of people of faith living together. The presence of you, the religious leaders of Nigeria, shows the significance of this day and this event for the whole nation.

My presence here, and the World Council of Churches’ sustained and proactive engagement with this centre that we have joyfully come together to launch and commission today, is a mark of our Christian commitment to walking together in pastoral solidarity with the people of Nigeria, with those who are suffering, or have suffered, as individuals, as families and as communities, especially as a result of the pernicious evil of religiously-motivated violence.

I have been looking forward to this day for quite a long time. The roots from which it has now sprung could be said to have begun in May 2012, when His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi of Jordan and I had the privilege of co-leading a joint Christian-Muslim international delegation to Nigeria, to reflect on what were the appropriate ways to respond to the upsurge in religiously based violence that had taken place in Nigeria since the beginning of that year. Our delegation visited Jos, Abuja, and Kaduna. We were honoured to meet the leadership of the Christian and Muslim communities. I want to pay particular thanks to both Archbishop, now Cardinal, John Onaiyekan who graciously accompanied us through much of our visit, and to his His Eminence the Sultan of Sokoto, who honoured us with his presence during our time in Abuja. Shortly after the end of our visit we produced a joint report which offered a number of recommendations and commitments. Among them was the following:

“WCC and RABIIT will, God willing, seek partners to enable the opening of a neutral information-collection and archive centre, ideally both virtually and on the ground in Nigeria, which will facilitate the sharing of stories, allow the voices of those who feel themselves voiceless to be heard and recorded, and assist with the collecting of accurate data about incidents of violence, online and through hotlines. The aim of this will be to make an accurate, impartial and indelible record of injustices, violence and atrocities which can serve not only as a deterrent but also as an honest starting point for future solutions.”

So just over four years on, the vision rooted in our visit is beginning to come to fruition, through the hard work and commitment of a number of people. We have worked very carefully to prepare the ground for this centre, proudly to be known as the International Centre for Inter-Faith Peace and Harmony, wanting to ensure that what it would seek to offer would not simply replicate work already being done elsewhere. The process of this preparation included a thorough scoping and exploratory visit made by two consultants, one Christian, one Muslim, Yakubu Joseph and Murtala Touray, in August and September 2014, which culminated in a consultative forum held in Abuja, which gathered together about 40 Muslim and Christian leaders, who expressed both their enthusiasm for and, also important, their own commitment to the project. I want to give thanks to these two consultants for their hard work, done in fact at the height of the Ebola crisis, which added a further dimension to their task.

None of this would be possible either without the hard work and labours of our primary Christian partner, the Christian Council of Nigeria, under the leadership of its President Most Rev. Emanuel Udophia, and its General Secretary Rev. Yusuf Ibrahim Wushishi, as well as his Muslim counterpart Dr Khalid Aliyu, the Secretary General of JNI (Jamatu Nasril Islam). I also want to give particular thanks for the wisdom and involvement of Dr Usman Bugaje.

I am grateful that these key people so clearly caught the vision of the centre, and two key aspects of it, which I believe are fundamental to the long term goals and success of the Centre. First that the Centre is, and needs to be seen as, genuinely interreligious, by which I mean in this case, that it is owned and administered, and publicly seen to be owned and administered, by the Christian and Muslim communities on an equal basis. The Board of Management is made of both Christian and Muslim leaders 50/50 per cent and the goal and intention is to ensure that the staffing of the Centre, which will need to bring in a variety of expertise, will also represent the two religious traditions on an equal basis. The second aspect which I also believe is fundamental is that, though the Centre rightly has the word ‘International’ in its name, and both the World Council of Churches and the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought intend to continue to be supportive of its work, it is vital that our local Nigerian partners, the Christian Council of Nigeria and the Jama’atu Nasril Islam are and are seen as playing the leading role in the management of the centre and the direction of its work. The world will be looking at you and see how to take inspiration from what you are doing here in Kaduna, to address religious violence elsewhere in the world. Through what I have heard from you today, I am convinced that you can be a sign of hope to the world.

I believe that just as any conflict and religiously motivated violence in Nigeria, ultimately has to be solved by the Nigerian people themselves, so also in relation to this centre, it is vital that representatives of Nigerian Christianity and Islam take the lead role in the direction of its work and development, even though, as I have already emphasised, the WCC certainly intends to continue to be supportive. I have heard from my colleagues of the creative brainstorming and sense of vision that has already been going on in the Board of Management to ensure that as soon as possible after this inauguration some concrete and practical pieces of work to build peace and harmony will be delivered. I am especially glad that the Board has already made a commitment to take seriously the particular needs of women, both as victims of interreligious violence, but also their special contribution as agents of peace-building. It is a real joy to be here in this building which conveys in itself a real sense of tranquillity and peace – ideal for the purposes of the centre – and I congratulate those who managed to find such a treasure.

One final word of thanks – none of what is happening today would be possible without the generosity and long-sightedness of the Government of Norway, and in particular the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs – who, working through the World Council of Churches, have given substantial funding to enable the startup and initial running of this Centre. As a Norwegian myself I am grateful that my country and people continue to have such a generous humanitarian vision, seeking to work for building peace in a number of key countries, such as Nigeria, around the world. I know that our Nigerian colleagues who are using this grant so constructively are aware that eventually the people of Nigeria themselves will also need to play a role in ensuring ongoing funding for the work of the centre.

In the four years since the idea for this centre first arose, there have been many, too many, outrages both globally and in Nigeria itself, that have linked the words ‘religion’ and ‘violence’. In the World Council of Churches we ourselves have been engaged in a process of serious theological reflection on the themes of both violence done in the name of religion and violence done against religion. At our recent Central Committee meeting held in Trondheim, Norway in June this year, one of our most significant – and in some ways difficult – plenary sessions during the meeting focused on the theme of Religion and Violence. We were pleased and honoured to have Rev Wushishi speak at this session, telling us about the situation here in Nigeria and his hopes for this centre. In the plenary, and in our theological reflection, we acknowledged that there can be factors in peoples’ religious allegiance which can predispose them to violence, and that this has to be openly admitted. It is a necessary first step towards healing. Yet at the same time there are also resources within all our religious traditions which encourage us to work to build peace in our own communities and in our world.

One essential element of this – which is highlighted in the ground-breaking document A Common Word, a document for which I know His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi has considerable responsibility – is the responsibility given to us in both the Christian and Muslim faiths – to care for ‘the other’ at least as much as we care for ourselves. This caring needs to be reflected in practical ways – including seeking justice for others in our world of inequalities – and in ways that change the lives of societies as well as individuals. As Christians we speak of ‘loving our neighbour as ourselves’, and consider this to be one of Jesus’ two great commandments; in the Muslim tradition I know you draw upon the Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad which states, “None of you has faith until you love for your brother and sister what you love for yourself.” This must be a starting point for our pilgrimage of justice and peace.

So this centre, and the constructive effort and work that has been undertaken for its establishment, is part of a story, the story that our faiths, both Christianity and Islam are both deeply committed to enabling their adherents to be, in the name of God, agents of peace for the repairing of God’s world and the honouring of human beings created in the image of God. My daily prayer, taken from the Song of Zechariah, a prophet honoured I believe both by Christians and Muslims, asks God, ‘to guide our feet in the way of peace’. In the opening of this centre I believe that we have taken some steps forward on this vital way.

May God bless you all, may God bless this new centre, may God bless Nigeria. Amen.