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Foreign debt and sex education emphasized in WCC general secretary's Argentina agenda

19 November 2004

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"Everybody knows that the Argentinean debt has been paid several times while people continue to languish in poverty," said World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, speaking at the University of Buenos Aires on 15 November. For this reason, he said, the Council stands with its member churches in the country, "declaring the so-called external debt of Argentina illegitimate and unethical".

On the topic of "economy - a matter of faith", Kobia observed that human life is threatened in today's world by a profound crisis that is the result "of structures that do not serve life, but reflect rather human sin". He called on Christians to "confront idolatrous assumptions, unjust systems, politics of domination and exploitation in our current world economic order". "The lives of the poor are being sacrificed for the gains of the rich," he said.

Kobia made these points at a ceremony at which he was given the title of honorary professor of Argentina's oldest university. The distinction was bestowed on him by the university dean, Dr Guillermo Jaim Etcheverri. In his congratulatory speech of praise, Professor Fortunato Mallimaci underlined that as well as recognizing the personal merits of Kobia, the honorary title also sought to "recall the WCC, and reaffirm its pluralist vocation", and to recognize the "effort, presence and commitment of the Evangelical movement in Argentina".

The position of the churches regarding Argentina's foreign debt, which thanks to statements from the WCC general secretary received broad news coverage, was addressed earlier that same day in a meeting between Kobia, other Argentinian church leaders, and the foreign minister Dr Rafael Bielsa. Other concerns raised at this meeting included the situation of indigenous peoples, immigrants and refugees, human rights, and legislation on religious organizations and communities in this South American nation.

<span style="font-weight: bold; "»» Sex education at school

Another issue of current local debate that became part of the WCC visit agenda was a legal bill geared toward introducing sex education into the Buenos Aires public school curriculum.

"In order to contribute to the debate and to seek an ethical consensus in society, some WCC member churches have affirmed the need for adequate sex education in the public schools that takes the beliefs, convictions and values of the parents into account," said Kobia during a 16 November visit to the city's seat of government. During the visit, he was named an "illustrious visitor" to Buenos Aires.

During a prior conversation with Buenos Aires chief of government Dr Aníbal Ibarra, local church representatives who accompanied Kobia gave him a file with statements from their churches on the issue. "We reject fundamentalist positions that they seek to present in the name of all Christians," said Nicolás Rosenthal, member of the commision on ecumenism of the Evangelical Church of the River Plate.

<span style="font-weight: bold; "»» Church and civil society

Kobia also participated in a series of activities that put him in contact with church and religious representatives, members of local churches, and civil society representatives.

More than 30 representatives of human rights organizations participated in a meeting that marked the end of the WCC visit on 16 November. Kobia expressed his "respect for the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Relatives of the Disappeared, other organizations, and those people in the ecumenical movement who have done so much in solidarity with the victims".

He recognized that the "WCC has benefited a great deal from your work in human rights," and invited those present to participate and share their experiences in the "Mutirao" that will be a feature of the Council's 9th assembly, to take place in Porto Alegre, Brazil in February 2006.

The day began with a breakfast with representatives of local churches in the First Methodist Church of Buenos Aires, served at the tables where around 180 indigent people are served daily meals. During the breakfast, participants described the work of the Argentine Federation of Evangelical Churches, the Ecumenical Council of Christian Churches in Argentina, and the Latin American Council of Churches in the River Plate region.

Referring to the theme of the WCC's forthcoming assembly, "God in your grace, transform the world", Kobia explained that it had been strongly influenced by the theological concerns of churches in the region. Kobia asked the local churches to appropriate this theme, and expressed his hope that the assembly "have a genuine Latin American colour." He also invited churches to encourage the participation of their young people in a planned assembly youth camp.

Kobia had the opportunity to see the work of local churches at first hand on a visit to a Church of the Disciples of Christ community centre in La Tablada,a Buenos Aires suburb where nearly half of the residents live below the poverty line. Some 90 children receive meals and school support on a daily basis, and some 15 young people receive job training. There is also a group of women which meets to study the Bible and receive training in micro business enterprises.

The previous day, the WCC general secretary was received by the nation's secretary of religious affairs, Ambassador Guillermo Oliveri, at a reception with the participation of representatives from different religious communities and Christian churches, including the papal nuncio, Msgr. Adriano Bernardini. In the afternoon, Kobia gave a public presentation in the Buenos Aires parliament on "Globalization and violence".

The 14-16 November visit was inaugurated with an ecumenical celebration on Sunday afternoon in the Christian Biblical Church, where Kobia preached the sermon.

WCC member churches in Argentina include the Anglican, Methodist, and United Lutheran churches, the Evangelical Church of the River Plate, the Christian Biblical Church, the Church of God, Disciples of Christ, as well as Orthodox communities which are members through their mother churches.

The WCC general secretary's visit to Latin American continues in Uruguay (Montevideo) and Chile (Santiago).

A detailed programme of the visit as well as high resolution photos are available in: > Press Corner > Latin America visit