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Not strangers, but neighbours: WCC general secretary met Candomblé representatives

11 November 2004

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"Christians and followers of Candomblé and other Afro-Brazilian religions need not be strangers to each other," but rather must realize that they are "neighbours one to the other, and (…) must strive to forge good neighbourliness characterized by tolerance and mutual respect," said WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia in the city of Salvador, Brazil, on Sunday November 7.

Kobia made the comments in a meeting with representatives from some 16 'terreiros' or worship houses of this Afro-Brazilian religion and members of social and ecumenical organizations that work with the 'terreiros'. The meeting was organized by the Ecumenical Service Coordinator (CESE) and sparked considerable interest in the local press.

The WCC general secretary emphasized that the reality of an inter-dependent world "should prompt people of various faiths to come together, not to merge, not to blend, but affirming our differences, and yet committing ourselves to a new attitude to the other, a harmony of differences".

Affirming inter-religious dialogue as "an alternative to atomisation and religious fundamentalism," Kobia said that "through dialogue and co-operation we will discover what we really have in common and how we, each from the heart and soul of our religious traditions, can be of service to humankind".

During the meeting the WCC general secretary, who earlier had visited Casa Branca, the 'terreiro' which is considered the oldest in Bahia, heard a series of concerns raised by Candomblé representatives. Several of them agreed that the idea of a "peaceful and harmonious Brazil" is false, as society, in their opinion, is marked by racism and religious intolerance as well as flagrant inequality in the distribution of income with a negative impact on the Black population.

They called on the Council to take a stand on the issue and Kobia affirmed that the WCC is "prepared to accompany efforts geared toward overcoming religious intolerance." "There is no place in the world for religious intolerance, it belongs to a past era," he said.

<span style="font-weight: bold; "»» Meeting with bishops…

One key moment on Kobia's agenda in Bahia was a meeting with the president of the National Brazilian Bishops' Conference (CNBB) and the Archbishop Primate of Brazil, Dom Geraldo Magela.

The WCC general secretary lauded the ecumenical opening of the Brazilian Roman Catholic Church. In particular, Kobia referred to the fact that next year the Catholic Church's traditional Fraternity Campaign would be ecumenical for the second time. The campaign theme is "Solidarity and Peace" and its slogan is "Blessed are the Peacemakers," inspired by the WCC Decade to Overcome Violence.

The Archbishop underlined, for his part, the ecumenical commitment of his Church at many levels, including the local level. He recalled significant ecumenical experiences he led years earlier when he was Bishop of Toledo, a small city near Porto Alegre.

The WCC general secretary also visited the meeting of the III Northeast Region of the CNBB, where he spoke briefly with its general secretary and the person responsible for ecumenism in Bahia, Bishop Dom Paulo Romeu Dantas Bastos, with the second vice president of the Latin American Bishops' Conference (CELAM), Archbishop Dom Geraldo Lidio Rocha and with Archbishop Dom Itamar Vian.

<span style="font-weight: bold; "»» …and grassroots organizations

The WCC general secretary's activities in Salvador included a Sunday ecumenical celebration in the Catholic parish Nuestra Señora de la Concepción in Periperi, a poor suburb in Salvador, the city with the highest unemployment rate in the country: 18 percent.

The celebration was organized by the Bahia Ecumenical Council of Christian Churches (CEBIC), which includes the Roman Catholic, the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession, the Anglican Episcopal, Presbyterian United, Nazareth Baptist, Syrian Orthodox, and Independent Catholic churches. Representatives from the Methodist and Independent Presbyterian churches also participated.

After the celebration, Kobia met with representatives from church communities and grassroots organizations at the Dom Helder Cámara parish centre, where he spoke about the upcoming WCC Assembly to be held in February 2006 in Porto Alegre.

The Assembly, or more precisely the "mutirao", a Brazilian name for the activities organized around it, was also discussed at a meeting with CESE personnel and other ecumenical and social organizations. The issue of water, foreign debt, childhood and adolescence were also proposed as themes, as well as the need to incorporate the idea of festival and celebration, essential to the experience of the poor of the continent.

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The WCC general secretary visit to Latin American continues in Brazil (Porto Alegre), Argentina (Buenos Aires), Uruguay (Montevideo) and Chile (Santiago).

A detailed programme of the visit as well as high resolution photos are available in:

www.wcc-coe.org > Press Corner > Latin America visit