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Moderator's Address


29 August 2012

WCC Central Committee meeting, 28 August - 5 September 2012

Signs of a way forward

Sisters and brothers in Christ! It is for me a particular pleasure and privilege to have this 60th meeting of the WCC Central Committee at this marvellous location, at this outstanding Orthodox Academy of Crete and under the invitation of His All Holiness Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. We are all honoured and grateful for this opportunity, as we bring our work as Central Committee to a conclusion.


1.      This is the last meeting of this Central Committee before our assembly in Busan, Republic of Korea. We have been walking together since February 2006, in Porto Alegre. We had moments of joy, but also moments in which we sailed through troubled waters. At such times many among you, but not least myself, wondered where we were going and if there was still any dignified and responsible route available to us as the World Council of Churches. Let us not fool ourselves: the question at stake was whether our ecumenical journey as the World Council of Churches was in irremediable decline. Thank God, we managed to go through the turmoil, with relatively little damage. Waters are calmer now, but is there still wind swelling to push our boat forward? Our ship will not capsize, but will it be able to advance significantly? Are we condemned to watch silently the sea around us – what we have been calling the “changing landscape” – without being capable of moving forward?

2.      The passage about Jesus calming the storm is very familiar to us all (Matt. 8:23-37 Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25). When Jesus and his disciples are crossing the lake, a storm raises and creates high waves. The disciples are terrified and think they will die. Meanwhile, Jesus sleeps. Awakened by the disciples’ calling for help, Jesus calms the winds and the waves but not before proclaiming to the disciples the comforting message that they don’t have to fear anything. Was this a very unlikely event? Perhaps not. I’d like to suggest that it was an experience that we do often make in our journey of faith, scared by forces beyond our control and yet sustained by our loving and merciful God. Also as the WCC, we have experienced time and again that we too are people of little faith and we let ourselves be intimidated, while Jesus is willing to calm the storms.

3.      The journey of faith, however, is not only a wonderful experience of salvation and of the succour offered by Christ. It is also the experience of having been sent into the world as sheep among wolves (Matt. 10:16, Luke 10:3), in extremely adverse conditions, to give testimony in word and action to the shalom once received from him. So we dare to develop a variant version of that biblical story. Water not only quiet, but totally still, could also be a reason for invoking the Lord to grant us richly the wind of the Holy Spirit to swell our sails.

4.      This is precisely what we are doing now in preparation to our 10th Assembly. The theme “God of life, lead us to justice and peace” is an invocation of God, knowing that we are in the midst of a journey and we cannot stand still, and we must not resist. On the contrary, we must let God push us further on the path of justice and peace.

5.      I asked whether we are condemned to stand paralyzed watching the still sea around us. I intend to answer this question in the negative and to give examples to support it. But at the same time, we must take seriously the question and therefore also give space for necessary self-critical reflection. One of the comments I have heard with some frequency lately is that the World Council of Churches has lost its ability to be prophetic. Time and again, we are reminded of past programs that mobilized churches (sometimes with internal disputes) and received great public attention, as, for example the Programme to Combat Racism. This all brings a certain degree of nostalgia for times past. Understandable – but helpful?

6.      On the second part of this address I want to share a few examples of how the WCC can be and still is prophetic today, even when access to the larger media has become more difficult. By the way, let me add here a brief note about the issue of communication itself, which has become one of the highlights of this current period of history.

7.      In a recent consultation between the WCC, the World Association of Christian Communication and the Korean Host Committee about the theme of our next assembly, it was said that:

8.      “Today, people everywhere, even children, share their stories through media platforms – ranging from Internet-based social networks to the initiatives of citizen journalists – that are more powerful than those available to churches, governments and media conglomerates 30 years ago… Despite the potential of social media, a few powerful corporations and individuals continue to decide whose voices are heard and what images are seen by the public, allowing them to shape policy, form public opinion, and move people toward war or peace.”[1]

9.      I guess that none of us wishes to play this game for the sake of visibility. Nevertheless, I believe communication is one of the issues we will have to address in Busan as well.

10.  However, the WCC is obviously not called to be a prophetic voice only in the sense related to public witness to structures of power and in the face of pressing needs of billions of human beings for their survival and a dignified life. The council is, first of all, summoned to give a spiritual witness to the hope that lies within us (1 Peter 3:15) and to show a willingness to renewed reflection and commitment to the ecumenical journey, being open to the changes that the Holy Spirit might raise during this same journey. The ecumenical movement carries, among other features, the awareness that we remain unfaithful to the Gospel if we stay apart from each other (each church and/or confession dealing only with its own internal issues) and that “we intend to stay together” (Amsterdam, 1948). Further, being together, respecting each other, learning from each other, we are summing forces and, consequently, we are also undertaking the renovation of our own structures and practices based on a common theological discernment. Thus, issues of identity of the church always remain on the agenda of the WCC.

11.  In this light and to this point I intend, in the first part of this address, to evoke the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council as an example of such evangelical renewal, not least as a challenge to our meeting in Busan. I´ll refer to Vatican II fairly extensively, because I consider it not only to be a necessary remembrance of that extraordinary event but also as a source of inspiration to all of us, in the sense that it represents the most significant effort of the largest church in world Christianity to update its theology to the new times (aggiornamento, the term used by Pope John XXIII) and to renew its praxis. We too have been dealing with the theological issues of our identity, the nature of the church, the concept of mission and diakonia and many other matters relevant to our calling. As we give final shape to the materials to be forwarded to the assembly, and as we go to Busan, we might be guided by the same openness of mind and theological courage for renewal that prevailed at Vatican II.

I.          The legacy of the Second Vatican Council to the ecumenical movement

12.  The Second Vatican Council represented an extraordinary evangelical renewal[2] and, as such, provided an invaluable contribution to the advancement of ecumenism. Not that the Roman Catholic Church had previously been a pioneer in ecumenism; such was not the case.

13.  Roman Catholic theologian Heinrich Fries says: The ecumenical importance of the Second Vatican Council resides in “its openness to the ecumenical movement, against which the Catholic church had hitherto shown itself sceptical or suspicious, by putting itself at its disposal and regarding as one of the main tasks of the Council 'to restore the unity of all Christians’” (UR 1).[3]

14.  A year before the start of the Second Vatican, a large number of Orthodox churches were received as members of the World Council of Churches in our 3rd Assembly in New Delhi. So, with the Second Vatican Council (1962 - 1965) the commitment to ecumenism and unity became a reality and truly a task of the universal church understood as worldwide Christianity.[4]

15.  There is a lot which could be said about the ecumenical importance of the Second Vatican Council.[5] This Council has significance far greater than the accession of Catholicism to the modern ecumenical movement. It was, in itself, an ecumenical event, not for its representativeness (since it was not a universal expression of Christianity that is divided but the full conclave of the Catholic Church), but by its spirit, its orientation and results.[6] Already in its convocation, Pope John XXIII expressed the desire to have the presence of “separated brethren.” The expression can now sound like something strange, even discriminatory. However, let us keep in mind: in past polemics Catholics and Protestants had even used terms such as “heretics” or “idolaters” to raise accusations against each other. Now the term employed by the highest authority of the Roman Catholic Church was “brothers.”

16.  The Second Vatican Council was to produce a series of documents highly relevant from the ecumenical point of view. Mention should be made of the dogmatic constitutions on the Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), the Church (Lumen Gentium), the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) and Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum). All these documents, although intended for internal settings of the Roman Catholic Church, had (and still have) relevance to the ecumenical movement. But let us also remember those documents that specifically approach relations with other churches and other religions: the Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio) and the Statement on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae), and the one on the relations of the church with people of other religions (Nostra Aetate).

Lumen Gentium

17.  The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, was an extraordinary effort, perhaps the first in the amplitude adopted, to renew and systematize, on an official level, Roman Catholic ecclesiology. In the post-Tridentine period the Catholic Church emphasized particularly the legal, institutional and hierarchical dimensions of the church, visible still in the original text produced by the Roman Curia, a text that was rejected by the council fathers. The new text instead emphasized first the church as divine mystery of salvation intended for people. Then, in Chapter II, Lumen Gentium emphasizes the church as people of God, and having the following chapter III on the hierarchy as an organ of service to all the people. Similarly, a chapter (IV) on holiness in the church as a whole is prefixed to the chapter on religious life. Chapter VII gives the eschatological perspective, emphasizing the church as a people on pilgrimage. Chapter VIII is devoted to the Virgin Mary, significantly dealt with in an ecclesiological text and not in a soteriological one.

18.  Returning to the chapter on God's people, local communities are recognized as churches in the fullest sense: “This Church of Christ is truly present in all legitimate local congregations of the faithful which, united with their pastors, are themselves called churches in the New Testament” (par. 26).[7]

Dei Verbum

19.  The original draft text concerning revelation was also rejected by the council fathers. It argued that divine revelation had “two fountains,” namely Scripture and Tradition, the latter being broader than the former. One of the criticisms raised was that the text lacked ecumenical spirit. Thus the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum abandoned this concept to adopt a perspective of the history of salvation, in which God reveals himself to human beings through words and gestures, establishing with them a relationship of friendship (paragraph 2). Revelation is understood more as establishment of a personal relationship of God with human beings than as mere sharing of material doctrines. Revelation occurs in creation and in the history of the people of God, coming to its fullness in Christ (pars. 3 and 4), and is accepted by humans in a total surrender in obedience of faith (par. 5). So the concept of revelation as referring merely to the transmission of truths to be believed was overcome.

20.  There is no doubt that the Second Vatican Council was nurtured largely by the ecumenical biblical and theological research of those recent years, including discussions about Tradition in the Faith and Order Commission. Subordinate to the Gospel are tradition and sacred scripture as ways of permanent transmission of the word of God, understood in its uniqueness and wholeness (paragraph 8). The polemic against Protestantism's emphasis on the principle of sola scriptura can then be put into new perspective. There's even an impressive parallelism on paragraph 8 not only related to the traditional concept in Protestantism of the viva vox Evangelii, but also to an explicit word of Martin Luther, which emphasizes that the Gospel “is not properly what is written in books and letters, but a voice that resonates throughout the world and hopefully will be shouted so that it is heard everywhere.”[8] The Council wrote: “The Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel resounds in the Church, and through her, in the world, leads unto all truth those who believe and makes the word of Christ dwell abundantly in them (see Col. 3:16)” [par. 8].[9]

21.  Also noteworthy is the prominent role assigned to scripture, to which is dedicated virtually the rest of the Dogmatic Constitution (chapters III to VI). Finally, Chapter VI highlights the role of scripture in church practice, which undoubtedly contributed greatly not only to the academic study of scripture but also for the development of the popular reading of the Bible.

22.  Concerning tradition, it has not been defined principally as a fountain of revelation parallel to scripture but fundamentally as ongoing interpretation and unfolding of revelation contained in scripture already. Noticeable in particular is the influence of theologian Karl Rahner, an expert at the Council, with its concept of the development of dogmas (paragraph 8). The process of development of dogma is driven by the perception of the sense of the faithful (sensus fidelium). Again we see the impetus that this notion gives to Bible reading by the faithful. The call for biblical rereading, as developed in the basic ecclesial movement in Latin America - and clearly as an ecumenical endeavour – can be understood as an interpretation of scripture by the people of God, led by the perception of the faithful.

Unitatis Redintegratio

23.  Let us then make some further comments regarding the Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio). The Holy Spirit dwells in believers and brings about the communion of the faithful with Christ and each other. Also here reference is given to the fundamental common baptism among Christians of different churches. Furthermore:

24.  It is the Holy Spirit dwelling in those who believe and pervading and ruling over the Church as a whole, who brings about that wonderful communion of the faithful. He brings them into intimate union with Christ, so that He is the principle of the Church's unity (par. 2).[10]

25.  The Church of Jesus Christ is thus enriched with various gifts (par. 2). No distinction is made in this fundamental theological assertion among Catholics and non-Catholics.

26.  Paragraph 3 addresses the relationship of the “brethren who are separated from us” to the Roman Catholic Church. It is recognized that in the breaks “often enough, men of both sides were to blame,” then “quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church.” But in baptism and faith there is “a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Catholic Church.” Emphasis is then given to the importance of the ecumenical movement, to say about these “separated brethren” that “all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ's body, and have the right to be called Christian, and correctly so are the brothers accepted by the children of the Catholic Church.” Praise is raised in relation to them for concrete gifts of the Spirit and ecclesial elements that build up the Church: “The written word of God, the life of grace, faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ”. The following shows that the Holy Spirit does not deprive “the separated Churches and Communities” of the “mystery of salvation,” part of “very fullness of Grace and truth entrusted to the Church.” There are, therefore, in the conciliar text, caveats and cautions, but the title is granted to the faithful brethren from other churches, their faith and many gifts are recognized, and the document affirms that the Holy Spirit uses their communities of faith for salvation. This is definitely not little!

27.  The following part brings distinctions among churches and communities, according to the degree of agreement with the Roman Catholic Church, a hierarchy of relationships, one might say. Still, one cannot deny that the air was invigorating during the Second Vatican Council. This is a clear statement of the ecumenical movement. Without having mentioned it by name, the constitutional basis of the WCC is clearly referred to almost literally, when the conciliar text states: “Our thoughts turn first to those Christians who make open confession of Jesus Christ the Lord and the God and the sole Mediator between God and men, to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (Par. 20).

28.  The decree also provides specific instructions for the relationship with other churches and ecclesial communities, in the fields of theology, prayer and practical actions. In conclusion, although it exhorted the faithful “to refrain from superficiality and imprudent zeal, which can hinder real progress toward Unity” (paragraph 24), the Decree on Ecumenism of the Council expressed the desire “that no obstacle be put in the ways of divine Providence and no preconceived judgments impair the future inspirations of the Holy Spirit” (ibid.). Undoubtedly, this was and is a desire shared by all people who feel the pain of division and crave for unity.

29.  We are meeting at the Orthodox Academy of Crete, under the invitation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is a founding member of the WCC. It is then proper to remind ourselves that, with its ecumenical commitment, the Second Vatican Council opened the way for the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I and the Pope Paul VI to meet in Jerusalem in 1964, to establish a “dialogue of love”. Then, in December 1965, in Constantinople, a Catholic-Orthodox Joint Declaration was adopted and the mutual anathemas of almost thousand years (1054) were nullified. A remarkable advancement of the ecumenical movement.

II.        Our public witness: where should we be?

30.  Coming to our public witness, I want to refer to a couple of examples of this year, knowing that others could be added.

Forum on Poverty, Wealth and Ecology

31.  On 22 June, in Indonesia, the WCC’s Forum on Poverty, Wealth and Ecology concluded with a strong call to action, summoning “transforming communities” with moral courage to build an “economy of life” that prioritizes poverty eradication, challenges the accumulation of wealth and safeguards ecological integrity. The meeting was marked by a profound analysis of the AGAPE process, which, as we all know, consisted of a series of meetings, studies and debates on the topic of economic globalization promoted over the last several years within the ecumenical family, but also including dialogues with civil society, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

32.  Many of us involved in the work and governance of the WCC have had some contact, more or less intensively, with the AGAPE process at some point in recent years. When the background document was launched in 2005, there were some strong negative reactions in relation to language and the tone of harsh criticism directed to the existing economic structures. There was, at that time, still some belief that the neoliberal economic system had not launched properly and that when this would happen, the poor would also enjoy the benefits of free markets.

33.  If the forum on the AGAPE process had occurred five years ago, the consensus around some concepts asserted in Indonesia would not have been so simple. Analysis within the final document produced in Indonesia, such as the statement that “far-reaching market liberalization, deregulation and unrestrained privatization of goods and services are exploiting the whole Creation and dismantling social programs and services and opening up economies across borders to seemingly limitless growth of production,”[11] would have been sources of heated debate among our member churches from developed and developing regions.

34.  Since 2008, the financial crisis that is plaguing Europe seems to have introduced some countries to the harsh reality of exclusion and poverty that economic and market systems based on speculation and greed bring. We are meeting in Greece, the country hardest hit by the crisis in the Euro community. Regardless of the errors that may have been committed by the political practice of Greece, there is no doubt that they came associated with a global policy of unfettered markets and limitless financial speculation. But then it is not these agents who are suffering the consequences of the crisis but the population, particularly those who live in more vulnerable conditions. This is a reality that the countries of the global South – formerly called the Third World – got to know only too well in previous decades. The international financial crisis, initiated in the US in 2008 and currently unfolding in Europe, not only has deepened extreme poverty and hunger in many parts of the world (especially the global South and Eastern Europe). It has also brought heavy unemployment and poverty into the North itself. Further, rather than taming the international financial system with effective political and social controls, governments have generously used public funds to rescue those financial institutions which are responsible for the suffering of so many people.

35.  Thus, many, if not most, of the statements of the AGAPE background document about the ongoing and potential consequences of economic injustice were sadly proven in recent years. Little by little, we are surrendering (even the most moderate ones among us) to the conclusion that analysis of the major global economic structure shows a reality that excludes most, benefits a few privileged ones and destroys the natural resources that nature offers.

36.  When diagnosing the roots of economic injustice, the 2005 AGAPE background document radically enumerated a series of (positive) theories on which the neoliberal economic model was based. Many of them, besides being completely refuted today, sound now like a naive theory produced in a laboratory and out of touch with the real lives of people, especially the poorest ones, and with nature:

37.  “Free markets, free trade, self-regulation and competition will liberate the “invisible hand” of the market for the benefit of everyone. Yet there is no divine force that guides markets. To suggest that markets have such powers amounts to idolatry. In any case, “free” markets are not free. The myth of “unfettered,” “unregulated,” “uncontrolled” market capitalism must be challenged directly. The reality is that capital markets are highly controlled and to secure the maximum benefits for the owners of capital. Liberalization “frees” capital markets from social obligation, and is immoral and irresponsible. Therefore by definition this “freedom” is achieved through the agency of the states dominating the international institutions of the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organization (WTO).”[12]

38.  I find it extremely appropriate that the text brings words like “divine,” “idolatry” and “freedom.” These terms are present in many of our theologies, but obviously used in a completely different sense. However, the fact that we have pointed out already in 2005, so clearly, the mechanisms of economic injustice prevailing in the world at the beginning of the century, and that we did so with our tools, our language, our networks, our mechanisms for dialogue and cooperation, shows the highly prophetic role we played in reporting such factors that promote injustice.

39.  The AGAPE process matured. Today it permeates most of our analysis on the causes of economic injustice that lead to increased poverty, pointing to, among other factors, the harmful consequences of financial speculation. Recent years have shown the collapse of an economic model that had financial speculation as one of its most expressive facets. This danger (speculation) also was pointed to by our document of 2005:

40.  “Financial speculation dominates trade in goods and services, diverting resources from productive long-term investments and areas of greatest human need. Financial markets are unstable increasingly, also, with speculative bubbles and financial crises.”[13]

41.  The prophetic aspect of the AGAPE process is a hallmark of the nature and mission of the World Council of Churches in many of our efforts and actions of advocacy. Such a prophetic role also marks our positions in relation to the issue of violence in many regions of the world today, especially in its tragic expressions in many countries in Africa and in the Middle East. The same can be said when we remember our unconditional solidarity with women and indigenous peoples, to mention just two examples.

42.  The prophetic voice has always been, for me, one of the most captivating aspects of the ecumenical movement. I confess myself as somebody who from the beginning of my ecumenical journey has been influenced deeply by the ethical and social ethics approach. The methodological characteristic of Liberation Theology, that is, theological discernment forged by the steps of seeing-judging-acting, has been highly significant for me. It was therefore extremely invigorating for me to have lately witnessed another two very expressive examples of how we are still putting in practice this prophetic voice. The two episodes I am about to share also reinforced my belief about the place of the ecumenical movement in the world today.

The negotiations of an Arms Trade Treaty

43.  During July 2012, representatives of governments gathered at the UN to negotiate a treaty that hopefully would be able to control the international trade in weapons. Unfortunately, this negotiation process, which lasted about six years, ended with a new adjournment at the end of the meeting in New York. On the occasion, WCC general secretary, Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, issued a short statement affirming that:

44.  “Hope, however, remains for a strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty; the next steps are presented to the General Assembly in the coming months. For decades, churches around the world have been calling for an arms trade treaty that would protect people from irresponsible arms transfers. We will not let go of this demand.”[14]

45.  I had the privilege of leading the ecumenical delegation that was in New York, accompanying the negotiations and putting pressure on governments for the treaty to include, among other points, control of ammunition trade. I am also grateful to the representatives of our partner organizations who have joined us in a public statement on the matter. They are the World Evangelical Alliance, Pax Christi International and Caritas. I consider this whole process, including the hard work done by our staff along with peacemakers from our member churches, a clear signal of the commitment of the ecumenical family in a broad sense that wants to take part in the transformation of the world in search of a decent life for everyone and a protected planet.

46.  Our joint statement at the end of our days working in New York, testified, “For people of goodwill and of faith, protecting human dignity and the sanctity of life are the real test of the Arms Trade Treaty.”[15] It is most unfortunate that several nations from different ideological colours, among them the most powerful nations on the planet, have tried in different ways to weaken or even block achievement of a strong and effective international treaty, one that the vast majority of nations wanted. Again, those who are victims wanted a treaty; those who have commercial or political interests resisted.

47.  Protection and defence of the human dignity requires a greater, even incessant effort from the ecumenical movement. However, the work should not be limited to lobbying world leaders. It must take into account the voices of civil society. Identifying, in the midst of social movements, who are the main actors advocating the same causes that we stand for, to expand our networks, increases the impact of our agenda and provides new experiences, models and forms of cooperation.

Rio +20 and the Peoples´ Summit

48.  A few weeks before following the arms trade treaty negotiations in the USA, I accompanied our delegation to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), Rio +20. As everyone knows, although it was possible to reach a declaration unanimously adopted, the result of the conference created a general level of frustration among many people, especially in nongovernmental organizations, for its not having led to concrete commitments and clear deadlines for the countries that participated in the process that led to UNCSD.

49.  Still we, as the WCC, alongside other partner organizations, such as Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance and ACT Alliance, underlined positive aspects of the outcome document of Rio +20. These included the adoption of language that values rights, including very specific ones, such as the right to water and sanitation, which reflects important elements of our advocacy and diakonia work done over the last few decades. The final document from Rio, in other words, offers enough material for our organizations to continue their advocacy work around the intertwined themes of human and environmental rights.

50.  Nevertheless, the experience in Rio de Janeiro was not limited to the UNCSD. The fact that world leaders gathered at the Rio +20 forced civil society participants to articulate, far in advance, a parallel process of consultation and construction at an event called the People’s Summit. The motivation was broader than mere protest and political pressure. For many, the People´ Summit inaugurated a new era in advocacy and cooperation of civil society. The WCC took part in it very closely in the same way that it has been following processes such as the World Social Forum.

51.  Signs of a common agenda for global civil society were issued from the World Social Forum (WSF) and the agendas of the UN system, particularly the climate agenda in the previous COPs. The WCC has been present in all these spaces. Both the WSF and the UN talks showed their weaknesses. The WSFs were not able to go beyond statements of diversity and global organization of some specific and regional struggles. So they were unable to produce an agenda of convergences out of the wide range of actors that it summons. The UN system, with a governance structure originating from the post-World War II period, which no longer matches the reality of the world´s order today, has achieved only limited and fragile agreements in negotiations between governments and society.

52.  Considering, however, that the UN is still an essential organism in the lives of nations, it seems to me that it is urgent to reform the United Nations, to make it an organism better suited to today’s reality and more effective in dealing with the serious challenges of our time.

53.  The twofold challenge presented at Rio + 20, reinforced by the People’s Summit, still remains:

•                     visibility to the causes of the peoples

•                     convergence of global agendas of civil society.

54.  If the ecumenical movement, traditionally imagined as a boat, wants to keep on sailing on waters that lead to the sea of transformation and overcoming injustice, we need to identify where the main agendas are today. Therefore, besides the monitoring and participation of global diplomatic processes, either through the UN or in other instances, it is also urgent to walk side by side with civil society.

55.  The final document of the People’s Summit, which had the direct participation of the ecumenical movement, clearly reflects the current situation, highlighting the causes of injustice prevailing in the world today. Not surprisingly, its language and content are similar to that used during the AGAPE process and our further reflections around the themes of Poverty, Wealth and Ecology, perhaps even more radical:

56.  “The transnational corporations continue committing crimes through the systematic violation of the rights of the people and nature with total impunity. At the same time, their interests are advanced through militarization and the criminalization of the ways of life of the peoples and of social movements, promoting deterritorialization in the countryside and the cities. We likewise denounce the historical environmental debt that affects primarily the oppressed peoples of the world, and for which responsibility must be assumed by the highly industrialized countries, since ultimately they are to blame for the various crises we are facing today.”[16]

57.  The fact that we participated with the same intensity in both the UNCSD as in the Peoples´ Summit shows a clear methodological path that, despite not being new for the WCC, must increasingly be resumed. Experiences like this clearly point to the need for the actors in the ecumenical movement to express their identity and specificity to the public and to the other actors involved in the processes of civil society. Because we are, after all, part of civil society, not apart from it.

58.  Specifically for the WCC, recognition of its threefold identity and role must be increasingly visible: the search for unity, common witness and service. The lessons from our participation in the UNCSD and in the Peoples' Summit point to the direction that the path of the WCC, as far as it concerns its public witness role, has to be in harmony with the collective advocacy work of other actors outside the ecumenical movement.

59.  In this perspective, the words of the Call to Action from 2012, drawn up in Indonesia, released almost at the same time as events took place in Rio de Janeiro, provide sufficient tools for us to believe that we are acting in harmony and coherence in our struggle for transformation of realities of justice:

60.  “The process of transformation must uphold human rights, human dignity and human accountability to all of God's creation. We have a responsibility that lies beyond our individual selves and national interests to create sustainable structures that will allow future generations to have enough. Transformation must embrace those who suffer from the most systemic marginalization, such as people in poverty, women, indigenous peoples and persons living with disabilities. Nothing determined without them is for them. We must challenge ourselves and overcome structures and cultures of domination and self-destruction that are rending the social and ecological fabric of life. Transformation must be guided by the mission to heal and renew the whole creation.”[17]

61.  Pertinently, I add that I attended last June in Colombo, Sri Lanka, the conference that explored theological perspectives of diakonia in the 21st century. It acknowledged the role of paramount importance that diakonia has occupied in the life of the churches. At the same time, it has also stressed the urgency of transforming diakonia, particularly from the perspective and experience of the marginalized. Therefore, it is also a prophetic dimension of our commitment.

A conclusion? Our way to Busan

62.  We are on our way to Busan. In the first part of this address I shared some observations about the Second Vatican Council and its ecumenical importance. Allow me to share with you that I started my theological studies in São Leopoldo precisely in the year 1962, coinciding with the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. Very close to our Lutheran Theological Seminary there was also the Jesuit seminary. Encounters for theological dialogue (and also for leisure, like playing football!) became part of our formation. I remember well the enthusiasm that the Second Vatican Council generated. Was there anything more important than to struggle toward unity? And we were part of that history!

63.  Fifty years after, today, there is still much commitment to ecumenism. But the enthusiasm seems to have been left in the past. The achievements along the way since 1962 have been remarkable in many respects. But they certainly fall short from the high expectations we had and nurtured. Many look today upon the ecumenical movement with scepticism. Base communities may express their frustration with the lack of further advancement on the way to unity. There is a widely spread temptation to reroute our reflection and our efforts, looking more and more inwardly to the needs and challenges of our own family of faith, which we wish to strengthen. These are good goals for sure, but only as long as they are not at the expense of our ecumenical commitments.

64.  It is known that when Pope John XXIII, to general surprise, summoned a new council in 1959, a journalist asked him what, after all, did he expect from the conclave. John XXIII went to the window, opened it, and said: “This: fresh air.” Once the window was opened, with the installation of the council, the holy wind blew strongly.

65.  In 1983, already as a professor of Systematic Theology in São Leopoldo, I gave a lecture at a national seminar sponsored by the National Association of Evangelical Theological Seminaries (ASTE) in São Bernardo do Campo, São Paulo, where I argued to an audience of evangelical seminarians and faculty from many different traditions that the renewal of the Catholic Church with the Second Vatican Council was revealing to us Protestants the face of our own childhood. I had in mind, for example, the liturgical renewal, the use of the vernacular for the masses, the rediscovery of the Bible, the emphasis on the formation of communities, and affirming the general priesthood of believers,. I wondered at the time if we had not meanwhile, as Protestants, aged ourselves, presenting a face full of wrinkles, one that had lost vigour.

66.  Today the question is still legitimate for us Protestants, but I do not feel like being able to name any church to be excluded from this critical question, although I recognize it as being unfair to generalize the observation.

67.  The point is: we all need to refresh our visions and our perceptions. We need to recover at least some of the passion which, after all, made it possible for us to be here on behalf of our churches, with the task of giving expression to and advancing their ecumenical will.

68.  Hans Küng recently wrote a book with the provocative title of “Is it still possible to save the church?” I do not want to refer here to the acute and bitter critique of Hans Küng or to the reforms proposed by him for the church, much less to evaluate them. But I do wish to highlight the path of “salvation” that he presents and that is none other than what he calls the “ecumenical therapy.” Even if we are not inclined to adopt the terminology taken from medical sciences, if we look at the growing fragmentation of Christianity and the many religious tensions generated in our times, we can only conclude that, indeed, there is no other possible way for Christendom today than the ecumenical one.

69.  Not the postmodern fragmentation, nor religious fundamentalism, and much less the entrenchment of each church in its confessional boundaries, is the right path to pursue. There is only the ecumenical path. To take up the image used by John XXIII, it seems that the time is advanced to reopen widely the closed or semi-open windows of our churches, in order to allow fresh air anew. Can the assembly of Busan be an open window? Can we here at this meeting offer our help, so that this might occur?

70.  With open windows, the Holy Spirit, so generous as it is, can work again in our midst and blow a mighty wind!


71.  In this address I was intentionally selective in the choice of the matters to be dealt with. But I do wish to make two brief remarks:

72.  Last June I had the opportunity of paying a visit to the Republic of Korea. I was in Busan and in Seoul, and also went to the border area to North Korea. I had meaningful encounters and conversations with many people engaged in preparing the ground for our assembly, with the local and national host committees, with church leaders. I received support from our CC members, Ms Hae-Sun Jung and Rev. Dr Seong-Won Park, who accompanied me throughout the visit. At every step I could testify how deeply the Korean churches are committed to the assembly. We can go with full confidence to Busan.

73.  The second remark concerns the pension fund of the WCC and the project of real estate development.

74.  In relation to the pension fund, we were on the fringe of a major financial crisis which could put at risk the very sustainability of the WCC. It is, indeed, an extraordinary achievement that it was possible to find a way forward, fully respecting the rights of persons associated with the pension fund, when approving a real estate development plan.

75.  It is a remarkable achievement, let me repeat, considering the depth of the crisis and the amount of financial support that was needed.

76.  A huge word of thanks must be given to the staff, not the least to the general secretary himself, for the very hard work, also to the highly competent advisors who generously put their vast knowledge and great expertise to work for the benefit of the WCC, and to the members of the steering committee for thorough assessment of the plans, pertinent questions and suggestions, and wise and courageous decisions.


[2] According to Karl Rahner, in a conference held on the occasion of the closing of the Council, it was a “beginning of renewal” (Karl RAHNER. Vaticano II: Um começo de renovação. São Paulo : Herder, 1966, 51).

[3] Heinrich FRIES, El significado ecuménico del Vaticano II, Diálogo Ecuménico, tomo XXV, n.o 81 (1990): 29.

[4] This is still true, even when considering that a significant number of Evangelical and Pentecostal churches have not become members of the WCC.

[5] Last July, I gave a lecture at the annual Congress of the Brazilian Society of Theology and Sciences of Religion, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, about the ecumenical importance of the Second Vatican. The lecture was published in Walter ALTMANN, Cinquenta anos de abertura do Concílio Vaticano II. O aporte ecumênico. In: OLIVEIRA, Pedro A. Ribeiro de e DE MORI, Geraldo, orgs. Mobilidade Religiosa : linguagens, juventude, política. São Paulo : Paulinas, 2012, p.31-51. I here make use of passages from that lecture.

[6] “This was a Council done in freedom and love.” (Karl RAHNER, op.cit., p. 10)


[8] WA 12, p. 259.

[9] In an interesting article Salvador PIÉ I NINOT (La tradición como “viva vox Evangelii” (DV 8): Breve apunte sobre um motivo luterano en el Vaticano II. Diálogo Ecuménico, tomo XXXIV, n.o 109-110 ´1999 [: 287-297), points to three elements in Luther´s phrase which are parallel to paragraph 8 of Dei Verbum: the primacy of the Gospel, its characterization as a living voice (viva vox) and the affirmation that it resound in the world. (ibid., p. 292). In Dei Verbum 8: “viva vox Evangelii in Ecclesia, et per ipsam in mundo resonat.”) It is surely more than a coincidence, but a reflex of the ecumenical sensibility of the Council and a fruit of the ecumenical theological dialogue which shaped Dei Verbum.


[11] AGAPE Call for Action 2012:

[12] Alternative Globalization Addresing Peoples and Earth (AGAPE), 2005, p.12

[13] Idem, p. 33

[14] Statement of the general secretary of the World Council of Churches on the negotiations of an Arms Trade Treaty:

[15] Joint Press Statement on the Arms Trade Treaty – World Council of Churches, World Evangelical Alliance, Pax Christi International, Caritas. .

[16] Final Declaration of the People’s Summit

[17] AGAPE Call for Action 2012:

Download : agape-new.pdf