While the pandemic has dominated the agendas in most countries and temporarily hampered programmatic efforts to cope with the many challenges facing the Asia region, the determination to continue fighting for justice and peace, human rights and other good causes prevails.
WCC president for Asia, Rev. Dr Sang Chang, who moderated the meeting, expressed her hopes about soon being able to meet face-to-face again, without having to worry about viruses. Looking ahead to the WCC assembly next year, which is the main focus for this central committee meeting, she opened the regional meeting by asking her fellow Asian colleagues what they thought the region should bring to the assembly next year.
Rt Rev. Rex Reyes, Anglican bishop of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, expressed serious concerns about human rights violations, not only in his home country, where thousands of people have been victims in the government’s violent war against drugs, but also in Myanmar, Hong Kong and other places, where fundamental human rights, such as freedom of expression, are violated.
“One of the things that Asia should bring before the assembly is the question of justice and peace. We have very particular issues in each country, but they are all related to justice,” Reyes concluded.
Dr Fransina Yoteni, from The Evangelical Christian Church in Tanah Papua, described the loneliness and isolation caused by the pandemic lockdown as something which is “killing people slowly, elders in particular.” In addition, Yoteni echoed the need for an even stronger focus on justice and peace and for “bringing the human rights abuses and racial discrimination in West Papua to international attention.”
Furthermore, climate change, compounded by deforestation in Indonesia, Malaysia and elsewhere, clearly continues to be of grave concern among Asian church leaders.
As general secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia, Dr Mathews George Chunakara shared his overview from a pan-Asian perspective and brought up a list of what he calls forgotten countries, such as Nepal, Bhutan, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, East Timor, Bangladesh and even Iran, where situations often are worse than elsewhere in the Asian region.
“The situations are different and the gravity is more in some countries, but in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all facing similar kinds of situations. The question is how can we collectively respond to these emerging concerns and issues,” Chunakara pointed out, while at the same time also acknowledging and appreciating the leadership demonstrated by many churches in Asia in the area of humanitarian aid assistance or through their diaconal services to combat the pandemic and its impacts.
He also praised the re-establishment of collaborations between the WCC and the Christian Conference of Asia around statelessness, human trafficking, child rights and other pertinent issues, where jointly organized advocacy programmes have been organized as part of the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace Asia focus, which was launched in 2019 and in which also a number of pilgrimage team visits have been included.
“With the evolvement of closer collaborations, we have demonstrated that we need to cooperate and work together for the one ecumenical movement,” Chunakara concluded.
Further accounts of WCC’s regional work were shared by programme executives Joy Eva Bohol and Rev. Dr Jin Yang Kim, followed by a comprehensive update on assembly preparations by Rev. Dr Prof. Yang-en Cheng of the WCC Assembly Planning Committee.
While the impact of the pandemic continues to permeate most aspects of regional work, church leaders in Asia are confident about the viability of the ecumenical movement in their region and that joint initiatives to cope with current challenges will make a difference.