The theme “Discrimination, Persecution, Martyrdom: Following Christ Together” remained in sharp focus at a Global Christian Forum (GCF) consultation in Albania. The event from 1-5 November in Tirana gathered some 150 international participants, including representatives of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
Churches and Christian organizations from a diverse spectrum of denominational affiliations reflected at the event on how to accompany churches suffering from persecution, especially in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Expressions of solidarity were shared by both the “suffering churches” and the ones struggling to support them.
Speaking about violence faced by the Christians, WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit called the GCF consultation “very timely”. He stressed that Christians from all denominations need to come together in order to work for and support their “sisters and brothers going through these challenging times”.
“An increasing number of churches and Christians go through different types of darkness at this moment of our history as one humanity. During my visits to churches in countries in the Middle East, but also in Africa and Asia, Latin-America, Central-America and in North America, and also in Europe recently, I hear and I see and meet with many who are not treated properly. I have become deeply saddened by the harsh realities, the violence and the suffering of so many people because of tensions and conflicts in our time”, said Tveit.
"It is so significant that we start with listening to those whose churches are going through challenging times right now. All of us need to learn from those voices among us that on a daily basis experience the reality of discrimination and persecution. We need to listen to those who know how martyria, witness, and martyrdom are closely interrelated and inter-connected,” he added.
The significance of the GCF consultation was highlighted by Rev. Dr Hielke Wolters, WCC associate general secretary, who has been deeply engaged with the process which led to the holding of the event. “The consultation has turned out to be a unique event, where Christians from different traditions came together in a very effective way to support the churches going through difficult and challenging times,” said Wolters.
He went on to say that outcomes of the consultation are highly important for the work of the WCC, especially where the WCC is working in countries with conflict, such as Iraq, Syria, Nigeria and South Sudan.
Speaking from personal experience about the persecution of Christians and other religious communities in Asia, and particularly her home country Pakistan, Dr Farhana Anthony Nazir, an academic and theologian teaching at the Gujranwala Theological Seminary, said that “Christians in Pakistan are not alone in their quest for justice, as there are other communities who share a sense of vulnerability.” She expressed her hope that by addressing these issues with support from the global churches it should be possible to ensure equal rights for all.
The GCF consultation was called significant by Most Rev. Dr Michael Ipgrave, representing the Network on Inter Faith Concerns of the Anglican Communion, because of the dialogue it generated among churches. “It is wonderful to see how suffering and persecution can create a strong sense of Christian unity among those coming from extremely diverse backgrounds.” He added, “It is important for Western churches like us to learn from experiences of suffering and persecution from churches that can enrich us by their witness in the world.”
Bishop Dr Chibuzo Raphael Opoko from the Methodist Church Nigeria, said the consultation has provided churches to come out of their comfort zone and deliberate together on what discrimination, persecution and martyrdom actually mean. “We have come together to listen to the voices of suffering churches and Christians from around the world, strengthening the oneness of Christ's body and the call for unity,” said Opoko.
The GCF is global body which brings together Christian churches and organizations from all the major streams of world Christianity. It is an open space where all Christians can meet to nurture unity by fostering mutual respect and understanding as well as by addressing together common challenges.