“It is our hope and expectation that the outcomes of these consultations will form the backbone of reflections, experiences and lessons learnt for future work on justice and peace by churches, ecumenical organizations and people of good will,” said Abuom. “As you are aware, this consultation is held at a critical juncture in the progression of the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa, sometimes referred to as the third wave.”
The consultation, organized by the WCC and the All Africa Conference of Churches, is the first of a series of regional consultations to share experiences related to the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, with particular reference to economic and livelihood issues, peace and security, health, gender-based violence, and humanitarian aid.
The 10th WCC Assembly statement on the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace is seriously challenged by COVID-19, said Abuom. “The call anticipated continued walking, working and praying together for justice and peace in a world so unjust and so violent,” she said. “What the pandemic has illustrated is the interconnection of unjust global structures and systems; and the non-functionality of governance and economic paradigms in our present contexts.”
But above all, she added, “the resilience of God’s people amidst adversity continues to amaze us.”
The notion of eco-justice—an economy of life—is at stake, Abuom said. “Just access to vaccines is problematic let alone hesitation by populations due to poor information,” she said. “This consultation is a journey into harvesting of our stories, our experiences, our lessons on the pilgrimage of justice and peace and the impact of COVID-19 on mission of the church.”
Paska Nyaboth Alfred, peace advocate and advocacy coordinator for South Sudan Council of Churches, spoke on gender-based violence in South Sudan in the time of COVID-19. “Young people have lost their jobs, schools have been closed, and as a result many girls have been impregnated,” said Alfred. “There was an increase in forced marriages by families, and there was an increase in domestic violence especially between wives and husbands.”
COVID-19 has increased trauma among communities already struggling with conflict, reflected Alfred. “There is an increase in sexual violence, rape and defilement in the communities,” said Alfred. “The South Sudan Council of Churches has initiated radio campaigns to advocate against gender-based violence.”
The South Sudan Council of Churches also created a psychosocial support center for victims and survivors of gender-based violence. “This is working well so far, because many found it easy to speak about their issues virtually and get help from the counsellors,” said Alfred. “We need to carry out and support more psychosocial support centers to help survivors and victims of gender-based violence in the time of COVID-19.”
Rev. Dr Felicidade Naume Chirinda, retired minister of the Presbyterian Church of Mozambique and president of Council of Churches in Mozambique, spoke on the economic impact on communities in Mozambique, with special reference to Cabo Delgado.
Mozambique registered the first case of COVID-19 in March 2020, and the president declared a state of emergency by 1 April 2020.
“Maybe, the actual crises are due to human greed and disobedience,” said Chirinda. “Cabo Delgado is a case for new investigations that call for our theological and prophetical commitments to justice and peace.”
The consultation was moderated by Dr. Lesmore Ezekiel, director of programmes for the All Africa Conference of Churches.