Rev. Inácio Lemke is president of the National Council of Christian Churches of Brazil (CONIC). He is an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil. This interview is part of a series dedicated to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
What was your most memorable experience during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2020? What was new during this year's edition?
Rev. Lemke: Probably, the Week of Prayer will remain in my memory for a long time. The closer the week approached, the more doubts were presented to me and the same feeling was also present in the mind and heart of the CONIC Board and its regional representatives. We had to reformulate all of our Week of Prayer preparation because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our seminars and face-to-face study meetings, with such a motivating theme—“kindness generates kindness”—we had to reorganize into virtual seminars. We have accumulated a new experience here, which in principle worked very well. We observed that in the video of the opening celebration of this year’s Week of Prayer, we had more than 17,500 views.
How has your relationship with other Christian communities changed by praying together?
Rev. Lemke: Praying in communion with other Christian communities demonstrates in principle a gesture of trust. Ecumenism enriches and expands our vision of community, a welcoming church where no one loses, but everyone wins. The theme of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2020, “they showed us unusual kindness,” invited us to reflect on kindness and hospitality to strangers.
How does this resonate in your church's diaconal ministry?
Rev. Lemke: The Week of Prayer text, chosen and prepared by the Churches of Malta and Gozo, came here to our context like a glove. In recent times we find ourselves in a historic moment marked by hatred, between different social, political and ethnic groups. In addition, we find ourselves in isolation because of COVID-19; as if that were not enough, we find ourselves in one of the worst political crises ever faced in the recent history of our country. Daily we are confronted with the news of the death of children, adolescents, young people, women, mostly impoverished and black people, as well as indigenous people. Equally, violence against nature continues in the various biomes with deforestation in the Amazon's forests, deforestation in the Mata Atlântida, expansion of soybean crops as well as cattle raising. The expansion of pollution of rivers and seas also continues.
I think it was clear that we cannot get used to the reality that we are currently facing in this country. It is not part of God's plan for a society divided by hatred, or divided into classes, gender, ethnicities and colors. The topic triggered a process of discussion about tolerance and intolerance.
Discussions were raised to find ways to join forces for the inclusion of all people, in the face of a virus pandemic and political crisis.
But, it is worth saying at the moment, that Brazil is facing a great unknown. We don't know what will happen tomorrow in this country.
What are your plans and hopes for 2021 Week of Prayer?
Rev. Lemke: Despite everything, our challenge is to bring hope. I remember the poet from the Amazon, Thiago de Mello - “It's dark, but I sing!” We need to rescue our songs and poems that speak of pain and struggle, but that also raise hopes. We cannot accommodate or get used to the losses that we are suffering and that the elites are once again imposing on the majority of the population and the entire creation of the Planet.
For 2021, we are in dialogue to expand the inclusion of other churches and institutions that identify themselves in the ecumenical journey.
As CONIC, we are increasingly involved in interreligious dialogues, where we have received invitations from religions of African and indigenous origin. We are invited by different religions to dialogue and build a world of peace. In this dialogue our commitment is guided by the gospel of inclusion.
Sisters share wisdom of life rooted in Christ for next week of prayer for unity (WCC news release, 10 June 2020)
Interview with Fr Manuel Barrios, Spain/Belgium/Croatia: “Week of Prayer made me feel deeply the Lord’s desire for our complete unity”