Archbishop Mark MacDonald from the Anglican Church of Canada, who moderated the discussion, sadly noted that the meeting occurred the same day that news broke of an indigenous group finding the remains of as many as 751 people, mainly children, in unmarked graves on the site of a former boarding school in Saskatchewan.
This follows news earlier this month that the remains of 215 children were found on the grounds of the Kamloops Residential School in the western Canadian province of British Columbia.
“These children’s graves are the residue of genocide, genocide that paved the way for the enslavement of millions of people, and genocide that paved the way for the destruction of the environment of the planet,” said MacDonald.
H.E. Archbishop Dr Vicken Aykazian of the Armenian Apostolic Church (Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin) USA, shared his candid lamentation and frustration with the ongoing destruction of churches as well as religious and cultural monuments amid the conflict Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh and the wider region.
“They destroyed every single Christian monument,” said Aykazian. “You may have seen coverage on BBC or on EuroNews but the US news doesn’t talk about it—yet systematically they are destroying the churches.”
He thanked the ecumenical organizations and the World Council of Churches for statements of solidarity and prayers. "Please pray for my country and please pray for my people,” he urged.
“We will we be praying fo you—I promise you that,” said MacDonald.
Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, who also serves on the WCC Central Committee, reflected on vaccine hesitancy. "It really feels a bit ironic to me that, a year later, when we have an effective vaccine, a lot our churches are having to spend so much time convincing people to get the vaccine when other parts of the world don’t even have access to the medicine,” she said. “I never expected, after the horrific pandemic, that we would be seeing this kind of resistance," she said.
One after another, North American religious leaders also brought up the scourge of racism and the creative ways in which churches are combatting it.
“We’re awash in bigotry and hatred,” lamented Pastor Peter Noteboom, general secretary of The Canadian Council of Churches, adding that, in addition to racism, the WCC Pilgrim Team Visits in North America during the past year also highlighted the effects of climate change.
Another emerging issue from Noteboom’s perspective is genetic engineering, particularly in food production. “All the changes we are making to the genome—will they be felt decades from now?"
Jim Winkler, president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches (USA), said the believes the fruits of the Pilgrim Team Visits will feed into the 11th WCC Assembly in Karlsruhe.
Winkler also said he was looking forward to a women’s Pilgrim Team Visit focused on North America. “They will examine issues that women face in the US, Canada, and Mexico, and explore how women, particularly women of color, fight for issues of justice, their families and their dreams.”
MacDonald ended the meeting by reflecting on how racism, war, and division are often exacerbated by our concept of borders. “For indigenous people, the border between Canada and the US has been a wound, not a border,” he said. “I believe we should define borders the way indigenous people did: they found that the best way to keep peace was to define borders as shared spaces."