By Areej Rashid
Youth are not the future leaders of tomorrow. They are the leaders of today, as they fearlessly lead efforts for justice and peace in their societies.
When the World Council of Churches (WCC) issued a call to a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace in late 2013, young people from around the world were among the first—and most eager—to take up the challenge. As strong agents for advocacy and change, they have used the pilgrimage to bring youth together to celebrate their faith and work for justice.
In Canada, young pilgrims travelled 8000 kilometers, learning about Indigenous rights and cultivating an ecumenical spirit along the way. In Indonesia, their unique perspectives on spirituality helped deepen Christian unity in a Muslim-majority country. In the Holy Land, more than 70 youth walked in the footsteps of Jesus and gained fresh perspective on ancient sacred lands.
Today, at the end of St Olav’s path in Trondheim, Norway, young people gather again to renew the vocation of the church. At the WCC central committee meetings, the contributions of dedicated young ecumenists are stronger than ever.
The ECHOS Commission—the name ECHOS is a transcription of the Greek word Hχος meaning sound— was begun 2007 after the WCC assembly in Porto Alegre. The WCC commission consists of 20 youth representatives from churches and youth organizations all across the world.
Commission representatives are at the WCC Central Committee meeting in Trondheim, June 22-28 2016, to find innovative and creative approaches to strengthening the youth voice and engagement with the WCC and in the pilgrimage of justice and peace.
Through the ECHOS Commission, the youth provide unique and diverse understandings, with voices from Brazil, Egypt, Korea, Jamaica, Australia and Canada, of what the pilgrimage means to them and how it has strengthened their own commitment to justice and peace.
For Larissa Ribeiro de Aguiar Garcia, a youth advisor from Brazil, youth through the ECHOS Commission are a part of a “worldwide church.” According to Larissa, “to be a part of a worldwide church is also to have responsibility, to be a part of the pilgrimage of justice and peace is a responsibility because it is only together that we are stronger.” Emily from Australia also acknowledges the importance of working together and unity because what matters in this pilgrimage is “building genuine relationships and doing it together! ”
For Mena Shawky, a lawyer from Egypt, pilgrimage is a “journey for all of us, the Christians and other faiths. We have to walk together, towards this path of justice and peace.” Christopher from Jamaica also emphasizes the importance of walking together on this journey to express the unlimited love of God for others and to “extend the family of God, to let others know about God’s love in all aspects of life.”
For Hanbeet Rhee, being a part of the youth voices and connecting with the WCC have opened her eyes to a world she was unaware of. Coming from Korea, she explains how the pilgrimage has personally affected her perspective on the injustices in the world today. The pilgrimage in a sense has brought, in her words, a “tension in life” that has caused her to become more passionate and confident in speaking up against issues of inequalities.
The strong voice of Aleshia Johnson from Canada is represented in the ECHOS Commission as she speaks out and brings light to the issues and struggles of the Indigenous women in North America. She explains that the ECHOS Commission “provides a platform to share experiences, as an Indigenous black woman, a voice that is often not heard.”
Though their perspectives are unique, arising from the diversity within the oikoumene, the youth of the WCC are united and passionate. In a world filled with conflict, injustice, and pain, their commitment to justice and peace is unwavering.
* Areej Rashid is on the staff of the World Association of Christian Communication.