New members of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission on Youth (ECHOS) have gathered for the first time, for a four-day meeting hosted by the Coptic Church in Cairo, Egypt.
Taking the “pilgrimage of justice and peace” as a source of inspiration, the commissioners are working to develop their understanding of the ecumenical movement, reflect on their role as a youth commission, and advance strategic methodologies for the commission’s future work.
The “pilgrimage of justice and peace” is a call to the ecumenical movement that emerged from the WCC 10th Assembly in late 2013 in Busan, Republic of Korea. In Cairo, the group is devoting significant time to exploring the pilgrimage, and its relevance as a framework for their work.
The emerging ECHOS commission is intended to be directly linked to the WCC decision-making bodies, other commissions and working groups, to ensure a coordinated approach to the youth contribution to the ecumenical movement and the WCC.
The group meeting 9-12 May consists of representatives from different churches and regions, and is also attended by members of other WCC commissions.
On the agenda of the meeting are numerous sessions on youth in the ecumenical movement, including questions about the role of young people in the church and in society, youth contributions to issues of justice and peace, and youth responses to current challenges in the areas of religion and violence, discrimination, gender-based violence, and youth unemployment.
The meeting also involves visits of Christian and Muslim representatives and institutions in the Cairo area. On 9 May the group were joined by Bishop Moussa of the Coptic Orthodox Bishopric of Youth Affairs, who shared reflections on the current role of youth in the ecumenical movement and on the future work of the ECHOS Commission.
The commission meeting also includes visits to the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate and Bishop Yohannes, president of the Bishopric of Social and Ecumenical Services; a visit to Al Azhar Mosque and University; and a meeting with the grand sheikh and the Egyptian minister of Religious Affairs.
Sharing stories and challenges from their respective regions and contexts, commission members reflect together to find signs of hope and possible ways to move forward in an ecumenical spirit.
Chairperson Martina Viktorie Kopecká, from the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, who is also a member of the WCC executive committee and of the WCC ecumenical officers network, says: “I am thankful to God who leads us during this first ECHOS meeting, and also to our Egyptian brothers for their great generosity and hospitality. Although we have not been able to gather all our commission members, our discussions are fruitful and full of hope. With a consistent group, composed of individuals able to cooperate and fulfil a future vision of ECHOS, I believe that we will be able to bring something new to the ecumenical movement, so we can be not just an echo, but a real voice.”
Commission member Rev. Christopher Euphfa from the Moravian Church in Jamaica also expressed optimism for the future of the commission. “I believe that ECHOS has a great opportunity to establish itself at the international level, to have a dynamic impact on the lives of people in different regions, and to offer both solidarity and hope to young people all over the world,” he said.
Maria Mountraki, from the Orthodox Church of Finland, who is also member of the commission on international affairs, expressed her expectations that ECHOS become a part of the work also of other bodies of the WCC. “My hope is that we can establish links between the CCIA and ECHOS, to find common working ground on topics such as religion and violence, and youth unemployment,” she said. “By learning more about ECHOS personally, as well as about the larger structure of the WCC, I hope we can find a broader understanding of the ecumenical movement, and enrich the work of the WCC,” she adds.
In speaking of opportunities for the future, Kenyan commissioner Samuel Nderi Wairimu from the Presbyterian Church of East Africa says that he believes ECHOS can make a substantial contribution to the ecumenical movement. “With the resources of young people and their commitment, I believe that we can make ECHOS a clear voice at the international level and in all parts of the work of the WCC. Although there are some great challenges for ECHOS, most notably in being heard and appreciated among regional youth initiatives, we will remain hopeful, and we will continue to nurture the commission until it grows and comes of age.” he said.