Introducing 2015 as “a sacred year in the life of our people and our land,” Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians, welcomed the 20-member Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) to the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin at the start of their semi-annual meeting that is taking place from 8 to 12 June.
A traditional site of pilgrimage at the spiritual and historic heart of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church, Etchmiadzin (or Vagharshapat, Republic of Armenia) is attracting large number of visitors this year in commemoration of the 1.5 million martyrs who died during the Armenian Genocide beginning in 1915. Patriarch Karekin II, a president of the WCC since 2013, extended his blessing on the work of the council and its executive committee. He pledged his church’s support in the quest for unity and expressed his people’s desire to “take the hand of victims” amid the world’s conflicts today, “particularly when religious extremism leads to violence.”
WCC moderator Agnes Abuom expressed the executive committee’s gratitude at having been invited and generously welcomed to Armenia at this significant time both in the life of the nation and in the World Council of Churches as it undertakes the “pilgrimage of justice and peace” mandated by 10th Assembly of the WCC at Busan, Korea in 2013. She and the WCC’s two vice-moderators, Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima and Methodist Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, shared recollection of commemorations of the Armenian anniversary in many parts of the world.
Under Abuom’s leadership, the executive committee will review reports from programme areas and consultative bodies, consider drafts of statements on public issues, share information from their own churches and regions, as well as beginning discussion of the process for election of a new executive committee in the summer of 2016.
The executive committee is scheduled to approve a policy defining clear criteria for introducing new projects in the context of the strategic plan of the WCC. One example for discussion is the integration of the formerly independent Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance into the ongoing work of the council. Additions and alterations in policy and programming will be addressed within the framework of priorities arising from commitment to a pilgrimage of justice and peace.
Having approved a balanced 2015 budget for the council at their meeting last year, the executive committee will examine amendments that had to be made in the Geneva offices because of an unforeseen adjustment by the Swiss National Bank to exchange rates for the Swiss franc.
A feature of the opening day was a report on events of the past year by WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit. He analyzed the council’s work in addressing climate change, peace processes among a variety of nations, the search for economic justice and interfaith cooperation and mutual commitments.
Throughout his remarks, Tveit held up the “unifying motif of the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace” as a reminder to Christians that “we are called to move together in faith.”
He continued, “Sharing together the richness of being in communion with the triune God and with one another, we find new ways to move forward. The presence of God in the world, particularly among the marginalized, oppressed, poor and victims of injustice and war, is to be explored in our shared pilgrimage of justice and peace.”
Thanking the committee’s hosts in Armenia and noting the significance in honouring the martyrs of one hundred years ago, Tveit recalled that “the WCC was one of the first international organizations to recognize the tragedy as a genocide, making that declaration during the 6th Assembly at Vancouver in 1983.”