Katalina Tahaafe-Williams (WCC), Rev. Alfredo Abad (CCME) and Maria Immonen (LWF). ©Peter Williams/WCC

Katalina Tahaafe-Williams (WCC), Rev. Alfredo Abad (CCME) and Maria Immonen (LWF). ©Peter Williams/WCC


Reformation has played a vital role in catalyzing and modernizing the Christian faith communities' responses to the many existential issues of humanity, showed workshops on child rights, health and food security, the plight of refugees, and ecumenical heritage on 4 November at Plaine de Plainpalais, Geneva.

Organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC), the public workshops were part of events marking the 500-year anniversary of the Reformation, held at the Reformation truck in Plainpalais. Geneva was chosen as the first of 67 stops of the truck will make across Europe, sharing local stories of the Reformation.

The workshop on the child rights focused on the prevention of violence against children. Frederique Seidel, special advisor on child rights at the WCC, presented the work of WCC and its partners to improve children's well-being through a variety of projects at local, national and global levels. "There is a strong link between the work that we do promoting child rights and the Reformation. It is by giving more space to the voices of children that we can better adapt the actions of churches to the needs and realities of today and tomorrow", said Seidel.

A recent UNICEF study reveals that 1.5 billion children worldwide suffer from violence. Less than 10% of children live in countries where they are protected by laws from all kinds of violence.

In September 2015, the WCC signed a partnership agreement with UNICEF pledging to work together to support children’s rights, with a particular initial focus on violence against children and climate change. “Violence against children is preventable - and if we join our forces, we can achieve a lot as a churches”, said Seidel.

The Reformation was characterized by developments in culture and by changes in minds, as well as doctrine, long-time senior editor of WCC Theodore Gill said during his presentation on the heritage of the ecumenical movement, or as he put it, "on the ecumenical movement three days after the joint statement of Lutherans and Roman Catholics is signed". The effect of the Reformation has been profound in Geneva, and it has shaped the culture of churches, nations and the world. “The ecumenical churches, often drawing on the spirit of post-Reformation Geneva, work together in treasuring refuge, political liberty and human rights throughout the world, religious freedom, education, service and fearless self-expression as a heritage from Dentière, Rousseau, de Staëhl, Voltaire and Dunant”, said Gill.

Erin Green, communications coordinator of the Conference of European Churches (CEC), described CEC as organization representing churches of many denominations, majority and minority churches, from quite diverse and unique contexts. “It is important not only to reflect on the historical roots of the Reformation, but also on where we should go in the ecumenical movement, and that there isn’t anyone left outside our common journey.”

Launching the Reformation roadmap tour in Geneva is very symbolic in many ways, and one of them is the fact that Geneva historically has been shelter for political refugees, said Dr Katalina Tahaafe-Williams, WCC programme executive for Mission and Evangelism, as she opened the workshop on the plight of refugees. “Much of the time we respond to the symptoms of the refugee crisis, but addressing the root causes of it has not been done enough in collaborative way”, said Tahaafe-Williams, pointing out that churches from Africa, the Middle East and Europe are working together finding ways to collaborate and work more closely to help refugees. “We want to challenge governments to be honest in identifying the real drivers for displacement of people, which often are economic ones. Dismissing root causes does not help to solve them”, said Tahaafe-Williams.

The plight of refugees is not only a humanitarian problem but a justice one as well, said Rev. Alfredo Abad, vice-moderator of the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME). He raised concern that more and more people in the world are becoming refugees because of economic and climate change reasons. “The real crisis in Europe is not a refugee crisis – it is lack of solidarity”, said Abad.

Maria Immonen, director of the Department for World Service at the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), reminded the participants of the workshop that LWF itself was founded to respond to the refugee crisis in Europe after World War II, and since that LWF has been involved in every major humanitarian crisis, responding to human need throughout the world. “If you become a refugee, in average you will spend 17 years in a refugee camp. And situation is getting worse. There are 62 million refugees in the world, and the number is increasing as the wars continue”, said Immonen. At the same time, an historical agreement between Lutheran World Relief and Caritas International, signed recently in Lund, will give an opportunity for churches to bring relief to refugees in the world in a more systematic and coordinated way.

The impact of Christianity, particularly early Christianity and the Reformation, on our perspectives on health and food security was explored by Manoj Kurian, coordinator of the WCC Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA). “The Reformation pointed to diakonia and kindness directed to the poor as an act of discipleship and saw it as a responsibility of the congregation”, said Kurian, noting that the Reformation also transformed medical education in Europe. Over the centuries, the understanding, the functionality and the focus of the healing ministry has developed from a predominantly charity orientation and ‘reaching the unreached’ to one that approaches the vulnerable and the needy with humility and the willingness to learn from the margins of society,” said Kurian. “As we contribute to the healing and sustaining, we ourselves are healed and satiated. As we share the love of Jesus, we ourselves are being converted, transforming societies and ourselves for a better world.”

As the workshop sessions and visit of the Reformation truck in Geneva came to end, WCC deputy general secretary Georges Lemopoulos wished the organizers the successful continuation of the pilgrimage of the Reformation truck, scheduled to visit 66 other cities across Europe in the next seven months.

Photos from the workshops and the launch of European Reformation roadmap

European Reformation roadmap starts in Geneva (WCC press release of 3 November 2016)

500 years of the Reformation – commencement of anniversary celebrations (WCC press release of 3 November 2016)