Geneva, 26 November 2007

Message from the World Council of Churches general secretary on the occasion of the Ninth General Assembly of the Middle East Council of Churches

Your Beatitudes,
Your Eminences and Graces,
Reverend Fathers and Pastors,

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

"So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us"
(II Cor. 5:20)

It is a singular privilege, as general secretary of the World Council of Churches, to address the work of your ninth general assembly, and to extend my deepest greetings to you in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, for whom we have been made ambassadors by God so that his appeal for peace and reconciliation could be done though us, as the pertinent theme of your general assembly states.

In fact,

  • it is from this region where the first ambassadors of Christ spread the good news of justice and peace to the whole world.
  • it is in Jerusalem that our Lord suffered the Cross for our salvation making of us, baptized, new creatures in Him;

  • it is in Antioch that the first disciples were called Christians;

  • it is in Alexandria that St Mark first preached the Gospel;

  • it is from Jerusalem that St Thomas lead the first mission to the far East;

  • it is from Damascus that St Paul came to Rome bringing the Gospel of God's Justice over the domination of power;

  • it is in the Egyptian and Syrian and Gazan deserts where the deepest ascetic life flourished and inspired Christian churches all over the world;

and the list can go on and on, reminding us modern day Christians that our faith is deeply rooted in this land and is still kept alive and carried on by living churches witnessing to God's Love and Justice day by day.

This is why the whole ecumenical family is deeply concerned when it sees this same region suffering from the lack of justice and peace, in the very place where Jesus Christ walked upon the earth, where he preached His Gospel of justice and peace, and from where its people carried that same message all over the world.

As an ecumenical family, we cannot rest when Palestinians still do not have their own independent and viable state and are struggling to have their basic human rights respected. How can we not act when more than one and a half million are trapped in the Gaza Strip lacking basic daily needs, deprived of their human dignity; when millions are still in refugee camps in their own country or in neighboring ones and not able to return to their homeland and villages from which they have been uprooted?

As an ecumenical family we opposed the war on Iraq, and strongly stated that it was unjust, illegal and ill-advised. We are challenged to mobilize our constituencies, to bring significant pressure aimed at ending the occupation, an occupation that has led to the loss of life of hundreds of thousands of people, mostly civilians, as well as those who have been injured and disabled, and millions of refugees and internally displaced people. This war has also generated several other conflicts in the region accentuating its instability, inflaming passions and arousing fears around the world.

As an ecumenical family, we see in the arms race in the region, and particularly dangerously the nuclear one, a direct threat to the peoples of the region that will affect the whole world's peace and security.

As an ecumenical family we should be concerned to ensure that in the very place where our faith was born, the Christian community must be viable. We must also safeguard the role that local Christian presence and witness will play in witnessing for a just peace based on active but non-violent resistance to injustice and oppression. In your witness, as churches of the Middle East, you show us models

and possibilities for inter-religious cooperation and dialogue in the service of peace. Although under many pressures, we are sure that you will continue to have key roles in your different countries and societies.

We see your unique contribution revealed in the crucial role played by the Middle East Council of Churches since its inception. All of us gathered here are indebted to and seek to build upon the faithful witness of the MECC in Christian witness for a just peace in the region. In the work of MECC we see that Christian service with refugees, solidarity with churches, inter-religious dialogue for humanitarian service and peace and prophetic witness have laid the strong foundation on which we can build renewed efforts for international ecumenical action. In this we are clear: there can be no effective ecumenical action that does not take into serious consideration the local and regional role of the churches.

This is why, in Amman last June, together with the churches present here and the MECC, supported by a strong and active presence of the whole international ecumenical family, we set three imperatives that must guide our future work: the ethical imperative for a just peace, the ecumenical imperative for unity in action, and the Gospel imperative for costly solidarity. The tool we have been given for our prophetic witness by the central committee is the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum, the goals of which are: "to catalyze and co-ordinate new and existing church advocacy for peace, aimed at ending the illegal occupation in accordance with UN resolutions, and demonstrate its commitment to inter-religious action for peace and justice that serves all the peoples of region."

We will build on past initiatives and create new ones. The Forum will bring a new opportunity for coordination and collaboration in both the ongoing and the innovative actions we undertake. The Forum will be a place where unity meets prophetic witness. We are expecting to work together more dynamically and to mobilize members of the ecumenical movement not yet involved. We expect to work on different fronts at the same time.

We have listened and we have been asked to accompany the churches here. This we have partially done through the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel. We have been asked to help facilitate cooperation and coordination and communication. This we have begun through the Jerusalem Interchurch Center, a joint venture between the churches in Jerusalem, the MECC and the WCC. We have issued many statements and minutes and declarations speaking to the conflict and calling for peace. We are now told that the time for statements is past. The local churches and ecumenical organizations are saying: No more words without deeds. We need actions.

Your Beatitudes,
Your Eminences and Graces,
Reverend Fathers and Pastors,
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

As you are assembled here to renew your commitment to continue to be "ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through you" and to seek new ways and programs and structure for the MECC, as your common strong voice to the wider ecumenical family and to the world, as your common efficient ecumenical action towards the needy and the oppressed in your countries, as your common tool to work for peace and justice through reconciliation and inter-religious and cultural dialogue, be sure that the WCC together with the wider ecumenical family pray for you and for the success of your endeavour, and look at you with great hope and expectations, and assure you of its continuous support.

May God make us worth being His unresting ambassadors….

Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia
General Secretary