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Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

In two years’ time, in 2022, the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) is to take place in Karlsruhe. The churches in Germany, together with churches in the neighbouring countries of France and Switzerland, will host the delegates of the WCC member churches from all over the world. We are looking forward to it. The preparations are in full swing.

In October 1945 it would have been impossible to imagine that one day a WCC assembly would take place in Germany. Millions had lost their lives in the war and in the gas chambers of the concentration camps. It was guilt and punishment that were spoken of everywhere, not peace and reconciliation.

The World Council of Churches in process of formation and its general secretary, Willem Visser ’t Hooft, were prepared for this situation. Very early on they warned that war might break out. When the killing then began in 1939, they worked on plans for a just and sustainable peace in Europe after the defeat of Germany that would surely come. Together with the Germans Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Adam von Trott, Visser ’t Hooft drafted a memorandum for a peace order. In the very middle of the war, Visser ’t Hooft brought  together representatives of resistance groups from the countries occupied by the German army with German opponents of the Hitler regime. They agreed that peace in Europe would not be possible without the participation of Germany on an equal basis in a European federation. Their ideas anticipated the foundation of the European Union.

As early as 1940, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his Ethics about the Holocaust: "The church confesses that it has witnessed the arbitrary use of brutal violence, the sufferings in body and soul of countless innocent people, that it has witnessed oppression, hatred and murder without raising its voice for the victims and without finding ways of rushing to help them. It has become guilty of the lives of the weakest and most defenceless brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.”[1]

In December 1942, the German theologian Hans Asmussen wrote to Visser ’t Hooft. According to the church historian Armin Boyens, this was the beginnings of the discussion about a confession of guilt by the Confessing Church. The meeting that then took place here in Stuttgart in October 1945 was indeed very well prepared.

I have always been impressed by the foresight of our predecessors in the leadership of the WCC. In the midst of war, they built bridges between people of enemy communities and peoples, and worked for peace and post-war reconstruction. They were certainly politically astute and diplomatically skilful, but what mattered most was their common faith in the triune God of the Bible, and God’s promise for the future of all humanity and all creation. They knew that God's goal for humanity is reconciliation and unity in justice and peace. Our response to this promise requires recognizing our co-responsibility for crimes of war, our repentance, and our readiness to contribute actively to reconciliation and to strengthen the unity of the churches in Christ. The Stuttgart Confession of Guilt indeed opened the door to overcoming enmity and the common search for peace and reconciliation among the member churches of the WCC and thus also among the peoples to which they belong.

The theme of the WCC’s 11th Assembly in 2022 in Karlsruhe is: “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity.” The Stuttgart Confession of Guilt helps us to understand the assembly theme in our own context. What happened back then here in Stuttgart has contributed to the fact that today, between Karlsruhe and Strasbourg, a bridge of peace links Germany and France across the Rhine.  We are grateful that peace prevails in the centre of Europe. Like our predecessors at that time, we are working, together with all people of good will, for reconciliation and unity wherever people today suffer injustice, violence, and war, because we believe in the love of God that took form in Christ. As his disciples, we are ambassadors of his love, which moves, reconciles, and unites the world.

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, DBWE vol. 6, trans. Reinhard Krauss, Charles C. West, and Douglas W. Scott (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 139.