Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
I greet all of you in the name of Our God of Life, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The WCC’s 11th Assembly successfully took place in Karlsruhe, Germany under the theme: “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity,” even though the assembly was delayed by one year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I’m grateful for the strong support and prayers of churches in Korea by sending many people to the assembly and actively participating in it. I also wish to thank the WCC member churches in Korea and the National Council of Churches in Korea for their faithful commitment for the WCC’s Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace. This has become our ecumenical paradigm since the WCC 10th Assembly in Busan, South Korea, engaging churches and partners in a common journey. We learned to celebrate our gifts together; to visit the wounds together; and together to seek to transform the injustices we have seen.
I am convinced that we must continue our common ecumenical pilgrimage as an overarching framework that guides and unites us who are called to be the ambassadors for the ministry of reconciliation and transformation (2 Cor 5:20). The image of pilgrimage speaks to our identity. We are a movement and not a static institution. As the first Christians were called “people of the way” (Acts 9:2), we are “people on the way.” The early Christian sources called the Christians syn-odoi (those who journey together and even the church: syn-odos.
As the WCC assembly gathered in Karlsruhe this year, we were conscious of the global manifestations of war, death, disease, violence, and famine in the world today. Yet, continuing our pilgrimage together, our mood has been one of hope and joy, because through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ ́s invitation remains open to everyone, to the whole creation.
In this regard, today, as we have gathered for an ecumenical peace conversation, I want to highlight three key points and lessons that we learned together from the recent WCC 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe.
First, the WCC 11th Assembly has become a decisive turning point in our ecumenical journey, advocating for the integrity of God’s creation and for climate justice. The assembly requested the central committee to form a commission on climate change and sustainable development. It means that climate justice will be at the heart of the WCC programmatic work in the upcoming years.
The WCC has played a prominent role in highlighting the dangers of the degradation of nature and it is the only faith-based organization that has had a permanent presence in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process. This is the first WCC assembly to have received official environmental certification and in Karlsruhe we raised up the issue of climate justice and underlined the need to care for creation.
The first plenary, which took place on 1 September 2022, on the Day of Creation, inspired the assembly participants to move forward together as a fellowship, engaging in transforming actions for climate justice. Together, we reflected on the purpose of God’s love in Christ for the whole creation, reconciling all things on earth and in heaven through the blood of the cross (Col 1.19f. Eph 1.10). I was moved by the intergenerational conversation which took place under the cedar tree as a reminder of bonds of life over generations, hugged by children from different regions of the world. We must change our way of living on this planet in order to have a survivable future by focusing on intergenerational justice because climate change is affecting everyone—but more so particularly affecting those who are young.
The assembly adopted a statement, “The Living Planet: Seeking a Just and Sustainable Global Community,” which calls for a repentance of our anthropocentric relationship with God’s creation and invites the assembly participants to engage in practical actions for a whole of life understanding, to achieve a sustainable global ecosystem.
We long for a movement that reflects the core of our identity as followers of Christ; in and through him God intended the reconciliation and unity of all humanity and of the entire cosmos. This would be a unity in which God establishes justice, an equal place for all, through which creation may be renewed and strengthened. We rely on Christ’s love as we act and advocate for climate justice. This is one of the messages that we learned from the 11th assembly.
Second, the assembly theme guided the delegates and participants to take seriously the call for unity in Christ and to live as people of Christ’s reconciliation. This assembly took place in the midst of war afflicting not only Europe but the entire world. We gathered in prayers for peace in Ukraine, by condemning the war, denouncing violence as a solution to conflict, calling for the protection of innocent and vulnerable people, maintaining contact and dialogue with the churches in Russia and Ukraine, engaging churches from the neighbouring countries in round-table dialogue, and advocating for humanitarian assistance.
The assembly also adopted a statement: “War in Ukraine, Peace and Justice in the European Region” which calls for an immediate ceasefire to halt the death and destruction, and for dialogue and negotiations to secure a sustainable peace. We have appealed to all sides in the conflict to respect the principles of international humanitarian law, in particular those with regard to the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, and for the humane treatment of prisoners of war. The statement also asks the global WCC fellowship to join in prayer for all the victims of this tragic conflict, in Ukraine, in the region and throughout the world, that their suffering may cease and that they may be consoled and restored to lives of safety and dignity.
Third—and the most relevant to this ecumenical peace conversation in Korea—I would like to highlight the ecumenical efforts and activities for peace and reunification on the Korean Peninsula in terms of our journey from Busan to Karlsruhe.
During the period after Busan, churches and their specialized ministries have been even more deeply involved in formulating, planning, and fulfilling the initiatives and activities of the WCC. Such is the case with the WCC’s persistent engagement during this period with issues of peace on the Korean Peninsula. Emerging from its Busan assembly with close working relations with churches in Korea and the National Council of Churches in Korea, the leadership of the WCC and its Commission of the Churches on International Affairs have advocated with them for a formal end to the Korean War, reunification, and other visible actions for peace, including a visit to Pyongyang and Seoul by the WCC ecumenical delegation in 2018, a youth pilgrimage in 2019, a women of faith pilgrim team visit to Korea in 2020, and leading to a successive global prayer campaign for Korea in 2020. These activities and efforts were featured during the assembly in Karlsruhe, during gatherings such as workshops, a Korea Peace Appeal booth, the Monday Prayer at St Stephan church in Karlsruhe, and the Ecumenical Forum for Peace, Reunification, and Cooperation on the Korean Peninsula (EFK) at Evangelisch-methodistischen Kirche, UMC.
I am so grateful that the WCC assembly adopted a minute on ending the war and building peace on the Korean Peninsula which states how the WCC and churches in the world will continue to be in solidarity with churches in Korea in their efforts for peace and reunification on the Korean Peninsula. My colleague, Peter Prove, director of CCIA, will explain the minute in detail.
I am encouraged by the ways in which the World Council of Churches and the churches in Korea are able to express solidarity with all who suffer from division, conflict, and human rights abuses. For example, in an expression of solidarity and companionship, the WCC olive harvest initiative has continued to address cultural, socio-economic and spiritual aspects of the olive harvest season in the Holy Land, as well as highlighting the impact of the continuing military occupation of the Palestinian territories. In a similar way, I am very encouraged by the churches in Korea which have expressed a continuing solidarity with the people of Myanmar through prayers and letters that urge an end to human rights abuses and the restoration of democracy, partnering with the Myanmar Council of Churches.
In conclusion, by walking together the pilgrimage of justice, reconciliation, and unity since the 11th assembly in Karlsruhe, we feel inspired, transformed, and empowered to continue the ecumenical sacred walk of justice and peace, for we confess that “Christ’s love moves the world to justice, reconciliation and unity.”