Presentation Friday 30th September at 5 PM CET

This message is also available in Arabic.

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit,
General Secretary
World Council of Churches

It is a real pleasure and honour to welcome you here to the World Council of Churches, Your Eminence (Professor Al Tayyeb) , as well as your distinguished companions.

Like yourself, and like the great institution of Al Azhar Al Sharif which your represent and the Council of Muslim Elders of which you are the President**, the World Council of Churches considers peace-building to be an essential part of the vocation of religious leaders and religious institutions. Indeed the overarching image and theme within which we are currently seeking to carry out our work and mission is that of a pilgrimage of justice and peace. We are using such language for several reasons. First because the importance of pilgrimage is recognized in many religions, and certainly in both Christianity and Islam we know that what we learn about ourselves and our world through being on pilgrimage can bring us closer to God. But we also use the language of pilgrimage because of its sense of openness and invitation and movement: we can invite all people of good will to journey with us to work together for justice and peace in the difficult places of our world.

A starting point for us in any reflection on religions and peace-building is our fundamental belief, based on our Holy Scriptures, that all human beings are created in the image and after the likeness of God. We read in the Book of Genesis 1.26: Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.’ This is a fundamental building block of Christian anthropology. It means for example that we believe that all human beings need to be treated with dignity, that all human beings have equal rights and responsibilities, and that there is a necessary freedom which all human beings should enjoy. However the Book of Genesis also links this essential aspect of human beings to the prohibition against violence, which God commands to Noah after the flood. It is said there starkly and strongly that murder and the shedding of human blood are prohibited precisely because of the fact that human beings are created in the image of God. The placing of these words in the early chapters of our Holy Scriptures is an essential building block for our firmly held belief that religion should never be used to attempt to justify violence. Of course we are well aware that in our world today, and in past centuries, there have been many times when adherents of both our faiths have tried to use religious motives to justify violent actions, and we have to be honest about this. Yet we also believe that if religious people can be honest with each other about the ways in which religion has been used to underpin violence, then in turn we can find ways together so that religion can also be part of the solution.

One of the ways that as religious leaders we can fulfill our God-given mandate as peace-builders, is by encouraging and fostering a climate in which members of our respective faiths are encouraged to deepen their own religious knowledge and understanding, making use of heart, and mind and soul and strength. The importance of proper religious education is essential. Both of our religions are scriptural faiths in which a Holy book, whether the Qur’an or the Bible, plays a very significant role. The potential for the misuse of such texts by people, who have not had the opportunity for studying the scriptures in context, and as a whole, is very considerable and we know that this has been a factor in much violence that is done in the name of religion. We need to be working both with future generations of clergy and leaders, as well as with those who, in the Christian tradition, we call lay disciples, to enhance their critical but respectful understandings of scripture. At the end of the Gospel of St John, the last and perhaps the greatest of the four New Testament Gospels, Jesus tells his followers, ‘These things are written that you may believe… and believing, have life in his name.’ (John 20.31) Therefore in my view the hermeneutical point from which both Christians and Muslims need to read their scriptures, is to seek approaches to scripture that bring out the centrality of God’s desire for human beings, and indeed the whole of creation, to enjoy ‘life in all its fullness’. Religion should give people hope Of course as well as specifically religious education the importance of a rounded educational process available to all, boys and girls, young women and young men, that takes account of the need to equip young people to thrive amid the demands and pressures of the modern world is essential. It is a necessary part of the human rights of children that they should receive the opportunity to flourish through that which education provides.

The World Council of Churches is seriously engaged in in peace-building with both Christian and Muslim partners in northern Nigeria. I hear from our partners in Nigeria – particularly our Muslim partners –the lack of appropriate educational provision has led to the sense of abandonment felt by many uneducated young men. Their despair becomes a fertile recruiting ground for Boko Haram and the dreadful violence propagated on the society at large.

Indeed one of the things for which I am very grateful to your Eminence is your commitment to support the ongoing presence of Christian communities in the Middle East, and to engaging with youth, and in particular for your encouraging young Christians and Muslims to engage together in interreligious dialogue. I have heard about your direct involvement with the joint seminar that has taken place in Cairo this summer, in which young Christians and Muslims from several parts of the world came together to learn from each other and to learn from the context of Egypt. I hope that we will be able to build further on that in coming years.

Tomorrow you will be visiting and speaking at our Ecumenical Institute at Bossey which is marking the 70th anniversary of its foundation this weekend. We are honoured to have you as our speaker on this very significant occasion. The Bossey Institute began as a place where young Christians from different churches and many parts of the world could come together and learn from each other more about their Christian faith, what we call ecumenism. They also have to come to learn about how important it is to have strong and sustainable relations to people of other faiths. This is a common commitment of the WCC.

We want to see the Bossey Ecumenical Institute, provides a base enabling young people of several faiths to join in interfaith community together each summer; learning from each other and from specialist lecturers, Muslim, Christian and Jewish.

We would be delighted to welcome as a participant in the course next year a suitable young man or woman whom you might choose to send. And as part of our responsibilities as religious leaders working in peace-building let us look for other opportunities to work together in our support for young people. They are the future of our faiths, and the future of the world.

The world is changing in many ways, and the role of religion as well. The pilgrimage of justice and peace, which is the central thrust of the World Council of Churches’ work and vision at the present time, is a pilgrimage that we believe Christians can invite all people of good will to share in.