Unity and solidarity in Christ against populist trends was at the core of the opening message for an Ecumenical Weekend in Uppsala, Sweden on 3-4 November. Under the theme ”Behold, I make everything new!”, 150 guests gathered to reflect on current challenges for ecumenism.
In his keynote speech, World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit expressed sincere hope that this Ecumenical Weekend sheds light on and strengthens resolve for the work that lies ahead. He underlined the opportunity to celebrate the 50-year mark of the WCC’s 4th Assembly, when an ambitious agenda was set for the ecumenical movement, and to calibrate today’s movement which has come a long way since 1968.
”Solidarity is the fruit of ecumenism. Walking, praying and working together as Christian witnesses on a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, shows that there is more that unite us as Christians, than divides us”.
The general secretary mentioned the recent attack on Coptic pilgrims in Egypt on their way to a monastery as an example of a horrible event after which Christian solidarity is crucial.
”We carry the cross of our Coptic sisters and brothers in Egypt. In its deepest meaning, this ecumenical movement is – and has always been – a movement of love”, Tveit pointed out.
Metropolitan Zachariah Mar Nicholovos complemented that message in his speech, saying
”we are called to carry the cross together as common witnesses, so the world will be a better place. God will make all things new”.
Sweden’s ambassador to Guatemala, Anders Kompass, continued by expressing a sense of frustration over the current state of world affairs, where the fight for human rights and equality cannot be taken for granted anymore.
A man with thorough experience of conflict areas, Kompass elaborated on the rapid ascent of strongman leaders who claim that they alone embody the will of the people: ”Once they have done away with all the liberal roadblocks that impede the impression of the popular will, it becomes very easy for them to disregard the people when its preferences start to come into conflict with their own”, Kompass explained.
He sees the current rise of strongmen and populism as a crisis after which he envisions a society with real equality for all, where wisdom will be more valued than intelligence.
Archbishop Dr Antje Jackelen, primate of the Church of Sweden, also warned against populism and added another four p-words to watch out for: polarization, protectionism, post-truths and patriarchy: ”We must make use of the resources we possess in our spirituality and faith. We must object exploiting other people’s fear. We need a theology of resilience, co-existence and hope in order to confront polarization, resist populism, counteract protectionism, fight against post-truths and overcome patriarchy”, she explained.
Fears of where current political trends will lead and the importance of a united Christian church to defend democracy and protect human rights ran as a thread through the opening of the Ecumenical Weekend.
Rev. Dr Sofia Camnerin, vice president of the Uniting Church in Sweden pointed out that ”on our shared journey of justice and peace we must always be ready to challenge structures of inequality”.
World Council of Churches, oikoumene.org