In a meeting whose format and focus were dictated by the global pandemic, the executive committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) this week also addressed vital international developments and situations.
In its 20-24 July online meeting, the committee expressed concern and apprehension at multiple concurrent crises and pledged support and solidarity with churches across the world.
The executive committee acknowledged with deep sadness that on the concluding day of the executive committee meeting, 24 July 2020, the reconversion of Hagia Sophia as a mosque took place, and invited prayerful solidarity and support by WCC member churches around the world for the Ecumenical Patriarchate in its efforts to challenge and reverse this gravely regressive decision.
“In this afternoon’s concluding session of this week’s meeting of the World Council of Churches executive committee, members representing different church families and regions joined in prayer and sorrow with millions of Christians around the world marking this sad day in history of Christianity and of inter-religious relations,” said WCC interim general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca. “We offer our solidarity and accompaniment particularly to all churches and Christians of the Orthodox family, for whom Hagia Sophia holds a very special significance, as well as to all Turkish citizens who do not feel represented in this action by their government.”
The coronavirus pandemic has intensified situations dealt with in two of the committee’s public statements, on crises besetting Nigeria and Lebanon.
Public statements from the executive committee
Nigeria, long plagued by insurgencies in the northeast, has recently suffered extremist attacks in the northwest as well, creating “a situation of endemic insecurity for many communities and vast numbers of people,” according to the statement from the executive committee. Further, alarming rises in food insecurity and gender-based violence have accompanied the coronavirus pandemic, prompting calls for legal and social reforms. The statement acknowledged and encouraged the extensive ecumenical and interreligious engagement there and expressed “deep solidarity and prayers for the churches of Nigeria.”
Lebanon, too, has suffered. With the advent of the pandemic, Lebanon’s decades-long civil struggle has spiralled into economic collapse and governmental paralysis. The executive committee this week called for “urgent structural reforms needed to ensure Lebanon’s stability, unity and sovereignty” and encouraged religious leaders, among others, “to insulate the country from the wider regional political and social forces driving the region to division and destruction.”
Jerusalem and the struggles of its Christian communities also engaged the committee, as it publicly assured churches in Jerusalem of ecumenical solidarity in their efforts to ensure their rights and the Christian presence in the Old City. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate has been appealing Jerusalem District Court judgments about a disputed 2004 sale of church properties near the historic Jaffe Gate, entry to the city’s Christian quarter.
The work of the public-issues subcommittee
The committee’s international work is spearheaded by its pubic-issues subcommittee (PIC), which discussed and addressed a range of other pressing concerns.
Hagia Sophia, heritage of humanity: The PIC strongly affirmed the WCC interim general secretary’s letter of 11 July concerning re-conversion of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul from a museum back to a mosque, underlining the negative impacts on inter-religious relations, and appealing for this decision to be reversed and for Hagia Sophia to be retained as the shared heritage of humanity. PIC welcomed the very high level of media attention that this initiative received around the world. PIC also gratefully acknowledged the support expressed for WCC’s stance by leading Muslim counterparts, as referred to in the WCC news release issued on 21 July.
European peacemaking: The committee affirmed the statement of the interim general secretary on 16 July regarding the recent hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia and reiterated the call for de-escalation of the confrontation and renewed engagement in diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the root causes of the conflict.
The PIC drew attention to the anniversary of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus – which commenced on 20 July 1974 – as an occasion to bring this matter back to the minds and prayers of WCC member churches around the world.
The impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable marginalized communities in Brazil: The PIC expressed grave concern over the situation in Brazil in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, and particularly its impact on Indigenous Peoples and Quilombola communities in Brazil. The WCC is currently pursuing a multi-faceted response to this issue.
Peacemaking in Korea: This year marks the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War (25 June). The committee noted that the WCC and its partners have worked to lift up this anniversary as an occasion for fresh initiatives for peace on the Korean Peninsula at a time when recent high-level political dialogue seems to have foundered. Initiatives have included the Global Prayer Campaign for peace on the Korean Peninsula, the Joint Ecumenical Peace Message launched by WCC on 22 June, the Women of Faith Virtual Pilgrim Team Visit to South Korea on 13-15 July, and the People’s Korea Peace Agreement promoted by the National Council of Churches in Korea and launched on 23 July.
No to nuclear weapons: The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took place on 6 and 9 August 1945 – 75 years ago this year. The committee affirmed the initiatives being taken by WCC to mark this occasion – including through a series of blog-posts from different perspectives around the world – as an opportunity to leverage further commitment and engagement in the ecumenical movement’s work for the global elimination of nuclear weapons.
United Nations at 75: The United Nations has been a close partner of the WCC since both organizations were founded. The committee welcomed the initiatives taken by the WCC to mark this important anniversary, including publication of Voices of Faith at the United Nations, an historical overview of the relationship between the WCC and the UN.