At a conference to promote freedom of religion and preservation of spiritual, cultural and historical heritage, held at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin from 8-12 September, World Council of Churches (WCC) acting general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca reflected on “Holy Places and our Human Identities.”
Sauca noted that the gathering was taking place in the land that was proclaimed as the first Christian state in the history of humanity. “However, we are gathered in the context of yet another tragedy in the life of the people of this land, the Armenian people,” said Sauca. “What better example than Holy Etchmiadzin can we find today in order to highlight the essential role of Holy Places in shaping and preserving our human identities?”
Holy places are the sanctuaries of our faith, he said. “The Armenian people, through the history, have paid a very heavy price for the preservation of their Christian faith,” he said. “That history is written today in the thousands of their churches and sanctuaries.”
Sauca said that, when one member of the ecumenical fellowship suffers, all members of the fellowship suffer. “A visible expression of the care expressed by the fellowship of the World Council of Churches to the Armenian people can be seen in the way the WCC has communicated the trials of the Armenian people during the most recent conflict in Artsakh,” he said. “The commitment to freedom of religion or belief as a fundamental human right, and its close connection to promoting and ensuring peace among nations and communities, is part of the ecumenical movement’s DNA.”
Sauca also reflected that we cannot differentiate between the physical structures of holy places and places of worship, and the people who congregate and worship there, because that is where they find their communal identity.
“Likewise, by protecting the physical spaces used for worship, we protect their worshippers,” he said. “The significance of religious heritage sites for people and communities, for the practical realization of freedom of religion and belief, and for promoting and protecting peace is increasingly recognized.”
Religious leaders can play a positive role in addressing conflicts pertaining to holy sites, Sauca said. “As people of faith, our human identities are indeed closely bound up with our holy sites and places of worship,” he said. “This is something that we have in common, across the different faiths.”
We must strive to become neighbours in peace, respecting and protecting each other’s houses, Sauca concluded.
“The Armenian people have shown through the history their commitment to justice, peace, dialogue and mutual respect despite the circumstances and challenges,” he said. “I believe it is through these values that the people of this land will continue to witness to their faith.”