Saturday, November 9, 2013

WCC Assembly ends

Two Important Statements
Unity Statement

     The Assembly ended today.  Among the documentation of the Assembly that will be important as the WCC goes forward during the next 7 years were the issuances of the Unity statement and its closing message.
     WCC Unity Statement

Message to the Churches

     The second was the message to the churches.
Join the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Luke 1:78-79
Dear Sisters and Brothers, we greet you in the name of Christ.
     1. We gathered in the Republic of Korea at the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (30 October – 8 November 2013). Coming from 345 member churches of the fellowship and from partner organizations in the ecumenical movement, we joined in prayer, shared stories from our local communities and took to heart strong messages of agony and hope. We are thankful for the many engaging statements released. Our common pilgrimage traced the theme “God of life, lead us to justice and peace.”
     2. In the city of Busan, we journeyed together on a road of transformation – we pray that as we are being transformed ourselves, God will make us instruments of peace. Many of us travelled to other parts of Korea where we witnessed the open wounds of a society torn by conflict and division. How necessary is justice for peace; reconciliation for healing; and a change of heart for the world to be made whole! We were encouraged by the active and committed churches we encountered; their work bears bountiful fruit.
     3. We share our experience of the search for unity in Korea as a sign of hope in the world. This is not the only land where people live divided, in poverty and richness, happiness and violence, welfare and war. We are not allowed to close our eyes to harsh realities or to rest our hands from God’s transforming work. As a fellowship, the World Council of Churches stands in solidarity with the people and the churches in the Korean peninsula, and with all who strive for justice and peace.
     4. God our Creator is the source of all life. In the love of Jesus Christ and by the mercy of the Holy Spirit we, as a communion of the children of God, move together towards the fulfillment of the Kingdom. Seeking grace from God we are called, in our diversity, to be just stewards of God’s Creation. This is the vision of the New Heaven and Earth, where Christ will “fill all in all” (Eph 1.23).
     5  We live in a time of global crises. Economic, ecological, socio-political and spiritual challenges confront us. In darkness and in the shadow of death, in suffering and persecution, how precious is the gift of hope from the Risen Lord! By the flame of the Spirit in our hearts, we pray to Christ to brighten the world: for his light to turn our whole beings to caring for the whole of creation and to affirm that all people are created in God’s image. Listening to voices that often come from the margins, let us all share lessons of hope and perseverance. Let us recommit ourselves to work for liberation and to act in solidarity. May the illuminating Word of God guide us on our journey.
     6. We intend to move together. Challenged by our experiences in Busan, we challenge all people of good will to engage their God-given gifts in transforming actions.

This Assembly calls you to join us in pilgrimage.

May the churches be communities of healing and compassion, and may we seed the Good News so that justice will grow and God’s deep peace rest on the world.

Blessed are they who observe justice,
who do righteousness at all times!
Psalm 106:3

God of life, lead us to justice and peace!

Nota: Dissenting opinions: Archimandrite Jack Khalil of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East wished to register his dissent to the use of the word “transformation” in two places in the message, on the theological ground that as Christians our transformation is already completed in our baptism. Metropolitan Bishoy of Damietta wished to register his dissent to the phrase “all people are created”, having prefered it to say “were created”.

First woman moderation of the Central Committee

     The newly installed 150-member committee made history Friday by unanimously electing Dr Agnes Abuom of Nairobi, from the Anglican Church of Kenya, as the moderator of the highest WCC governing body.
      Two vice-moderators were elected, United Methodist Church Bishop Mary Ann Swenson from the USA and Prof. Dr Gennadios of Sassima of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

“My open prayer is that we shall move forward together, in the next years, despite our diversities that have the potential to divide us,” Abuom said shortly after her election, “…and that the WCC will continue to remain an instrument for providing a safe space for all who can come and share their hopes, aspirations and visions, and prophetic voice.”
     Abuom was the Africa president for the WCC from 1999 to 2006. She has been associated with the All Africa Conference of Churches and WCC member churches in Africa. She is a co-president of the Religions for Peace and the National Council of Churches of Kenya. Her areas of work include economic justice, peace and reconciliation.

Foot washing as a symbol of going forward as pilgrims
     The closing ritual if the Assembly included footwashing.
How do we follow? Follow the narrow path, the rugged path, the unpopular, sometimes lonely path, the path of the cross. With a humble spirit, we will follow.

Washing of the feet -- a Biblical sysmbol
     Old Testament references (Gen 18:4; 19:2; 24:32; 43:24; 1 Sam 25:41; 2 Sam 11:8; Ps 58:10) show that the washing of the feet was the first act on entering the tent or house after a journey. The biblical people wore sandals, and this washing was refreshing as well as cleansing. In the case of ordinary people, the host furnished the water and the guests washed their own feet, but in the richer houses, a slave washed their feet. It was looked upon as the lowliest of all tasks. On the last evening of his earthly life, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17).
     Jesus’ act of washing the feet of his disciples has revolutionary potential, for it redefines the meaning of power and authority and questions the structures associated with them. True authority is nothing less than the exercise of diakonia, the praxis of love in the perspective of the new world God is promising to us.

L: We worship the Father of Light, and his only begotten Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence.
L: She came to Jesus, unnamed, uninvited, but unafraid.
C: And she poured out her gratitude.
L: She gave her costly gift, embalmed him with her tears, for she alone could see where his path would lead.
C: And she poured out her grief.
L: We come to Jesus, invited to walk his Way, enabled to pour out our lives
C: in service of God’s Reign, as we come to worship.

* * * * * *
     I arrived back in Rome at 9:00 PM.  It was a long trip of over 15 hours.  In the next days I want to share some of the side activities that took place at the Madang as well as some photos of the Assembly.  

     Oh yes, I forgot to mention that soon after the Halloween decorataions came down on the 2nd of November, look what appeared not only in the restaurant but in the department stores!

Peace and all good.

Go in Peace

God of life, lead us to build peace in today's world

Worship: Paths of Peace
We are called to be peacemakers.  This peace, which we share with one another, is of the Spirit who breathes onto us the deep peace of Christ. Jesus eases our troubled souls (John 14:27-31), assuring us of God’s care even as God clothes the common flowers and beautiful weeds of the field (Mt 6:25-34).

The symbol used today was that of tenacious wildflowers, unlike cultivated flowers are tended only by God.  The Spirit of God grants us courage and wisdom to journey into the peaceable reign of God on earth.

The prayer concluded with this invocation:

God of peace and possibility,
make us instruments of your peace here and in all places,
so that we, may fulfil your will.
In the name of the Prince of Peace,
Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Salaman atruku lakom; salami au' tikom.

Bible study: Go in peace
The biblical text was from John 14:27-31 part of Jesus’ farewell discourse.  Jesus offers an alternative, a difference, a dilemma: the peace he offers contradicts peace as the “world understands it”.

 In this way he endows the word peace–itself powerful and highly significant in the Israelite tradition–with new meaning, new sense.  He leaves us questioning and deciding what value it will have for our lives, knowing that this peace unites us with Jesus’ presence and love.  This peace is his person, as the Apostle Paul acknowledges: “For he is our peace” (Eph 2:14).  It is with this in mind that we approach this Gospel text.

In the time of Jesus the word peace was part of the imperial propaganda.  The Pax Augusta justified imperial rule.  It was something that Rome offered as an (imposed) gift to other peoples, the Pax Romana.  At the same time it was identified as Pax deorum, the consent of the gods to bless the Roman legions with the glory of victory. This peace went hand in hand with security offered by world leaders.

However, the Hebrew meaning of the shalom that Jesus offers is quite different.  His peace does not bring death to the body nor does it imply an expression of superiority or the imposition of power.  In fact Jesus proposes himself as the abundance of life and freedom.
Shalom is the key word in this passage.  From the Hebrew and biblical meaning, there is a complexity in the word and its context.  Other senses associated with this word are salvation , mercy, health.  It is even used for one sleeping into death (Gen 15:15).  Primarily the shalom of God is about life, not death.  So the word goes far beyond the Greek concept of eirene or a sense of quietude and tranquility.
The greeting of the Risen Lord is a declaration of peace fulfilled in three acts: life as a gift from God to be proclaims to all peoples (“so I send you”), the presence of the Holy Spirit that revives creation (“receive the Holy Spirit”) and the forgiveness that restores human relationships (“if you forgive, you will be forgiven”).
In the final act, the passage is a call to action: “Rise, let us be on our way”.  Peace is meant to be a witness to bear and a task to fulfill.

The wildflower was used as the symbol for today's reflection.  It is something that is sown by God who alone takes care of it.  We see these flowers come back every year with their natural colors and beauty and yet no one tends them except God. The Bible study ended with the observation: "Peace is a defenseless flower", and yet . . .

. . .  flowers produce seeds.  How can we sow the seed of peace in our children and young people?

We concluded the study with this prayer:

This was the last of the Bible studies so let me recap the Biblical framework with this last slide:

The Peace plenary
This was the last plenary, the peace plenary.  It was intended to share stories, images and signs of hope that God is leading us to justice and peace.  It added dimensions of peace to earlier plenaries on justice, mission, unity and Asia.

The format was one of story sharing of the insights and struggles in the face of inequality, injustice and indifference.

The first of the stories was from Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Laureate in 2011.  It told how she founded various peace and reconciliation initiatives and how she led a non-violent Christian and Muslim women’s movement that played a pivotal role in ending Liberia’s civil war in 2003.

The moderator of the session Anglican Bishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town then asked Chang Yoon Jae to speak about issues related to society, justice faith and peace.

The initiative and experiences of the peace churches was presented by Stanley Noffsinger who interviewed two young persons one from Iran and the other from Costa Rica.  These young people spoke about damage that the embargo on Iran is doing to the people in the villages often time causing shortages of food, medicines and creating issues for the youth of unemployment.  Fabian who was born deaf, talked about programs that discriminate against people who live with disabilities.  He seeks to build the sense of peace by promoting programs of wholeness and inclusiveness for those who are often left out of the social fabric of society thereby giving them a sense of wholeness and integrity.

Agata Abrahamian and Fabian Corrales

The plenary ended by singing a South African song:

Business sessions
The Assembly continued to work through the documents and proposals at the business meetings. The use of consensus approval continued with the delegates lifting up their orange or blue cards to signify approval or non approval.
Delegates vote approval with orange cards
      Since the Vatican delegation will be leaving on Friday morning this was our last offical session at the Assembly.  The WCC delegates will continue through Friday to approve changes in policy, accept reports and issue a closing statement to the churches.  But we had one last duty to carry out – the confessional meeting.

Confessional meeting
The Catholics who were present at the Assembly gather one last time as a group that included, journalists, steward, the members of the local Korean Catholic church and the Vatican delegated observers to share our impressions.
Most felt it was an enriching experience, a learning experience for some and an opportunity for all to share by our presence the desire of the Catholic church to work for the unity of Christians, peace and justice together with all who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Some learned of the complexities of the WCC and the difficulties that it faces as an institution of such diverse types of churches and ecclesial communities.  One disappointment was expressed. The issues of Faith and Order which focuses the attention on the unity that we seek was not as strong as it could have been.  For example, there were two very important documents that the Catholic Church and the WCC worked on during the last seven years, namely the document on the Church and the Joint Working Group’s final statement.  These were only mentioned in passing and didn’t seem to play a role in the Assembly’s program.  Even the Unity plenary which was to focus on the unity statement only gave a nod to these two documents.  Since the delegates of the Assembly will be the ones who will return to their churches and have the duty of bringing the documents to their ecclesial bodies for reception, it seemed that this was a missed opportunity.
In addition the Catholics had an opportunity to share with Bishop Farrell of the Christian Unity Council some hopes for work of the PCPCU in the coming years.  The wish that the Council would prepare a study on the reception of the Church document and give the Catholic response as a means of helping the Catholic church on the local level to be more active, more informed about ecumenism and taking the next steps on the journey to Christian unity.  There was also the hope that the Korean Catholic church would be able to correct the mistaken impression that Christianity came to Korea only when Protestant missionaries arrived.  It was also the hope of the Catholics present that unity and peace in the Korean peninsula would soon be achieved.  We were told that there are no priests serving the Catholics in the North which was a disturbing fact.

So as I prepare to board the plane for return to Rome I leave you with one last interview from one of the Catholic stewards at the Assembly 

and of course my wishes of 

Peace and all good!