You show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of the human heart.” (2 Cor. 3:3)
Waiting anxiously for visas, routing and re-routing tickets, long waits at airports, enthusiastically planning the visit but also anxious at what awaits the team, expectantly looking out for the hosts who are to meet team members at the airport, fighting jet lag and getting used to a new bed – all this too is part of the Living Letters experience! St Paul may not have had to deal with such experiences when he sent out his teams! But, then what one can count as common, is finally meeting with the hosts, the churches, the people and communities in the country – listening to their warm words of welcome and appreciation that an ecumenical team of men and women from many parts of the world is visiting them. This makes the whole exercise so worthwhile!
The visits have this strong relational element embedded in them – most of them are organized by the National Councils of Churches, wherever they exist. The team itself is a microcosm of the ecumenical movement – composed of 4-6 men and women drawn from around the world, representing various Christian denominations. They are people who have witnessed violence in some form or the other, in their own contexts and are engaged in working for just peace. They carry with them the ecumenical spirit and share insights and challenges with those they meet on the visit. The Living Letters are an opportunity for a visit from the World Council of Churches to countries and member churches which are not often visited. Every country visited is a place where there is some form of violence – a war just ended or even a conflict going on even as the team visits them. It is a place where the churches daily address challenges to be reconciling communities in the midst of violence in many forms in the society, on the streets, in the home and even in the church.
“Living Letters” visit countries all over the world, demonstrating the unity for which the churches strive. In 2009, visits have been held or are in process to Palestine and Israel, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uruguay and Bolivia, Iraq, Turkey, Angola and Mozambique and India. Each Living Letters team visit plays a significant role in the Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches seeking reconciliation and peace (2001-2010). As all churches are faced with violence of various forms, encountering people from other contexts with similar experiences is a way of supporting one another. It contributes to the sharing of experiences and finding new approaches to overcoming violence. The Living Letters are also a way to prepare the churches for their creative participation in the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) to be held in Kingston, Jamaica in May 2011 and to collect their contributions to the development of an Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace.
The Living Letters visits express solidarity with churches living in contexts of violence, shares the common commitment to find creative new ways to overcome violence, deepen contacts with the churches, national councils of churches and related networks, engage the churches (congregations, student and youth groups, women’s networks, seminaries etc) in the development of an ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace, and pray with the churches and peoples in the country visited and to carry their concerns for prayer and solidarity to the global community.
To be a Living Letter, to receive a Living Letter team are both life changing experiences – encountering and being inspired by communities, church and civil society leaders, government officials and representatives of international organizations – all being living examples of the commitment to weave a web of peace with justice in their own countries and in the world.
Dr Aruna Gnanadason
Executive Director for Planning and Integration
World Council of Churches
The following expert consultations have been scheduled so far for the second half of 2009:
Healing of Memories – Reconciling Communities (17-23 August 2009), at the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey. A healed memory does not disappear, it can remain troublesome. But it looses its capacity to poison the present and foreclose the future. The remaining wounds can even become sources of healing for others. This seminar aims to link the notion of healing of memories to the different areas of work of the WCC which are related to peace- building and conflict resolution, HIV/ AIDS, and overcoming violence against women and children. Additionally the seminar will invest in gathering the experiences of churches and communities into sharing the influences of culture on the healing of memories. [Read more...]
Pre-IEPC inter-Orthodox meeting (15-22 September 2009), in Kalymnos (Greece). The Inter-Orthodox consultation on Peace is a meeting of representatives from the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Oriental Church. It will provide an opportunity to deepen the understanding of the main theme and of the thematic areas of the Peace Convocation, from the perspective of their traditions and according to the richness of their theology, teaching and spirituality in our contemporary world of changes and challenges. The consultation will also provide a Report as a contribution to the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC). [Read more...]
Linking Poverty, Wealth and Ecology: Asian and Pacific perspectives (on 2-6 November 2009) in Chiang Mai, Thailand. During the first two days of the consultation hearings will be organised by women, youth and theologians on Poverty, Wealth and Ecology. [Read more.. ]
Peaceful living for children and young people (postponed to November 2009), in Geneva, Switzerland. This is a training workshop that is co-organised by the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC), in collaboration with the Interreligious Council on Ethics Education for Children. [Read more...]
Since our last issue of Bits and Pieces, the following Living Letters visits have taken place:
Angola and Mozambique: 18 – 28 July 2009
For more information about the Living Letters visits, please visit the DOV website.
One widow told the team that her husband died on May 2, 1999 in a landmine explosion while working on their land. Another widow, just 28 years old, said that her husband had been shot dead by the army in September 2006 on his way home from work. She has three children (10 months, 3 and 6 years old) and she is now living with her father who is very old. Another widow said her husband went missing in July 2004 as he was shopping in the bazaar. She now lives alone with her 3 children. (…) Sri Lanka, 3-13 August 2007
Some of the inspiring voices during the Living Letters Visits have come from the highest offices of the state. In Sierra Leone and in relation with the DOV, His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma, head of state of the Republic of Sierra Leone, told the visiting team that; “by the time the (WCC) Decade to Overcome Violence comes to an end, Sierra Leone will have something positive to show where peace and justice are experienced by his people and outsiders as well… by 2011, Sierra Leone will be a shining example of a post war success country.” (…) Sierra Leone, November 1-9 2008
During the Living Letters Visit to Palestine, one of the female members of the Team went and spoke to the women who were sitting together while their children played on the patio below street level. They pleaded with her: “what can you do for us? What will you do now that you have spoken with us and heard our stories? Can you help us? Please? Otherwise we and our children will be made homeless; we have no where to go.” This was a great challenge to the entire team. They wondered what they could do to answer the heart-wrenching cries of those women. Voices of desperate women to the Living Letters Team visit to Palestine at the demolition sites. (…) Israel Palestine, March 7-14 2009
Responses to the "Initial Statement towards an Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace" have been received from a wide variety of churches, congregations, peace related organisations, ecumenical groups, theological institutions and individuals in many languages from around the world. For the full text of the Initial Statement, click here. Responses are solicited until the end of 2009.
At the annual meeting of the DOV Reference Group in April this year a list of names for a second drafting group was compiled and submitted to the WCC General Secretary for his consent. The list was approved and the group is now being constituted and plans to meet for the first time from 12 through 16 December 2009 at Crêt Bérard, near Montreux in Switzerland. A further meeting is being planned for March 2010.
The group will revise the Initial Statement and work on an Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace on the basis of responses submitted as well as taking into account reports of the Expert Consultations and experiences of the Living Letters visits. The Declaration should be ready by the end of 2010 in order to be received by the IEPC at Kingston, Jamaica in May 2011.
Ecumenically speaking, the Caribbean or West Indies include the islands of the Caribbean Sea (an archipelago that stretches from Florida, US to the coast of Venezuela) and a few countries in South and Central America that border on the Caribbean (Belize, Guyana and Suriname). The Caribbean includes 13 independent nations. While it is a quite diverse region, there is a common history of colonialism and neocolonialism, imperialism, exploitation, conquest and slavery, as well as resistance, dignity and struggle for sovereignty.
Although different traditions and practices are often blended together because of the Caribbean's diversity in religious groups and cultures, Christianity remains the dominant religion. The church – often ecumenical in nature – is mission oriented. The Caribbean Conference of Churches is the major regional ecumenical body and it also includes the Roman Catholic Church.
"One Love: Building a Peaceful Caribbean" is the theme chosen by the Caribbean Conference of Churches (CCC). The poster of this annual focus is available on our website. This annual focus will highlight the local initiatives and projects on overcoming violence and raise awareness around issues of violence. A liturgy for the International Day of Prayer for Peace (IDPP), 21st September, will be available on our website by the end of August, 2009. Please feel free to visit our website and download this resource!
Excerpt from a biblical reflection presented by Prof. Dr. Joseph Pathrapankal during the international consultation: “Towards Peace, Security and Development in South Asia”, March 30 to April 2, 2009, in Whitefield (Bangalore, India).
Reconciliation (katallagē) is an event which indicates the changed relationship for the better between persons or groups, who formerly were at enmity with each other. Bible, both the First and the Second Testaments, gives us sufficient insight into the need and nature of reconciliation, either between God and the humankind or between the humans themselves. The basic characteristic of reconciliation is that the initiative as well as the environment for this salutary event is taken and worked out mainly by the offended party in the estrangement and not by the other who is responsible for such an estrangement. Hence, here there is no question of the superior and the inferior, the powerful and the powerless, the mighty and the lowly. The basic issue is of who understands the tragedy of estrangement and also the beauty of personal relationship as the basis and guarantee of peace and harmony in the community and in the society. (…)
The human person is a unique phenomenon in the entire created cosmos which has its basic and inbuilt matter-spirit dimension in such a manner that the human person is basically a coherent reality, so much so that we can understand the human person as spirited matter rather than as spirit in matter. Though matter and spirit belong to two entirely different realms with their inbuilt and inherent characteristics, once they are united in the human reality, they are mutually and substantially integrated. Theologians are of the view that this spirit reality in the human person is a participation and an expression of the divine Spirit, which some would call the Holy Spirit while others, following the Indian tradition, refer to it as the atman or as the antaryamin, namely, the inner controller and energizer. Hence, human life, which is the most sublime result of this union of matter and spirit, exhibits itself in a diversity of forms from birth to death, and this embodies the dimensions of both the matter and the spirit. As a result, it could happen that certain articulations of this human life have a so-called double effect, insofar as the spirit does not approve of what happens as the exercise of the matter. It is this tension and the consequent polarization that are articulated in the statements of the ancient philosopher Ovid: “I do what I hate”.
When we further try to analyze this phenomenon of an inbuilt polarization in the human person, it becomes evident that the human reality is constituted through a convergence of the individual and the person with their inbuilt orientations and tendencies. Every human person is at the same time an individual and person. In philosophical definition an individual is someone who is undivided in oneself and divided from others. It is the matter dimension of the human reality that constitutes and determines this individuality. As a result, the human persons, insofar as they are individuals, tend to exercise their divisiveness from others rather than their relatedness towards them. However, within the general framework of human behaviour the exercise of individuality results often in a kind of uneasiness, dissatisfaction, conflict and also frustration. At the same time, the very same human reality has within itself another nobler dimension, which we call the exercise of the personality. As persons, people are invited and prompted to relate themselves to others, to be available to others, to be at the service of others. In fact, people are happier when they exercise their personality rather than their individuality. All are aware of the beneficial and salutary aspects of the exercise of human personality. All realize that it is in their relational dimension that they enjoy the meaning of their humanness. The parents enjoy it in their relationship with their children and married people enjoy it in their reciprocal relationship and availability. Friends of all sorts do everything possible within them to enhance and deepen their relationship. The yearning for relationship is basic to all human behaviours, whether at the social or at the religious levels. [Read more...]