WCC 11th Assembly, Karlsruhe Report
Plenary reviews churches' actions in Europe
By Kaye Hult
The second thematic plenary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) 11th Assembly was on Europe with a focus on Ukraine.
While not currently a part of the WCC, the Ukrainian churches were invited as guests.
Acting General Secretary Ioan Sauca expressed hope that the Assembly would build bridges for reconciliation and unity between Ukraine and Russia.
The plenary scripture was the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), "a story about neglect and hospitality, a story about how Christ's love moves us to love," said Ioan."
Two bringing greetings were Metropolitan Theodosius, Primate of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, one of the WCC's founding churches, and Asa Kalam, a Muslim woman professor.
"We need our churches to be mindful in addressing the wider social issues in our wider Christian witness in today's fragmented and vulnerable societies. We need to lead fragmented communities to unity," Metropolitan Theodosius said, inviting WCC members to reaffirm their commitment to mission and witnessing Christ's love.
"We are diverse, but God's love leads us to unity with everyone," he said.
Asa Kalam, who has worked 20 years with the United Nations, observed that the challenge for faith leaders is greater than for secular leaders.
"They have to deal with spiritual, moral, political, emotional, mental and a big set of practical challenges," she said. "The power of faith leaders exceeds the power of political leaders.
"Christ's love is not meant only for people of Christian faith," she added. "As a Muslim, I believe that Christ's love was meant for me too. It's inclusive. If Christ's love is meant for all humanity, what would that mean for all of us in this room?
"How do you overcome Christian differences? How much more of Christ's love can be spread when we work together multi-religiously to serve everyone?" she proposed.
Asa explained that Christians have a moral obligation to be the conscience of the political establishment and "say war is not an option," she said. "You can stand together in solidarity, regardless of your distinctions.
"Our world consists of so many who deserve Christ's love," Asa concluded. "It is a faith that brings us all together! We can be believers. Let's act as believers."
Ioan agreed: "Christ's love is for all humanity and the whole of creation. The face of Christ is in every human being.
"Every human is my sister or brother," he said. "This is the basis of our Christian faith."
He then said that the guests from Ukraine included a variety of Christian expressions, not only Orthodox churches, but also representatives of the National Council of Churches of Ukraine and the Evangelical Baptist Church, plus an Armenian Apostolic bishop and a Greek Catholic priest.
Ioan introduced Archbishop Emeritus Anders Wejryd, Europe President of the WCC, to lead discussions on events in Ukraine and their effect on the world.
Archbishop Yevstratiy of Chernihiv and Nizhyn, Orthodox Church of Ukraine, said that "for centuries, Imperial Russia wanted to deprive Ukrainian people of our identity. A goal of the war is de-Ukrainization of Ukraine, but we are successfully fighting for our freedom, for an independent future."
He expressed gratitude for all who have shown "the kindness of the Samaritan" to Ukrainians and asked for additional prayers and help. He thanked the WCC for supporting Ukraine when the war began, particularly for appeals to Russian Patriarch Kirill.
"No one has the right to bless aggression, or justify war crimes and acts of genocide," he said.
Sergii Bortnyk of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and a professor at the Kiev Theological Academy, said his church's goal is to help the Ukrainian people in crisis and in need. "Many faithful have become volunteers," he said. "Our church receives and distributes humanitarian help, especially from the neighbor countries and sister churches."
Anders introduced Roman Sikov, a former Bossey Ecumenical Institute student and observer from the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, and Ivanna Illina, a journalist with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. He asked them: "What is the mood of Ukrainian society now and how can the world help?"
"War is scary," Ivanna Illina responded. Ukrainians are exhausted morally and financially. They need support and help from people all over the world."
Old people need help to stay in Ukraine, she said. Having lost homes, food and clothing, many have become refugees. Ukrainians hope for understanding, help and support from people all over the world.
Roman Sikov told how tired Ukrainians are after six months of war, yet expressed confidence. "Whatever our tiredness, we still feel strong," he said. "Ukrainians are dying to protect our freedom and our homes. We need help. I believe every person here can help."
Anders asked them: "What is the reaction of the church in Ukraine and abroad?"
Roman said that the church is one body of Christ, who is right now being hurt. The natural response is to protect members in every way. Spiritual help is needed, he continued, along with practical humanitarian help, such as building temporary shelters for people who have lost their homes.
Ivanna added the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Ukraine's traditional, historical church, helps those in need and shelters 5,000 refugees in monasteries and churches. The church has provided uniforms for soldiers and mediates for the exchange of soldiers. She affirmed the need for hope, prayer, faith and support "to help us restore everything we have lost."
Anders Wejryd closed that discussion with a prayer that all may be instruments of peace. He said the church should be like the Good Samaritan, seeking guidance to continue serving humanity.
Jorgen Skov Sorensen, general secretary of the Conference of European Churches, then said, "We have a global food crisis, global inflation and global fuel deficit. Ukraine is a concern not only for Europe but also for the world. Because of the recent European past, war on European soil evokes memories and challenges the "European trust that this part of the world has—or had— developed into a post-war continent of lasting peace."
Jorgen Skov Sorensen said the Conference of European Churches held a pre-assembly just after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and set a program that accommodated fears, uncertainty and shock in Europe by listening and prayers.
Defining the church as "a worldwide fellowship of mutual encouragement," the European churches activated such a fellowship to good effect.
He urged those gathered to see the Assembly as a concrete response to "the war-inflicted suffering we witness in Europe and all over the world. Let's go from here, moved by Christ's love, full of hope and dedicated to what has to be done as our response to the war in Ukraine, indeed, our response to any war now and in the future."
Dagmar Pruin, president of Bread for the World and Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe (Diaconia Disaster Relief) then reported that the war in Ukraine has brought "great suffering, as millions face destruction displacement, torture and violent deaths."
She described challenges for church agencies to aid war victims when there is also much need from other catastrophes, like climate change. She believes churches' humanitarian aid must be rooted in the vision of diakonia.
Anders asked three young delegates: How can churches address the disparity between generous humanitarian response to refugees from Ukraine and migrants from Asia and Africa being less welcome in Europe?"
Annika Matthews, from the Church of England, urged churches to pressure governments to address the crisis and ensure that racism is not part of decisions about who can enter a country. The church should advocate for asylum seekers and refugees, so they can equally access accommodations and find work."
Simon de Giuseppe, from the Baptist Union in Italy, said, "Today's churches in Europe have an outside mission and an inside mission. The outside mission is to be with people on the margins. The inside mission is to lead and transform our communities to be intercultural, because many members are also migrants. We need to testify to our faith through the richness of our cultures and traditions."
The Very Rev. Archimendai Jacobus Andreopolis of Greece, said, churches have a unique opportunity not being government institutions. In Greece, churches follow an organized way of simply loving neighbors, caring when someone comes to the border and helping meet their needs.
"As a 2,000-year-old institution in the Greek faith, it's we consider the refugees as our children. We adopt them. If the mentality of the church is that they are our godchildren, then we give them support, so they don't feel alone and even the government treats them as a very, very old friend."
Concluding the Europe plenary, Anders said: "We've heard about the gravity of situations in Europe. We've heard about signs of hope, practical responses and possibilities. We know there are ways. What the Good Samaritan did is never in vain."
The full plenary can be viewed at youtube.com/watch?v=-Yp8ji2xrns.