WCC 11th Assembly, Karlsruhe Report
Leader joined in pilgrimage visits for solidarity
In his report to the World Council of Churches (WCC) 11th Assembly Aug. 31 in Karlsruhe, Germany, WCC acting general secretary Ioan Sauca touched on the churches' role in responding to the climate crisis, COVID-19, war in Ukraine and other global challenges.
"In responding to the hardships of our times, we need one another, we depend on one another, and we can advance only if we walk together," he said, noting that if the WCC did not exist, "we would have to invent it today."
His report covered the breadth of the WCC's work related to the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace between the assembly in 2013 in Busan, Republic of Korea, and the Karlsruhe assembly. He mentioned intersection of teams with people in visits around the world to celebrate gifts and visit places experiencing violence and injustice. The teams learned about wounds from the climate crisis, racial injustice, gender violence, world conflicts and human rights violations.
He said the pilgrimage demonstrated that the WCC is "a movement, not a static institution" and that "we are people on the way who walk together."
Ioan also pointed out that the pilgrimage is not just for the WCC, but for the WCC working with the Pentecostal World Fellowship (PWF), the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), the Roman Catholic Church, the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, Al-Azhar and Human Fraternity, Religions for Peace, Shia Islam in Iran and other people of faith to address their common agenda of working for peace and justice.
The WCC fellowship of member churches is "growing, deepening and uniting" as an expression of common witness, working with regional and national ecumenical organizations and church councils, Christian world communions and specialized ministries. Churches once critical of the WCC are now joining it.
Since the 8th Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, the WCC helped create the Global Christian Forum with the Roman Catholic Churches, PWF and WEA.
Ioan also anticipates that the 1700th anniversary in 2025 of the first Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 325 will be a major opportunity to celebrate unity.
Turning to the pandemic, he said COVID-19 brought unprecedented challenges, taking countless lives, including many members and leaders of churches and ecumenical friends.
"The pandemic reminded us of our shared vulnerability and created a sense of solidarity among churches and with the human family," Ioan observed. "It also amplified existing inequalities, especially for vulnerable groups."
While it disrupted liturgical and pastoral lives for many churches, separating people physically, the pandemic brought people together spiritually as churches learned "new ways of working, using digital and online technologies to meet," he said.
"I am convinced that in the period before us, we must continue our ecumenical journey in a Pilgrimage of Reconciliation and Unity as a paradigm that guides the WCC's programs," he said. "Because reconciliation and unity cannot be achieved without justice and peace, this will be a natural continuation of the ecumenical paradigm that was coined at our 10th Assembly in Busan, but now is shaped in response to needs of a world longing for reconciliation and unity."
Ioan affirmed that care for creation is central to the witness of churches.
"It is a theological issue," he said. "God's plan in Christ is for the reconciliation and healing of the whole creation."
Racial justice is still an important program area, because racism continues as "systems dehumanize and pervert human dignity," especially for "indigenous and racialized peoples, Dalits, Roma, people of African descent and Asians," he said.
Churches more readily agree to challenge racism, but issues of human sexuality, which is not new in the ecumenical movement, create divisions between and within some confessional families as some advance theological arguments and others reject those arguments, Ioan said, adding that the WCC does not have a position on this issue, but leaves churches to debate it.
"We do agree to respect the dignity of every human being, defend human rights for all, condemn any violence and affirm every human being is created in God's image, he said.
Related to Ukraine, he said the WCC consistently denounces violence as a solution to conflict, calling for protecting innocent, vulnerable people, maintaining dialogue with churches in Russia and Ukraine, and advocating for humanitarian assistance.
The Central Committee, after receiving three messages to expel the Russian Orthodox Church from the WCC, decided as they met before the Assembly, that based on its history, the "WCC was created as an open platform for dialogue, encounter, discussion and challenging one another on the path to unity," he said. "The WCC does not exclude anybody."
In the last three years, Ioan visited Ukraine, Syria and Lebanon, Israel and Palestine to reassure people that "they are not alone or abandoned," which he said underscored how essential ecumenical relationships are.
"I am convinced more than ever that the WCC remains an essential instrument for engaging the churches and amplifying their common witness as a fundamental expression of fellowship and togetherness," he said. "This can be achieved only by strengthening collaboration with ecumenical partners, including regional ecumenical organizations, national councils of churches, Christian world communions and specialized ministries."
In conclusion, Ioan thanked God for being a constant presence since he became acting general secretary in April 2020 after his predecessor, Olav Fykse Tviet resigned. Ioan had thought he would be in that role for a short time but, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it stretched into nearly three years.
A priest in the Orthodox Church in Romania, Ioan became a professor of ecumenical theology in 1998 at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute near Geneva, Switzerland, which he had attended in 1984-85. He became director in 2001. After earning a doctoral degree in theology in 1987 at the University of Birmingham, UK, he taught ecumenical mission at the Sibiu School of Theology in Bucharest. He joined the WCC in 1994 as executive for the Orthodox Studies and Relationship in Mission.
Ioan concluded by saying that the WCC offers "support, solidarity, advice, prayer and pastoral accompaniment" to churches around the world. In times of struggles, wars, human rights violations and natural disasters, the WCC is a way Christians can advocate and work together based on faith values.
"The real captain of the ecumenical boat and the head of the church is none of us. It is Christ," said Ioan. "We are but humble instruments and can be successful if we follow his will."
For information, visit youtube.com/watch?v=1fH6tFLh3DQ.