JUST over a week ago, World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Reverend Dr Olav Fykse Tveit joined other speakers at a side event of the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council. The speakers, who also included Metropolitan Hilarion chairman of the Department of External Church Relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, addressed the topic of “Mutual Respect and Peaceful Coexistence as a Condition of Interreligious Peace and Stability: Supporting Christians and Other Communities”

Mr Tveit noted, in respecting one another’s identities and faith, people are also called to respect each others’ basic needs. In many parts of the world, where Christians and others are suffering from persecution and violence, this is not the case.

“This is a reality that we all have to deal with in a responsible manner,” he said, and meeting together to share ideas and mutual respect is one important approach. At the event, speakers represented many faith groups from across the world.

In some countries, we have seen grave conflict but now we have a new opportunity to address issues of injustice in a comprehensive and collaborative way, Mr Tveit said. It will take international support and collaboration to bring a sense of security to different faith groups in countries such as Iraq and Syria.

“I don’t want to call them minorities,” Mr Tveit said. “They belong in these countries. It is their home.”

The right to believe in God the way you want, and practice a faith the way you believe is a basic human right, Mr Tveit noted. “It’s connected to the need for protection, for social security, for water, for food, for everything that is basic to our human lives.”

Citizenship — an equal citizenship — is a necessary, sustainable solution for peacebuilding, he continued. “We cannot categorise one another and give some rights to others and other rights to others.”

He shared the WCC’s vision for a pilgrimage of justice and peace and urged continued work together in the future. “We cannot secure human rights and the justice we need without real peace,” he said.

A week earlier, the All Africa Council of Churches also reflected on the pilgrimage of justice and peace as it begins preparation for its next assembly. AACC general secretary Reverend Dr André Karamaga has invited Reverend Dr Martin Robra of the WCC to ensure complementarity between the AACC Assembly theme and the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace.

“The pilgrimage of justice and peace is a commitment to being together on the way as churches and ecumenical partners at all levels from the local to the global, a way of accompaniment, listening to each other and solidarity”, said Mr Robra, who is the WCC program executive for Ecumenical Continuing Formation and professor at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, Switzerland.

At its jubilee Assembly, in Kampala, 2013, just prior to the WCC’s 10th Assembly, the AACC spoke of peace, justice and dignity for Africa.

The theme of the forthcoming eleventh assembly “Respecting the dignity and God’s image in every human being” has strong connections with the core value of the pilgrimage that requires mutual respect.

“The theme presents a ground rule for all of us, for our relationships and our working together”, said Mr Robra.

“Being on a pilgrimage means not to stay where you are, but to move forward and to encounter new people on the way, an opportunity to learn new things and to make new friendships,” he said.

Pilgrimage of justice and peace

Pilgrimage is common to all the world’s religious traditions. A pilgrimage is a journey of faith, often to a place considered sacred, in order to offer thanks, to atone for wrongdoing, or to seek enlightenment or healing or reconciliation. In the Bible, itself are many examples of pilgrimage.

Asking about justice and peace allows us to see our own context in new ways. We often speak about justice and peace, but what are they? How do they relate to each other? How can we encounter these realities in our own neighbourhoods and communities?

How can a pilgrimage — our journey in faith — relate us to the issues and reality of justice and peace in today’s world? Why is it important for us as Christians to journey for justice and to work for peace?

The WCC, an expression of the worldwide Christian fellowship, calls on churches everywhere to walk together, to view their common life, their journey of faith, as a part of the pilgrimage of justice and peace, and to join together with others in celebrating life and in concrete steps toward transforming injustices and violence.

The shared faith and commitment of Christians everywhere are necessary, affirming the God of life and the resilient hope offered to us in the life, the cross, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christians are called to affirm, sustain, and protect life. This is an ecumenical calling. One God of life, one creation, one humanity call the one church of Jesus Christ to commitment and engagement where peace and justice are threatened or destroyed.

God’s own pilgrimage

The pilgrimage seeks to engage in concrete action for justice and peace.

“The collective journey of faith and the transformation of ourselves and the church answer the call of Christ to lift the poor and the oppressed and to turn away from those structures and habits that bring darkness rather than light.”

Sharing reflections on the theological aspects of the pilgrimage, Mr Robra stated: “It is very important to understand that we are to participate in God’s own journey of life, peace, justice and new creation.”

The pilgrimage process keeps the main dimensions of the work of the churches in the WCC in close interaction; holistic mission, the search for unity and diaconal action.

“We are people of the way – this is how Christians spoke of themselves before they were called Christians in Antioch. The disciples followed Jesus on the way from Galilea to Jerusalem and were led by the Holy Spirit into the world announcing God’s reign through preaching, teaching, action and prayers also for the others, even the enemy,” he said.

Mr Robra affirmed the mission statement “Together towards Life”, which emphasises mission from the margins and the role of the Holy Spirit in God’s mission, captures well the contemporary challenges of globalisation, the shift of gravity of the centre of Christianity to the South and the East, the growing importance of Pentecostal, charismatic and African instituted churches as well as the interreligious context.

“Increasingly Pope Francis and many other church leaders are speaking of deepening the unity on the way. And last but not least, the WCC intensifies its efforts to sharpen the understanding of Diakonia and diaconal action, addressing some of the tensions that have surfaced in recent years around the growing role of specialised ministries of the churches,” he added.

this article was sourced from the World Council of Churches. For more information visit: https://wccpilgrimage.org/en or http://blog.oikoumene.org/.

* Reverend James Bhagwan is an ordained Methodist minister and a citizen journalist. This article was published in the Fiji Times Online on Wednesday, March 15, 2017. To view this, Click here!!