From the Worldwide Faith News archives

In a city symbolic of reconciliation, Christians launch decade

Date 05 Feb 2001 11:12:26

Note #6369 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

against violence

In a city symbolic of reconciliation, Christians launch decade against

by Jerry Van Marter
Ecumenical News International

BERLIN -- As darkness fell yesterday afternoon on a snowy, bitterly cold day
in this reunited city, several hundred Christians and a few curious
onlookers huddled together in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate at a
candlelight vigil to mark the official start of the World Council of
Churches' Decade to Overcome Violence.

The WCC's general secretary, Konrad Raiser, noting that the gate was now
open after marking the division between East and West Berlin for almost 30
years, called it "a sign of hope for our journey through the decade, hope
that other dividing and excluding walls and gates will open to allow us to
walk the way of peace."

The brief vigil in the snow concluded a full day of events launching the
Decade to Overcome Violence, commonly called the DOV. The decade represents
"a call to the churches and ecumenical partners to overcome all forms of
violence." It is also a declaration of the churches' readiness "to work
together with local communities, secular movements and people of other
faiths everywhere to build a culture of peace."

The marchers processed from the House of World Cultures -- near the
Reichstag, the German parliament building -- and past the spot where US
President John F. Kennedy delivered his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" ("I am
a Berliner") speech in 1962, along where the Berlin Wall once stood, and
crossed through the Brandenburg Gate --entirely covered in plastic for
renovation -- to a nearby square, close to where communist watchtowers once

Pointing out that even after the end of the Cold War that divided Germany,
the world was still wracked by violence, Dr Raiser said: "We do not set out
on this decade as starry-eyed idealists dreaming of peace and reconciliation
and refusing to acknowledge reality."

But violence could be overcome, he insisted, beginning in the hearts and
minds of individuals and in the witness of the churches, and joining with
"everyone who wants to serve life."

The day's events began with a worship service in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial
Church in central Berlin, most of which was destroyed by Allied bombings in
the Second World War. A new sanctuary has been constructed adjacent to the
original tower, which is all that remains of the original structure -- a
striking reminder of the destruction and rebirth of Berlin.

The service -- televised live -- combined music and liturgical elements from
a variety of cultures and religious traditions and included a litany in
memory of the millions of children who have died from violence.

At the conclusion of the service -- which was briefly disrupted by a
Christian fundamentalist protester who seized the microphone and began
shouting, before being politely escorted out of the church -- each
worshipper approached the chancel and was given a cross fashioned from a
bullet casing. The crosses were created by George Togba, a former member of
a rebel armed force in the west African nation of Liberia who has become a
Christian peace activist.

 From worship the launch moved to the House of World Cultures, where
to informational displays and programs featuring music, dance, theatre and
DOV-related speeches.
throughout the afternoon participants in the day's activities were treated

Welcoming participants to the events, Berlin's Protestant bishop, Dr.
Wolfgang Huber, pointed out that the day marked the 95th anniversary of the
birth of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran theologian who joined the
resistance to Hitler and was executed shortly before the end of the Second
World War.

Jose Ramos-Horta, from East Timor, the joint recipient of the 1996 Nobel
peace prize, called on churches around the world to mount "a massive effort
o write off the debt of the poorest of the poor" and to campaign against
arms sales.

"It is not only a question of morality, of ethics, of human decency," he
said, describing poverty as one of the main sources of the world’s violence.
"Unless we also tackle the issues of poverty wherever they are -- in the
rich north and the poor south -- in the various continents of the world, all
our preaching, all our teaching about democracy, human rights, tolerance,
will be futile.

"If the rich of the north, and others not so rich but who also manufacture
weapons, were to stop selling weapons to the poor countries, and the leaders
of the poor countries instead of dreaming that with weapons they can stay in
power, stop wasting money on weapons and divert money to education, to
provide clean water to their people, yes, in 10 years from now this world
will be a much, much, better world."

Dr. Rita Sussmuth, the former president of the German parliament and a
prominent Roman Catholic, condemned violence against women and children.
"Violence has its origins in domination and repression, and we are far
removed in the world from a situation in which every human being has the
same dignity, the same value," she said. "Women in today's world are victims
of violence -- in the domestic arena, in the public arena, they are beaten
and raped, mistreated. Violence against women exists in the richer and
poorer countries."

And she called on churches to put aside their differences. "The question of
what divides Protestants and Roman Catholics belongs to the past. The
question of what unites us is much, much more important."

More than 1000 people attended a performance of  Peace to the City Dance, a
40-minute presentation commissioned last year by the WCC to interpret its
"Peace to the City" campaign and to challenge audiences and churches to take
action against violence.

The impressionistic dance used music, song, dance, light and color in what
the WCC's media relations officer, Karin Achtelstetter, said was the
ecumenical organization’s first use of dance as a means of communication.

"Dance is a language understood universally," said Lusmarina Campos Garcia,
the Brazilian producer of the dance. Her performing company, Marzia Milhazes
Danca Contemporanea, includes three dancers, the stunning soprano voice of
Juliana Franco and an ensemble, Trio Aquarius -- a pianist, cellist and

Also performing during the afternoon were Kreuzberger Musical Action, a
group of musicians and Turkish dancers from the racially and culturally
diverse Kreuzberg district of Berlin, and the Wozani Theatre Group, a
quartet of actors who portray the struggle against violence on the streets
of South Africa.

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