From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Porto Alegre: Of course we can change the world!

From "WCC Media" <>
Date Tue, 04 Feb 2003 14:34:04 +0100

World Council of Churches
For Immediate Use - Fea-03-02
4 February 2003

Porto Alegre: Of course we can change the world!

 "Fifty percent of the children born in my country are born into poor homes,"
said Mariana Berger. "We don't want to be part of the causes that make the
lives of other people in the world miserable," said Arnhild Helgesen. Mariana
is from Uruguay and Arnhild is from Norway. The two young people were taking
part in a discussion at the workshop on youth and globalization organized by
the World Council of Churches (WCC) at the third World Social Forum.

"In Norway we don't feel the negative effects of unjust international trade
or a crushing foreign debt," explained Arnhild, a member of the youth
organization, Changemakers.  "Yet it does affect us: we know that the coffee
we drink and the bananas we eat have been produced by peasant farmers
struggling just to survive. And we know that our government has refused to
cancel the debts of poor countries."

Changemakers' slogan is "Of course we can change the world!" It organizes
activities aimed at developing individual awareness of responsibility and
bringing pressure to bear on the government.  It investigates how certain
consumer goods are produced to find out whether the human rights of the
producers have been violated, and organizes campaigns to make the public
aware that they need to know how the goods were produced.

"Uruguay used to be a fairly well-integrated, homogenous country, with a
large middle class and progressive social legislation.	Now it has turned
into a country with a growing class divide, high unemployment, no job
security, and fifty people emigrating every day," explained Mariana, a member
of the Student Christian Movement in Uruguay. 

She believes this situation is the result of economic globalization and
foreign debt. "The countries of the periphery are culturally and economically
colonized," she says. Mariana tells of her experience doing recreational work
with children in marginalized communities and insists that, despite the
country's institutional crisis and the feeling of uncertainty among its young
people, "churches and universities are still creative spaces that can produce
alternatives when they work with the people".

Other presenters at the workshop were Josui Soares Flores, coordinator of the
Brazilian Ecumenical Movement of Theological Students, and Horacio Mesones,
coordinator of the Latin American section of the World Student Christian
Federation (WSCF).  Josui explained how globalization is undermining
Brazilian culture, imposing a standard way of thinking and patterns of
consumption. The theological students organize youth meetings to encourage
the idea of diversity and compare Christian thought with other ways of

Horacio presented the draft of a document on economic globalization being
prepared by WSCF.  "We are not an anti-globalization group," he said. "We are
part of the prophetic ecumenical fellowship looking critically at
globalization.	And since biblical references are used, amongst other things,
to justify globalization, our task is to challenge that in the light of our
own reading of the Bible."

In the debate, several participants stressed how important it is not to lose
sight of the two-fold dimension of Christian spirituality.  The "vertical"
dimension of the individual's relation to God cannot be separated from the
"horizontal" dimension of our relation with the community and society.	"The
Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other," was one of the images used
to express this indissoluble link.

In another of its conclusions, the workshop underlined the need to establish
and/or strengthen ties between young people in the North and in the South, to
find out about each other's needs, and share ideas and initiatives.  
Evaluating the workshop, its coordinator, Freddy Knutsen, the coordinator of
the WCC's Youth programme, said: "We have learned from one another here. We
have made contacts and formed links that will make us stronger than before as
we go on working together."

Photos of the WCC delegation in Porto Alegre are at 

The WCC delegation is participated at the World Social Forum within the
framework of an Ecumenical Caucus set up by the WCC, the Lutheran World
Federation, the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, the Latin American Council of
Churches and an ecumenical coalition of Brazilian churches and related

Delegation members led a series of workshops showing links between Christian
spirituality and examples of resistance against the unjust world order by
churches and social and ecumenical organizations.

Further details of how the WCC participated in the World Social Forum,
including descriptions of the workshops and the text of the presentations,
can be found at: (English) (Espaqol) (Deutsch) (Frangais)

For further information, please contact the Media Relations Office, 
tel: +41 (0)22 791 64 21 / (41 22) 791 61 53


The World Council of Churches (WCC) is a fellowship of churches, now 342, in
more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian
traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works
cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which
meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in
1948 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary
Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.

World Council of Churches
Media Relations Office
Tel: (41 22) 791 6153 / 791 6421
Fax: (41 22) 798 1346

PO Box 2100
1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland

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