From the Worldwide Faith News archives

WCC general secretary to visit Asian countries

From "WCC Media" <>
Date Mon, 24 Feb 2003 13:53:47 +0100

World Council of Churches
Press Release PR-03-11
For Immediate Use
24 February 2003

WCC general secretary to visit Asian countries
Christian minorities not alone

Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, general secretary of the World Council of Churches
(WCC), will be visiting four Asian countries from 26 February to 9 March. 
Laos, Thailand, Myanmar (formerly Burma), and Pakistan will be receiving
their first official visit from a WCC general secretary.  The visit will
assure Christian communities living in a minority situation that they have
the support of the worldwide ecumenical family.

The packed agenda that awaits Raiser during his twelve-day visit includes
contacts with churches and Christian institutions, leaders of the majority
Buddhist and Muslim religions, representatives of civil society and
government officials.  In addition to expressing solidarity, the visit should
also help to strengthen inter-faith links and enhance relations between local
churches and their respective governments. 

Laos (26-27 February)
The first stop on the journey is the Lao People's Democratic Republic.
Poverty and lack of health care and education are just some of the many
problems facing this communist country which is still suffering the
after-effects of the Vietnam war and has recently shifted to a market economy

Seen in the past as agents of the West, the churches have entered a new phase
in their relations with the country's authorities. Buddhism is the major
religion in the country; the Protestant church is small but growing rapidly.

The WCC general secretary will have discussions in the capital Vientiane with
communist party and government officials, the head of the country's Buddhist
community and Roman Catholic church leaders. He will also visit a hospital
run by Buddhist monks.

"Dr Raiser's visit will mark a breakthrough in the life and witness of the
century-old Evangelical Church of Laos, which is looking forward to becoming
a member of the WCC in the near future," said Matthews George, WCC Asia

Thailand (27 February - 2 March)
Second stop on the visit is Thailand. Hard hit by the Asian economic crisis
in 1997, the country is in a chaotic social and political situation, and is
experiencing the negative results of globalization and neo-liberal policies,
with rising levels of poverty and unemployment.

Although this is a Buddhist country and the Christian church is tiny,
Thailand has hosted a number of international ecumenical events and mission
conferences. The local churches' contribution to social development is widely

Raiser will have conversations with the leaders of the Church of Christ in
Thailand and visit some of its establishments in Bangkok, where he will also
preach at an ecumenical service.  Also on the agenda are meetings with other
church leaders and the heads of various institutions, as well as with senior
representatives of the Buddhist and Muslim communities and the Roman Catholic

The WCC general secretary will also visit a rehabilitation centre for AIDS
sufferers in Chiangmai and lecture to staff and students at the theological
faculty of Payap University.

"The general secretary's visit will help to raise the church's morale and
give it greater visibility in society," George said.

Myanmar (03-05 March)
Myanmar, formerly Burma, will be the third leg on the journey. Governed by a
military regime, the country faces political turmoil, problems of poverty,
internal displacement, as well as ethnic tensions.

Religious freedom in this predominantly Buddhist country has been restricted
in many ways.  The fact that the general secretary of the WCC was granted an
official visa at the request of the National Council of Churches represents a
major shift in church/state relations. 

Raiser will have meetings in the capital Yangon with leaders of the Council
of Churches, with staff and students at the country's leading theological
seminary, where he will give a lecture, and with senior officials of the
military government. He will also have conversations with national Buddhist
leaders and visit educational centres for the blind and the deaf. 

"Dr Raiser's meeting with the Supreme Patriarch of Theravada Buddhism will
help the local churches to strengthen the relations between the two faiths.
This is especially important given the emerging trend of mistrust that has
sprung up between the different religious groups in the country," George

Pakistan (07-09 March)
The fourth and last stage of the journey will be Pakistan, a majority Muslim
country,  governed by a military regime until October 2002. As an ally of the
United States in the campaign in Afghanistan and in the international
coalition against terrorism, the government faces strong tensions with
Islamic militants. These could flare up in case of a military attack on Iraq.

The situation for the Christians and churches in the country is difficult
because extremist groups identify them with the Christian West.  Radical
Islamic militants have attacked Christian individuals, churches, hospitals
and schools.								     

Raiser will meet church leaders in Lahore and take part in the inauguration
of the new National Council of Churches building.  He will also have
conversations with senior government officials in Islamabad and with
representatives of non-governmental organizations, besides attending an
ecumenical service in the protestant cathedral of Lahore and meeting with the
leaders of the Muslim community.   

"The churches are looking forward to the visit. It lets them know that they
are not alone and that the worldwide church is with them," said Clement John,
programme executive in the WCC's team on International Affairs, Peace and
Human Security.   "It will also be an opportunity for the WCC's general
secretary to share and exchange views with members of Islamic groups and
parties," he added. 

For further information, please contact the Media Relations Office, 
tel: +41 (0)22 791 64 21 /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 / 6421
Fax: (41 22) 798 1346

PO Box 2100
1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland

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