From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Title: South Asian churches on long and arduous journey to

From "WCC Media" <>
Date Tue, 05 Aug 2003 15:57:24 +0200

World Council of Churches
Update 03-34
For Immediate Use
4 August 2003

South Asian churches on "long and arduous journey" to peace  

Cf. WCC press release PR-03-26 of 28 July 2003

Teaching tolerance, respect and understanding of the other, mobilizing people
to support peace initiatives, and urging governments to assess the will of
the people are important ways in which churches can help build peace and
stability in South Asia. That was the main message from a 2-4 August workshop
in Colombo organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC).  

Focusing on current conflicts in the region and the role in them of religion,
the workshop was hosted by the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka, and
was attended by fifteen church leaders and representatives of civil society
organizations from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. A workshop
report reviews what churches have been, and should be, doing to achieve peace
in each of the four countries.	

In Sri Lanka, the peace process is at a "critical crossroads", the report
notes. In February 2002, the government signed a Memorandum of Understanding
with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), but in April this year, the
LTTE suspended its participation in the negotiations, while remaining
"committed to a negotiated settlement".  

"The position taken by the churches in the early stages that the conflict
should be resolved on the basis of federalism and devolution of power and not
through military means has proven to be correct, as the present negotiations
are being held on that basis," the report observes.  

Making the most of the current ceasefire, church groups have been visiting
the North and East in an effort to promote a spirit of peace and tolerance
among youth, the report notes. Prayer services for peace and reconciliation
are being held; the national Christian council is working with Buddhist
clergy to create a culture of non-violence; and several efforts to encourage
a climate of tolerance are going forward at the local level.	

According to the report, the churches in India and Pakistan should "make it
clear to their respective governments that there are three parties to the
dispute: India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir. Kashmir should not be
treated purely as a territorial dispute. It is essential to assess the will
of the Kashmiri people."  

Recent signs that both governments wish to resume normal relations - by
restoring road and air links for example - have generated much hope. But the
report explains that, because there is no effective regional mechanism to
address tensions and conflicts, "vested interests and power brokers on both
sides exploit the sentiments of the people and keep fires of hostility and
violence burning."							     

In Bangladesh, "While there are no major ongoing conflicts, serious human
rights violations by the security forces and armed groups are carried on
against the indigenous people," the report notes.  

The WCC workshop pinpointed two disturbing trends in South Asian societies in
general: an "increase in incidents of religious intolerance and violence as a
result of the negative impact of religion", and militarization, which it says
is caused mainly by outside intervention, "the more so since the recent
American-led war against global terrorism".   

"Religion, instead of being a source of healing and liberation, has become a
cause of dissension, disruption and destruction. It is essential that
religious leaders of the major faith communities - Christian, Islamic, Hindu
and Buddhist - invoke the teachings of their respective faiths to inculcate
the spirit of tolerance, respect and understanding of the other in South
Asian communities," the report warns.  

It argues that militarization not only drains much-needed resources away from
education, health care and communications, but that it has "also resulted in
brutalizing these societies".  

What the churches can do 

The workshop offered a number of recommendations to the South Asian churches.
On the role of religion in conflict, it urged them to promote peace and
reconciliation with people of other faiths, to condemn "the (ab)use of
religion by vested interests and political structures to divide people along
caste and class lines", and to re-read "religious scriptures to bring out
values such as tolerance and respect for diversity".   

On building peace in the region, it recommended that churches support
people-to-people contacts between India and Pakistan; participate in larger
civil society initiatives to build bridges; campaign with civil society
groups for liberalization of visa requirements, opening of trade
relationships, exchange of cultural groups and peace literature; and observe
a common day of prayer for peace and reconciliation in the region.  

Responding to "the challenges that confront us as a community of concerned
Christians", the general secretaries of the four national church councils on
4 August addressed a pastoral letter from the workshop to the churches in
Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka that summarizes their observations,
analysis and recommendations (see below).  

Warning that peace initiatives in Sri Lanka and between India and Pakistan
are "a long and arduous journey that will require painstaking and consistent
efforts", Rev. Ebenezer Joseph (NCC of Sri Lanka), Rev. Ipe Joseph (NCC of
India), Mr Subodh Adhikari (NCC of Bangladesh) and Mr Victor Azariah (NCC of
Pakistan) together called on South Asian churches to mobilize people to
support these peace initiatives, and on churches elsewhere to "mobilize
internationally in favour of the peace process in Sri Lanka and between India
and Pakistan".	

The letter appeals to the churches "to address themselves to the needs of the
community in their desire for peace and reconciliation, in cooperation with
one another and with people of other faiths and persons of goodwill."	

"We must prove ourselves equal to the task and be signs of the presence of
Christ as a source of healing in our nations and in our region at this
critical juncture of our history," it proclaims. "Specifically we call on our
peoples to witness to our oneness in Christ within the life of the church."  

The 4 August pastoral letter from the general secretaries of the four
national church councils to the churches of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and
Sri Lanka is available on our website at: 

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 / 791 6421
Fax: (41 22) 798 1346

PO Box 2100
1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland

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