World Council of Churches - Update
Contact: + 41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507 6363 firstname.lastname@example.org For immediate release - 13/02/2007 04:55:53 PM
60 YEARS AFTER INDIA'S INDEPENDENCE, CHURCHES ARE CALLED TO FULFIL THEIR "VOCATION OF ADVOCACY FOR LIFE AND JUSTICE," SAYS
India is a "viable and vibrant democracy" of "manifold diversity" which has become a "major global power" marked by rapid economic growth and economic expansion, according to the Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC). Addressing a gathering in Chennai today, he joined in this year's celebration of India's 60th anniversary of independence while also regretting the nation's contemporary "setbacks of poverty and violence, casteism and fundamentalism of many sorts".
Kobia was speaking in Chennai at a seminar convened by the National Council of Churches in India and the Gurukul Lutheran Theological College in the context of the churches' ongoing celebration of the anniversary of independence. He addressed the challenges facing the ecumenical movement in the world and their implications in modern India.
The ecumenical movement, affirmed Kobia, seeks to "uphold the sanctity, integrity and dignity of the life of all people", while carrying an "alternative vision of the world, guided by the values of justice and peace".
The search for "the meaning and purpose" of being a part of it in a "context of complex realities" is therefore not "just an existential need because our institutions are in crisis", he continued, but a spiritual thrust to "play a creative role in shaping this ever-changing world, and in keeping it just and humane".
In such a context, Kobia affirmed, the first challenge to churches is to "hear the voices" of "those who are abused, the vulnerable, of women, children, refugees, of unemployed youth and migrant workers, of those suffering and dying of HIV/AIDS and other diseases, the faint voices of women and children who are trafficked, of the Dalits and Adivasis" [people of lower castes formerly known as 'untouchables' and indigenous peoples, respectively]. In so doing, churches must look at their ecumenical vocation as a "vocation of advocacy for life and justice".
Acknowledging that "Indian churches are predominantly composed of the rural poor, who also happen to be from the margins of Indian society", Kobia suggested that this identity needs to be even more "owned and affirmed" by the churches. Christians must challenge the misuse and abuse of power in order to become an "alternative community".
For all this to happen, we "need to recognize the contributions of many others who are involved in similar pursuits with or without any religious calling or affiliation", Kobia added. Commending the pioneering work done in this area by the Indian churches, he suggested that "interfaith dialogue and cooperation can be seen as an instrument of life".
A remarkable church union, yesterday and today
Earlier in the day, Kobia had addressed the Executive Committee of the Church of South India (CSI) at the church headquarters in Chennai. One of the WCC member churches in the country, the CSI is celebrating its own 60th anniversary under the theme "Rejoice! Growing together in Christ. Celebrate! Building Communities of Hope".
"In 1947, in a world in tumult following the Second World War and within the context of India becoming an independent nation, the Church of South India dared to become a united church", recalled Kobia. He highlighted three reasons why the birth of the CSI "was regarded then and is seen now" as a "remarkable church union".
Kobia's three points were: the CSI's "radical vision of unity", in which "divided denominations have 'died' to their separate identities in order to 'rise' together into a single, new, united church"; a "radical vision of the gospel in its local context" which allowed for its liberation from the "cultural forms of Europe and North America" and its taking an "indigenous South Indian form"; and a "radical healing of ecclesiological divisions" which made it possible to "unite the sacramental episcopacy with Reformed and other forms of church order".
"We celebrate your vision in uniting, and your courage in meeting the challenges of living out your unity in the changing and challenging world of today", Kobia said.
Among the main challenges facing the church today, Kobia mentioned forming a "truly inclusive union, not only theologically or in worship, but humanly as well", so as to be able to help the healing of divisions within the society. The church also meets challenges in "witnessing to the gospel promise of abundant life for all in a society shaped increasingly by economic globalization", and "responding to a growing secularism" within Indian culture.
On 17-18 February Kobia will be the chief guest and a main speaker at the 112th Maramon Convention of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, which takes place annually at Maramon, Kerala, and is the largest Christian gathering in Asia.
Additional information on Kobia's visit to India is available at: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/news/news-management/all-news-english/display-single-english-news/article/1637/wcc-general-secretary-to-8.html
On-site coverage of the visit by Ecumenical News International is available at: http://eni.ch/featured/article.php?id=593
Media contact in India:
Mathews George Chunakara 094.4795.8970 (mobile)
This material may be reprinted freely.
Additional information: Juan Michel, +41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507 6363 email@example.com
Sign up for WCC press releases at:
The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 348 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, from the Methodist Church in Kenya. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.