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18 May 2004
WCC and UN general secretaries discuss Iraq, Israel/Palestine, role of religion
Annan welcomes proposal to mark International Day of Peace with prayer
Free photo available, see below
Churches' concern over the situation in Iraq and the Israel/Palestine conflict, the role of religion in conflict, and working relations between the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the United Nations Organization were the focus of a first meeting between the UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and the WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia. Annan welcomed Kobia's initiative to invite the Council's member churches to mark the International Day of Peace with prayer services.
This first meeting between the two general secretaries took place at UN headquarters in New York yesterday afternoon in a friendly atmosphere despite pressures created by the killing that morning of the head of Iraq's US-appointed Governing Council, Ezzedine Salim.
"On behalf of WCC member churches, I expressed admiration to Annan for his leadership role at a time when multilateralism is threatened and under attack," Kobia said after the meeting. The UN secretary-general acknowledged that both organizations' agendas are intertwined, and praised the partnership between them.
The WCC general secretary voiced churches' concerns over the situation in Iraq, which he characterized as "critical, with an escalation of violence, because of the wrong policies of the occupation forces" . While appreciating that the sanctions are over, Kobia stressed that "an exit strategy would begin with the withdrawal of the US from all civilian affairs," including management, financial responsibility and oil. "We also see the need to create a mechanism for truth and reconciliation, which should include in its mandate the actions of the occupying powers," Kobia added.
Regarding the Israel/Palestine conflict, Kobia shared the WCC assessment of the Road Map and Geneva Accords. While the first "does not comprise any original proposal that could help the two sides to overcome the bloody cycle of occupation, terrorism and retribution," the latter "stimulates the public opinions on both sides to overcome stereotypes and find a common understanding of respect for the other". Annan pointed out the need for cooperation between the WCC Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine/Israel (EAPPI) and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
Committed since its inception to inter-religious dialogue, the WCC is concerned with the growing role of religion in politics and conflict. A negative force when used "to gain political power and emphasize the exclusiveness and primacy of one's own group," religion can also make a constructive contribution "by emphasizing fundamental ethics and humanity," Kobia said. "To foster goodwill and understanding between communities, inter-religious dialogue has to be at the grassroots level and address issues of common concern in the struggle against oppression and injustice," he added. Annan encouraged a dialogue between civilizations, stressing that while Islam is isolated in Western countries Christian communities are in a difficult position in many Muslim countries.
Expressing appreciation that the UN General Assembly has designated 21 September as an International Day of Peace, Kobia shared with Annan his intention to propose to the WCC governing bodies that they invite member churches to mark that day with special prayer services. "As a day of prayer for peace, the invitation could also reach people of other faiths," Kobia stressed. Annan warmly welcomed the proposal, saying that it responds to his hope that the International Day of Peace will encourage people in different contexts to reflect together on what they can do for peace.
Among other issues of common concern mentioned at the meeting were poverty, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and conflicts in Africa. Kobia also took advantage of the meeting to invite the UN secretary-general to participate in and address the WCC assembly to be held in Porto Alegre in February 2006.
WCC cooperation with the UN began before both organizations were formally created. In 1946, the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) was formed to ensure an effective relationship between the churches and the leadership of the new global body, and also to provide the main means to represent WCC member churches at the UN. CCIA became one of the first international non-governmental organizations to be granted consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council.
Kobia was accompanied at the meeting by the vice moderator of the WCC/CCIA Ms Lois Dauway, the WCC/CCIA director Mr Peter Weiderud, and the WCC permanent representative to the UN Rev. Dr Laurence Bropleh.
A high-resolution photo of Rev. Dr Kobia's meeting with Kofi Annan is available at:
Juan Michel,+41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507 6363
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 349 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 Olav Fykse Tveit, from the [Lutheran] Church of Norway. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.