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ENI News for June 19, 2009

June 19th, 2009
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Ecumenical News International
News Highlights
19 June 2009

Churches urged to find ‘new prophetic voice’ on racism

Utrecht (ENI). Forty years after the World Council of Churches launched a   programme to combat racism, there has been a call for a new movement to address the issue and other forms of exclusion. “There is need for a new prophetic voice that can incite the Church to action and witness, which can enable a common voice to be heard against racism,” said Geesje Werkman, of the Dutch group Kerk in Aktie (Church in Action), which helped organize an international conference to mark the anniversary in Doorn, near Utrecht in the Netherlands. [397 words, ENI-09-0490]

New head of Canada truth commission faces ‘daunting’ task

Toronto (ENI). Describing his assignment as “daunting”, the newly-appointed chairperson of Canada’s truth and reconciliation commission into the nation’s now-defunct Indian residential schools system says the body will have a fresh start after a delay of several months. From the 19th century and for much of the 20th century, more than 150 000 aboriginal, Inuit and Métis children were taken from their communities and forced to attend the schools. Many students suffered physical and sexual abuse, and aboriginal people blame the school system’s policy of “aggressive assimilation” for the loss of native languages and culture. [411 words, ENI-09-0491]

Global church event to show ‘solidarity’ with Sri Lanka Christians

New Delhi (ENI). More than 150 delegates from the 31 churches that belong to the Council for World Mission will demonstrate their support for Sri Lankan Christians by gathering at Mahabalipuram near Chennai on the east coast of India. “We are holding this assembly in India to express our solidarity with the churches in the region,” CWM general secretary the Rev. Des van der Water told Ecumenical News International on 19 June. The Church of South India, which is hosting the meeting, has a diocese in neighbouring Sri Lanka. [399 words, ENI-09-0492]

Empty chairs at climate talks ‘will symbolise’ those who can’t speak

Geneva/Brussels (ENI). When international talks about climate change open in Copenhagen in December, there should be three empty chairs at the conference table, a Church of Sweden expert on sustainable development has urged. Lutheran pastor the Rev. Henrik Grape wants three chairs left empty at all future talks on climate issues to symbolise non-participants – the poor, future generations, and creation itself. [518 words, ENI-09-0494]

African religious leaders warn of weapons proliferation

Nairobi (ENI). The proliferation of small and light weapons in Africa cannot be stemmed through reforms in the security sector alone, religious leaders there have warned. “The arms are not themselves the problem; rather, they are symptoms of other structural dynamics,” said the leaders in a statement at the end of a 16-18 June meeting in Nairobi on the issues of small arms. The faith leaders cited weak governance, corruption, competition for diminishing resources, decades of continued conflict and wars, and climate change as key factors that need to be tackled.  [364 words, ENI-09-0493]

US religious freedom panel denied visas to visit India

Washington (ENI/RNS). Indian government officials have denied visas to commissioners of a U.S. religious freedom watchdog panel for the second time since 2000, Religion News Service reports. Members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom  were forced to cancel their plans to assess religious freedom in India. Panellists, who were scheduled to leave on 12 June, have been trying to obtain Indian visas for the past seven years. [252 words, ENI-09-0495]

Full stories follow.

US religious freedom panel denied visas to visit India
ENI-09-0495

By Lindsay Perna
Washington, 19 June (ENI/RNS)–Indian government officials have denied visas to commissioners of a U.S. religious freedom watchdog panel for the second time since 2000, Religion News Service reports.

Members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom  were forced to cancel their plans to assess religious freedom in India. Panellists, who were scheduled to leave on 12 June,  have been trying to obtain Indian visas for the past seven years.

Nina Shea, a commissioner, said it is troublesome that the Indian authorities are so defensive about exposing potential religious violence in the world’s largest democracy.

“I believe at the root of this, they want to cover it up,” she said. “They have something to hide.”

Hindu organizations in India are reportedly suspicious of the panel’s intentions, according to an Indian news article that was forwarded to USCIRF from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. The panel’s visit to India is “an attack on our religious sovereignty,” a spokesperson for the Vishva Hindu Parishad, a right-wing Hindu organization, told the Navbharat Times.

Commissioners had planned to travel to Gujarat, Karnataka and Orissa – all areas  where religiously motivated violence directed against minorities has been reported.

Shea said commissioners will look to experts and documentation to complete their report, though the trip would have been a chance for the Indian government to participate in preventive strategies at the local and national levels.

The Indian Embassy did not return phone calls. [252 words]
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Empty chairs at climate talks ‘will symbolise’ those who can’t speak
ENI-09-0494

By Stephen Brown
Geneva/Brussels, 19 June (ENI)–When international talks about climate change open in Copenhagen in December, there should be three empty chairs at the conference table, a Church of Sweden expert on sustainable development has urged.

Lutheran pastor the Rev. Henrik Grape wants three chairs left empty at all future talks on climate issues to symbolise non-participants – the poor, future generations, and creation itself.

“Climate change has become a question of survival, especially for the poor and vulnerable, who will be the first to suffer,” said participants at a 17 June meeting in Brussels about the ethical dimension of climate change, where Grape made his proposal about the empty chairs.

The Brussels meeting brought together members of European churches and representatives of the 27-nation European Union. The gathering is one of a number of events taking place in the run up to the United Nations-organized Copenhagen talks which open on 7 December.

“Our overwhelming problems, such as environmental pollution, pollution of seas, contaminated food supplies, the squandering of energy sources and climate change … are issues that concern the human rights of future generations,” said Metropolitan Athanasios of Achaia from the (Orthodox) Church of Greece, a participant in the meeting.

The Rev. Rüdiger Noll, director of the Church and Society Commission of the Conference of European Churches – which gathers 120 mostly Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox churches – underlined the importance of justice and responsibility for developed countries “to save the harmony of creation”.

The U.N. Copenhagen meeting is intended to reach an accord on combating climate change, to take effect in 2013. This would be after the expiry of the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol, a U.N.-brokered agreement aimed at limiting emissions of greenhouse gases that lead to climate change.

“An effective response to climate change requires both political leadership and ethical reflection and debate,” said the Rev. Piotr Mazurkiewicz, secretary general of the Commission of the (Roman Catholic) Bishops’ Conferences in the European Communities.

“These are essential in order to win over not only minds but also the hearts of citizens and to make change effective,” Mazurkiewicz said at the meeting, which included reports of the latest scientific information concerning climate change.

Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, the vice-chairperson of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warned that the EU’s existing emissions reduction target will not be sufficient to keep global warming below a rise of two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

A two degrees Celsius temperature rise above pre-industrial levels is seen by international conservation organizations as the trigger for dramatic changes in ecosystems and potential species extinction.

“We, the European Union, have not only to assume our responsibility but also to be the leader for the rest of the world,” said Karl Falkenberg, director general for the environment at the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm.

Still, Falkenberg noted, “The outcome of Copenhagen will be positive only if we manage to convince other large emitters like China, India or Russia to join our commitment to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” [518 words]
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African religious leaders warn of weapons proliferation
ENI-09-0493

By Fredrick Nzwili
Nairobi, 19 June (ENI)–The proliferation of small and light weapons in Africa cannot be stemmed through reforms in the security sector alone, religious leaders there have warned.

“The arms are not themselves the problem; rather, they are symptoms of other structural dynamics,” said the leaders in a statement at the end of a 16-18 June meeting in Nairobi on the issues of small arms.

The faith leaders cited weak governance, corruption, competition for diminishing resources, decades of continued conflict and wars, and climate change as key factors that need to be tackled.

The conference heard that globally nearly 1000 people are killed each day by small arms and light weapons.

“The many interrelated factors must be addressed. Livelihoods should be the major component seriously paid attention to,” said participants drawn from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The conference was held during the Global Week of Action Against Gun Violence of the International Action Network on Small Arms. It was hosted by the African Council of Religious Leaders, and organized jointly with the World Conference of Religions for Peace.

“It is all about people. Coming together as religious leaders, we need to see how we can save these people,” said Allison Pytlak, coordinator for cluster ammunitions at Religions for Peace.

Joseph Dube, the Africa coordinator of IANSA, had told the gathering that US$4 billion worth of small arms are traded legally, while another US$1billion worth of weapons are traded illegally.

“Illegal guns discourage development,” said Judy Waruhiu of the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa. “Communities must understand they can live without guns. They must be told poverty and guns will always feed into each other.”

Global warming, the international financial crisis and new information and communication technology are likely to increase tensions and illegal use of the arms, the faith leaders concluded.

“We are going to use our means as religious leaders. We are going to use our pulpits to tell people, ‘What you are doing is wrong’,” said Sheikh Shaban Mubaje, the grand mufti of Uganda. [364 words]
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Global church event to show ‘solidarity’ with Sri Lanka Christians
ENI-09-0492

By Anto Akkara
New Delhi, 19 June (ENI)–More than 150 delegates from the 31 churches that belong to the Council for World Mission will demonstrate their support for Sri Lankan Christians by gathering at Mahabalipuram near Chennai on the east coast of India.

“We are holding this assembly in India to express our solidarity with the churches in the region,” CWM general secretary the Rev. Des van der Water told Ecumenical News International on 19 June.

CWM is an international mission body that was formed in 1977, and whose origins lie with the London Missionary Society, founded in 1795. Most member churches have backgrounds in the Reformed tradition and many are united churches. CWM holds assemblies every three years.

In India, CWM has three members: the Presbyterian Church of India, the Church of North India, and the Church of South India. The CSI also has a diocese in neighbouring Sri Lanka.

Van der Water said that CWM wanted to support these churches in their, “struggle for justice and human rights, particularly in the context of the situation in Sri Lanka”.

The Jaffna diocese of the CSI in Sri Lanka is made up almost exclusively of members of the country’s ethnic Tamil minority that has been hit badly by the government’s final military offensive in May against Tamil rebels, who had waged a 26-year campaign for autonomy. Up to 300 000 Tamils, including thousands of CSI members, were displaced by the fighting.

Van der Water said the 20-27 June event, which will explore the theme “Live the Good News”, offers CWM and its member churches an opportunity to assess mission priorities at a time of global challenges.

“The assembly meets at a time in history when the effects of the global economic recession are biting deeply, when there is much socio-political turmoil in many countries, and when the spectre of an H1N1 virus pandemic is still looming large,” he said in a statement issued by CWM.

The Rev. Moses Jeyakumar, general secretary of the CSI, which is hosting the meeting, said,
“This is a historic event in the life of our church.”

Although it is often difficult to host international religious conventions in India due to visa restrictions, support from the Church of North India helped overcome administrative hurdles and gain government clearance for the conference, Jeyakumar said. [399 words]
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Churches urged to find ‘new prophetic voice’ on racism
ENI-09-0490

By Andreas Havinga
Utrecht, Netherlands, 19 June (ENI)–Forty years after the World Council of Churches launched a   programme to combat racism, there has been a call for a new movement to address the issue and other forms of exclusion.

“There is need for a new prophetic voice that can incite the Church to action and witness, which can enable a common voice to be heard against racism,” said Geesje Werkman, of the Dutch group Kerk in Aktie (Church in Action), which helped organize an international conference to mark the anniversary  14-17 June  in Doorn, near Utrecht in the Netherlands.

The meeting was convened by the WCC, whose Programme to Combat Racism, launched in 1969, was among the most controversial of its initiatives. While many member churches gave strong support, there was also criticism, especially over support for liberation movements fighting an armed struggle against white rule in southern Africa.

“We celebrated the significant contribution of the PCR to ending apartheid and encouraging the churches to address racism,” the 50 church leaders, activists and theologians attending the Doorn meeting said in a message read out in a closing service attended by the Dutch monarch, Queen Beatrix. “We recognised however that we have failed to eradicate racism,” they said.

Participants urged a new churches’ movement to address, “racism, casteism and related forms of exclusion”, against the background of global economic and environmental crises, and “resurgent nationalism”.

Klaas van der Kamp, general secretary of the Council of Churches in the Netherlands, which hosted the meeting, noted that the WCC’s anti-racism programme is also needed in a country such as his own, where there are about 4000 official complaints each year about racism.

The meeting proposed that the world’s churches adopt the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (21 March) as an annual ecumenical event, by developing liturgies, prayers and other materials to mark the occasion.

It called on the WCC, “to initiate a Decade for overcoming racism, and creating just and inclusive communities.”

Participants named several groups, “suffering racial discrimination and exclusion, such as Dalits, migrants, people of African descent, Roma, indigenous communities and the Palestinian people”. The statement urged Indian churches to address caste discrimination in their country.

The WCC, founded in 1948, groups 349 churches – predominantly Orthodox, Protestant, and Anglican – from 110 countries. [397 words]
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New head of Canada truth commission faces ‘daunting’ task
ENI-09-0491

By Leanne Larmondin
Toronto, Canada, 19 June (ENI)–Describing his assignment as “daunting”, the newly-appointed chairperson of Canada’s truth and reconciliation commission into the nation’s now-defunct Indian residential schools system says the body will have a fresh start after a delay of several months.

The commission was established in June 2008 as part of a settlement between the federal government, aboriginal organizations and the churches which ran the 130 schools.

From the 19th century and for much of the 20th century, more than 150 000 aboriginal, Inuit and Métis children were taken from their communities and forced to attend the schools. Many students suffered physical and sexual abuse, and aboriginal people blame the school system’s policy of “aggressive assimilation” for the loss of native languages and culture.

Justice Murray Sinclair, an aboriginal judge from Manitoba, was named as the new head of the commission on 10 June. He succeeds Justice Harry La Forme, who quit last October, citing disagreements with the other two commissioners over matters of process. The commissioners were also replaced.

Sinclair said the commission must strike a balance between the need for former students to tell their stories and developing a plan for them and the rest of the nation to move forward.

“The truth determination process is very important but it is also a very difficult process because there are 100 000 people probably still alive today who have that experience that they need to share, and how do we document all of their stories?” Sinclair said on The Current, a national radio programme.

“Our other challenge is to, at the end of the day, put forward to them and the rest of Canada a plan, an idea about how to take that experience and begin to recover from it.”

In 2006, a class action suit on behalf of a group of former students resulted in the largest financial settlement in Canadian legal history.

The Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches in Canada have formally apologised for their role in running the schools, as did the federal government in 2008.

On 29 April, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his sorrow for the abuse and what he termed the “deplorable” treatment that aboriginal students suffered at Roman Catholic church-run residential schools.

The commission, which has a budget of 60 million Canadian dollars (US$53 million), is scheduled to hold seven national gatherings in the first two years of its five-year mandate. [411 words]
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