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World Council of Churches and UN promote International Day of Peace

In 2004, for the first time, the World Council of Churches’ Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) is joining in promoting the United Nations International Day of Peace.

WCC and UN leaders encourage congregations worldwide to pray for peace on or around Sept. 21.

UN secretary-general Kofi Annan sees the day as a way to combine the strength and witness of churches and faith communities with the international community as a whole as they strive together to promote peace and justice in the world.

In 1981, the United Nations General Assembly passed resolution 36/67 declaring an International Day of Peace.  In 2001, the General Assembly adopted a new resolution 55/282 declaring Sept. 21 each year as the International Day of Peace.

The intention of the resolution is to have the entire world observe a day of peace and nonviolence. Annan has asked UN agencies to expand their observances this year to include civil society.

The goal of the day is “to encourage worldwide, 24-hour spiritual observations for peace and nonviolence in every house of worship and place of spiritual practice, by all religious and spiritually based groups and individuals, and by all men, women and children who seek peace in the world.”

Congregations may register their commitment on the International Day of Peace Vigil website at www.idpvigil.com.   For information on the Decade to Overcome Violence, visit http://www.overcomingviolence.org.

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 recent meeting between the UN secretary-general and the WCC general secretary, the Rev. Samuel Kobia.

“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.”  He suggests creating a mechanism for truth and reconciliation, which should include in its mandate the actions of the occupying powers,” Kobia added.

Annan and Kobia agreed on the need for cooperation between the WCC Ecumenical Accompaniment Program 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.

Kobia said he would urge the WCC governing bodies to invite member churches to mark Sept. 21 with special prayer services.

“As a day of prayer for peace, the invitation could also reach people of other faiths,” he stressed.

Annan said 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 invited the UN secretary-general to participate in and address the WCC assembly to be held February 14-23, 2006 at Porto Alegre, Brazil.

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.

Article based on WCC press release and from wcc-coe.org.


By Mary Stamp - The Fig Tree - Copyright © September 2004