13.10.10 09:18 Age: 1 yrs

WCC's international affairs commission refocuses on migration, religious freedom, security and development


At the CCIA meeting in Durrës, Albania. From left to right: WCC general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit, CCIA moderator Kjell Magne Bondevik, International Affairs programme director Mathews George Chunakara.

At the 50th meeting since its foundation in 1946, the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) decided to refocus, establishing four thematic working groups, in order better to respond to the needs of the member churches.


The meeting was hosted by the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania at St Vlash Monastry in Durrës, Albania from 2 to 8 October.


The CCIA's new focal themes resonate with the mandate of the commission during its early years. The churches had established the commission as part of the World Council of Churches (WCC), itself still in the process of formation, in order to deal with the protection and resettlement of people uprooted by World War II and to make the voice of the churches heard on issues of common concern, notably on religious liberty.


During their 2010 meeting, the commissioners identified four areas on which CCIA activities should be focused through thematic working groups, namely, "Peace and Security", "Dignity and Rights of Migrants and Migrant Workers", "Freedom of Religion" and "Peace in the Community". This last group will pay special attention to the Millennium Development Goals and their impacts.


Freedom of religion must be recognized as a human right, said the Rev. Kjell Magne Bondevik, a former prime minister of Norway, in his report as CCIA moderator, adding that the protection of holy sites needs to be considered as part of promoting peace among religions and peoples.


The group working on religious freedom will pay particular attention to church-state relations and inter-religious dialogue and cooperation. In the area of migration, the commission identified statelessness and human trafficking as special concerns. Another priority is the accompaniment of churches in conflict situations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.


The commissioners look to the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) in May 2011, to be held in Kingston, Jamaica, to prepare a conceptual basis for ecumenical peace initiatives beyond the Decade to Overcome Violence, which runs from 2001 through 2010.


"The goal of the IEPC is to engage more of the churches in the collective ecumenical potential to work for peace, focused around the major peace issues and threats of violence of the early 21st century," WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said in his address at the meeting.


"The two areas of new programme thrusts identified by the CCIA for the period until the next WCC Assembly in 2013 are the dignity and the rights of migrants, and, secondly, the freedom of religion. Our member constituencies have been requesting for the WCC to become more involved in these two areas for some time", said Dr Mathews George Chunakara, the WCC programme director for International Affairs. "The commission noted that, increasingly, large numbers of migrants and migrant workers from Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and the Pacific region are being exploited and become victims of human trafficking and human rights violations," he added.


More information on the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs


Full text of the WCC general secretary's address to the CCIA


A "resurrected church" 

The setting of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs’ most recent meeting at the St Vlash Monastry in Durrës, Albania had an inspirational quality. Its host, the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania, was "resurrected" in 1991 after having been practically eliminated by the communist regime that had ruled the country since 1944 and had declared an atheist state in 1967, prohibiting all forms of religious expression.

"The Church in Albania has become an example of the power of the cross and the resurrection, a sign of the political relevance of hope and of worship, and how important it is to worship God and not humans' self-made Gods," WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said in addressing the CCIA.

In the earlier decades of communist rule Albania's Christians suffered the same kind of persecution as their fellow believers in other communist countries. But as of 1967, the persecution was total. Hundreds of churches were pulled down, and many more turned into warehouses, stables or cinemas. Virtually all the monasteries were destroyed or became army barracks.

Since the end of the totalitarian regime in 1991, both the society and the church in Albania have undergone radical changes. Political reforms gave way to the resurrection of the church in Albania. A remarkable revival and development began which radiated into many social sectors.

The mission of the reconstructed Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania has benefited social development in general in many ways, for example in the areas of health and education.

In April 2010, the head of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania, Archbishop Anastasios who is also a WCC president, was decorated with the country's highest award, together with the three spiritual leaders of the Muslim, Roman Catholic and Bektashi communities, in recognition of his merits in the field of inter-religious dialogue.

More information on the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania