Christmas Message 1997
Issued by the Rev. Dr. Konrad Raiser, General Secretary.
Once again, at Christmas we hear the message of the angels who sing: “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to all in whom he delights” (Luke 2:14). This was and is the announcement that a new era, the reign of the Prince of Peace, has begun.
We hear the message. It responds to our deepest longings but we still wait for its fulfilment. Who can count those who were killed during this year in wars and military confrontation, those who were massacred as defenceless victims of terrorism? More than ever the world seems to be held captive to the unending cycle of fighting and killing, of victory and revenge, of merciless competition for power, and of a culture of violence in which only the winner counts.
And yet, the reign of the Prince of Peace has begun. It does not make the headlines. It escapes the focus of TV cameras. It does not conform to the law that the winner takes all and can impose the terms of peace. The new era of peace which began with the birth of Jesus continues today among the little ones, those who are forgotten, excluded and lost. These are those whom God loves and in whom he delights. For, as Mary the mother of Jesus said, “(God) has lifted up the lowly and has filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:52f.).
Is this real, or is it wishful thinking? We may indeed need new eyes to discover the ways in which God’s reign of peace shows itself in our time. And there are examples, like parables, pointing to this different reality.
In August this year, the World Council of Churches launched a “Peace to the City” campaign as the initial focus of its Programme to Overcome Violence. The campaign is designed to make visible the efforts of those often unknown groups of women and men who dare to be peacemakers in the midst of a culture of violence. They live among us in our troubled cities, like Belfast and Boston, Rio and Colombo, Suva in Fiji, Durban and Kingston. They live and work among street children and urban gangs. They seek to mediate between ethnic groups, and protect minorities. They monitor police actions and help to improve run-down neighbourhoods.
Through their lives and actions, they help a culture of peace to emerge. These people of peace are signs that the reign of the Prince of Peace has begun. It is real. In this, today's peacemakers echo the Christmas message of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to all in whom he delights.”
Appeal to Member Churches to join the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
Letter sent 11 April 1996.
Warm greetings in the Risen Christ,
Most of you are aware of the intensive work being done by the United Nations and other major international bodies, like the International Committee of the Red Cross, to achieve an accord on the issue of “landmines.” Few international organizations are more aware of the terrible, lasting effects of these weapons long after conflicts have ceased as is the WCC. Reports arrive daily from member churches whose congregations are confronted daily and in the most immediate way with this scourge.
Through these reports it has become clear that unexploded anti personnel mines are one of the primary barriers to the return to peace of a mined country, and to the rehabilitation of social, economic and cultural life in post-conflict situations.
International awareness of the dimensions of this problem has grown over recent months. Yet effective controls and an agreement on the ultimate elimination of anti personnel mines are not yet in sight. The political will is lacking.
At its last meeting (September 1995), the WCC Central Committee studied this issue and invited member churches
to take immediate action to ensure the safety and reintegration of returnees and internally displaced, by collecting signatures through local congregations to protest the manufacturing of antipersonnel mines and urge for the immediate clearance of existent mines. Target: several million signatures by mid 1996.
I would like to draw your attention to the international signature campaign already underway, coordinated by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, an international coalition of more than 450 non-governmental organizations in 40 countries. The WCC is among its sponsors. Some churches are already participating in the Campaign, and have submitted large numbers of signatures of supporters.
The goal of the signature campaign is to raise public awareness about anti personnel mines, and to demonstrate to governments the will of their citizens that these inhumane instruments of war be universally banned, and that research, production, use, trade and stockpiling of anti personnel landmines be prohibited under international law. It is encouraging to see that an increasing number of countries have declared unilateral moratoriums, providing a moral lead to a world too long indifferent to the dimensions and effects of this danger.
Rather than develop its own campaign, the WCC encourages member churches to join the International Campaign. A simple brochure, enclosed, entitled “What is Your Church Doing About Landmines,” has been produced to assist your efforts. It includes a sample petition. This booklet is designed for easy reproduction for distribution to local congregations. Copies can be also be ordered in quantity from WCC Unit IV: Sharing and Service. I urge you to make them available to parishes, and to send completed petitions to the Unit IV Refugee and Migration Service.
This is a small, but an important and potentially effective way for the ecumenical family to manifest its common commitment to overcome violence and to instill a will to peace among the nations.
Letter to H.E. Amb. J.S. Selibi, President of the Diplomatic Conference, 15 September 1997.
On behalf of the World Council of Churches’ Central Committee meeting in Geneva, 11-19 September 1997, we extend greetings to the Diplomatic Conference on Landmines meeting now in Oslo, Norway.
Many churches around the world have joined the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) in support of the ban on the use, production, stockpiling and sale of anti-personnel mines. The WCC Central Committee encouraged member churches in 1995 “to collect signatures through local congregations to protest the manufacturing of anti-personnel mines and urge for the immediate clearance of existing mines.”
The WCC Central Committee welcomes this Conference and the essential work done to guarantee a convention banning anti-personnel landmines before the end of 1997. We pray that this agreement may be a true ban treaty without any exemptions and reservations. We urge all states to ratify it, committing themselves to its full and immediate implementation. Churches are prepared to assist in the implementation.
The WCC as a global fellowship is committed to challenging and transforming the global culture of violence in the direction of a just peace by confronting and overcoming the “spirit, logic and practice of war”. We affirm the
sanctity of human life as persons are made in the image of God, and thus oppose all dehumanizing and life-destroying forces, including the manufacture and deployment of such cruel instruments as landmines.
His Holiness Aram I Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser Moderator of the General Secretary