Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

M. M. Thomas and the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace

Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

M. M. Thomas and the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace

Article excerpt

The Call to Move Together

The 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC), held from 30 October to 8 November 2013 in Busan, Republic of Korea, called for a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace. The assembly message says: "We intend to move together. Challenged by our experiences in Busan, we challenge all people of good will to engage their God-given gifts in transforming actions. This assembly calls you to join us in pilgrimage."1 A number of aspects are interesting in this call to join a pilgrimage. Why did the WCC call for a pilgrimage?

Mobilizing the churches and ecumenical movement around a thematic decade has a long tradition. The last thematic decade, the Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010), concluded with an impressive International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Kingston, Jamaica, on 17-22 May 2011. The possibility of a next thematic decade was already discussed while reflecting on the results of the Decade to Overcome Violence. There was still enough work to be done around Just Peace with the ongoing economic and ecological problems. Also, newly emerging concerns, for instance around religion and violence, made clear that the peace agenda was not completed. Yet, the general feeling was that a joint ecumenical action and reflection process should not be shaped again in the form of a decade.

The leadership of the WCC had at least three reasons to move from the concept of a decade toward a more ecclesial metaphor. First, the WCC felt that the added value of an ecumenical body in the public debate is not only to advocate for political solutions, however important they may be. The unique contribution of ecumenical advocacy work is that it can mobilize churches through addressing spiritual and theological dimensions of a problem. At the same time, the theological approach helps to deepen the political debates by addressing social, cultural, and religious root causes. Second, a new metaphor was needed to highlight a new methodological approach. Earlier ecumenical debates have shown a regular tendency of self-confidence: we know what needs to be changed in this world; we have an alternative. In recent years, this attitude has slowly moved in a more modest self-understanding: would it be possible to develop a relevant contribution to the public debates knowing that the search for alternatives is complex and needs the wisdom of all? Third, the terminology of a decade was felt to be problematic from a planning perspective. The WCC has an assembly every seven or eight years. To have planning cycles of ten years questions the role of assemblies in the process of setting the agenda and evaluating the results.

These theological, methodological, and practical considerations have helped the WCC to understand that in the ecumenical movement, the metaphor of a pilgrimage is more appropriate than the concept of a thematic decade. The central committee, in its meeting of 28 August to 5 September 2012 in Kolympari, Crete, decided, therefore, "to launch a pilgrimage of justice and peace... at the assembly in Busan (until the 11th Assembly) for and of the churches to focus on faith commitments to economic justice (poverty and wealth), ecological justice (climate change, etc.) and peace building. (2) The 10th Assembly endorsed this proposal in its Message.

An interesting aspect in the assembly's call to join a pilgrimage of justice and peace is the phrase "We intend to move together." Moving together is at the very heart of a pilgrimage. However, the words "we intend to move together" is also an implicit reference to the Message of the 1st Assembly of the WCC in Amsterdam in 1948, which said: "We intend to stay together." The major achievement of the 1st Assembly was that churches were able to establish a council in spite of the severe political and ecclesial divisive forces of those days. The reference in Busan to Amsterdam was based on an assessment of the needs of the day. Unity among churches cannot be limited to mutual recognition of important ecclesial aspects, such as baptism, eucharist, and ministry. …

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