World Council of Churches - News Release

For immediate release - 20/02/2006

The World Council of Churches Assembly, meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, today was told that "God is at work in Latin America, bringing joy, hope and vitality to the people, even in the midst of great adversity."

In a multi-media presentation using life-sized puppets, music and videos, an audience of Assembly delegates and other participants heard how people of the continent could still smile, "despite all that we have lost and cannot get back".

Five individuals offered their reflections on the most important historical events in Latin America, emphasizing the role of the churches and the ecumenical movement. There were indigenous faces, an Afro-Latin American face, and the faces of European immigrants (a teenager and a revolutionary). It was a story of tradition, sorrow, struggle and hope.

Interspersed with the drama unfolding on stage were pre-recorded observations of prominent theologians and church leaders, including Nora Cortiñas, a Mother of the Plaza de Mayo, Argentina, who spoke of combatting a system that was perverse, an economic plan that included the removal of sons and daughters who were were agitating for human rights "so that they could implement fully this neo-liberal policy that is still with us today".

Rigoberta Menchu, Nobel Peace Prize-winner from Guatemala, said, "The indigenous peoples not only demand adequate food and good housing. We also lay claim to our historic memory, we lay claim to our language, we lay claim to our indigenous status."

Adolfo Perez Esquivel, a Nobel Peace Prize-winner from Argentina, said some bishops collaborated with Argentina's military dictatorship, but there were others who were consistent with the message of the gospel, and accompanied the people, supporting them in their struggles and their demands.

Images on screen portrayed social differences in Latin America – poverty, misery and wealth and misery, the beauty of nature and environmental destruction. The packed plenary hall saw images of the ethnic diversity and injustice against the peoples of Latin America and heard how it all began … with the cruelty of religious colonization.

However, the audience also heard how in local communities today, in the struggle for survival, millions of children, men and women were showing that the true path to communion with God lay in producing solutions to their problems. Resistance against the colonizers’ violence was supported by some religious people, and that strengthened hope and unity against injustice. It also served to create new ways of perceiving God and living the faith.

The presentation ended with a celebration, acclaiming social inclusion and the struggle against injustice, "believing that the transformation of the world lies with us. God is journeying with us towards a land where everyone will live with dignity in their own place. The World Council of Churches has accompanied us on this journey. Together we shall continue working to build a moral society, where we shall care for God’s creation and live in justice and solidarity."

The Latin American Council of Churches, when welcoming Assembly participants to Brazil, raised issues it considered important, including affirming a spirituality of commitment to mission and service, a new concept of development and resisting injustice. It said most people in Latin America, including the churches, believed the neo-liberal economic system that had been imposed was unjust and had to be changed.

Those issues were echoed during a press conference prior to the plenary presentation. Cortiñas said the fight must go on against violence -- in unemployment, hunger and the lack of basic necessities. "We must say no to death," she said.

Esquivel said that Latin America was facing enormous challenges of hunger and poverty, violation of human rights and the use and abuse of the name of God. "We are using the name of God to make wars. The great challenge is to respect all the great religions."

Elza Tamez, a Methodist theologian from Costa Rica, said the Assembly theme should be a cry within the churches, so that the grace of God could be concrete, transforming and liberating.

Assembly website: www.wcc-assembly.info

Contact in Porto Alegre: +55 / 51 8419.2169

Additional information: Juan Michel,+41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507 6363 media@wcc-coe.org

The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 348 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, from the Methodist Church in Kenya. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.