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Meditation by Rev. Dr Ofelia Ortega Suarez

Meditation by Rev. Dr Ofelia Ortega Suárez, WCC president from the Caribbean/Latin America, at the opening prayer service of the Central Committee meeting February 2011.

16 February 2011

WCC Central Committee meeting, 16 - 22 February 2011

Meditation by Rev. Dr Ofelia Ortega Suárez, WCC president from the Caribbean/Latin America, at the opening prayer service of the Central Committee meeting February 2011

1.      Affirming life in face of all fears

“Do not be fearful, for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10).

I have just received a message from the indigenous women of Ecuador, from a group called “the defenders of Pachamama”. The main theme of their message is a cry from their hearts and their communities: “no more violence against women”. In their message there is a key word that can help us understand their suffering: fear. Here is what they say in their own words:

We are fearful. How can that be, when we women demonstrate our strength and courage every day? From first light we women are struggling against poverty and searching for food for our children and families. Fearful? Of What? Why? We are fearful of many things, because basically we have been told that, because we are women, we are not important. But now we know that we have rights, that it is not true that just because we are women we are not important, and that is the first step in putting an end to our fear.

Yes, the search for peace always involves the removal of the fears that prevent us from uniting in following the journey to peace that we all desire. The leader and social campaigner in Uganda, David Kato, was also fearful when he was violently murdered in his own home for being a defender of the dignity and rights of human beings, all of whom are created in the image of God. There was a generous response to that violent death of David Kato given in the form of support from 70 religious leaders and 25 organizations. I found the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the primates of the Anglican Communion very moving when they said "No one should have to live in such fear because of the bigotry of others,"[1] Similarly, Dorothee Soelle, in her book “The arms race kills even without war” examines the text of Isaiah 35: 3-7 as the central message for people living in exile: “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear’.” Alongside that text, she added, “When they interpreted the biblical texts, the church fathers insisted that all that was not essential to meet our needs should be given to the poor. In light of that tradition, the arms race with atomic weapons is the greatest imaginable robbery of the poor.”[2]

We know that the major religions believe that only love, as the source of grace, can overcome systemic violence. Thus we must advance with our journey to peace in free response to grace by creating structures and models of social life that will enable us to spread this experience of grace throughout the world.

This path that we follow in free response to grace is not to be achieved by weapons. That would be a path leading to death. It must be a way of “dialogue in love”, because “a harvest of justice is sown in peace for those who make peace” (James 3:18).                               

2.      Creating spaces of reconciliation on the journey to peace

As His Holiness Aram I said in his book “For a church beyond its walls”, “Christianity is a religion of reconciliation. Reconciliation means living together, working together and struggling together on the basis of common values and for common objectives in spite of our differences.”[3] Thus on this journey towards peace the God of life invites us to have rich and deep experiences of fellowship. That fellowship must be the constant inspiration of our intentions, our thoughts, our words and our actions.

Our whole existence is a network of relationships in which we need reciprocity, connectivity and interdependence in order for peace to be achieved. Our churches should create and maintain such a network of relationships.

Konrad Raiser in his book “To be the church: challenges and hopes for a new millennium”[4] invites us to return to the basic forms of conciliarity in order to strengthen our capacity for reciprocity, solidarity, dialogue and non-violent forms of conflict resolution. That leads us to the basic concept of “metanoia”, or conversion or change of heart. Such a conversion must be not only an isolated act of moral decision but a continuing learning process and a new way of living in peace and harmony with God, with our fellow human beings and with creation.

South African theologians have closely linked reconciliation with the idea of the covenant. For John de Gruchy “the covenant makes reconciliation a possibility and reconciliation makes the promise of the covenant a reality.”[5]

The “ethics of the covenant” thus gives us a vision of a community composed of humans, animals and the earth. That vision leads us always to live out a spirituality that endeavours to restore and renew more just and sustainable relationships between human beings and the earth in a covenant under God’s care. Our heritage is that vision of “sacramental cosmology” in the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Word and Wisdom of God, which are the source of renewal of life.

3.      A conversion to hope on the journey to peace

For Christians there is always hope. The apostle Paul speaks of “hoping against hope” (Rom. 4:18). In other words, we remain full of hope, even when there are seemingly no signs of hope. Thus, hoping against all hope means beginning to see, in the midst of the darkness of despair, the emerging signs of God working in a great and mysterious way.

Albert Nolan in his book “Esperanza en una época de desesperanza”[6] (Hope in an age of despair) speaks of the acts of the “finger of God”, as Jesus puts it. He mentions, for example, a distinguished campaigner for peace who said that, because there has been so much media coverage of the war in Iraq, it has resulted in a huge increase worldwide of the number of those actively involved in peace movements. Could that be the “finger of God” bringing good out of evil?

Recently, in a meeting of the Latin American Council of Churches, Noemi Espinosa, a leader in the Presbyterian Church in Honduras, told us that the coup d’etat, which had been so terrible for her nation, had none the less awakened the conscience of the citizens of Honduras with the result that they now had a greater concern for their situation and are attempting to claim their rights. She told us, “It has really been a miracle, because before, there had not been much interest in questioning what the government and the military authorities in my country were doing.”

That again was the “finger of God” that can bring good out of evil. The journey to peace is now taking us to Kingston, Jamaica, to participate in the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation. We shall there again read together The Ecumenical Call for a Just Peace, which will lead us to associate ourselves with the examples of practical effective action being taken by our churches to achieve a just peace.

That important document emphasizes that hope is something that comes from God, the author of peace, and only God can bring about reconciliation. Hope is something that we discover as we get caught up in the mystery of peace. This mystery certainly sometimes surfaces in unexpected places and in surprising ways. That is what we will discover: glimmers of grace in the midst of adversity, acts of friendliness in face of shameless selfishness, moments of gentleness amidst the cruelty of constant aggression.

The journey to peace will lead us to a spirituality that sustains hope. It will be a spirituality that reflects the relations of the Holy Trinity, who sustains, transforms and hallows our broken world. The text that has inspired us throughout the Decade to Overcome Violence is for us a guiding light for all our pastoral activities:

“Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” Ps. 34:14

Provisional translation from the Spanish, WCC Language Service


[2] Dorothee Soelle, The arms race kills, even without war, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, USA, 1983, p.22. 

[3] Aram 1, For a church beyond its walls, Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia, Antelias, Lebanon, 2007, p.306 

[4] Konrad Raiser, To be the church: challenges and hopes for a new millennium, Risk book series, WCC Publications, Geneva, 1997, p.36

[5] John W de Gruchy, Reconciliation, restoring justice, SCM Press, London, 2002, p.187

[6] Albert Nolan, Esperanza en una epoca de desesperanza, Editorial Sal Terrae, Santander, Spain, 2010, p.29