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Living Letters Solidarity Visit to Uruguay and Bolivia

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Odair Mateus (left) and the other members of the Living Letters team are welcomed to the Instituto de Buena Voluntad in El Cerro by its director Margot Birriel (right).

GENEVA: A team of church representatives from Europe, Latin America and Africa will pay a solidarity visit to churches, ecumenical organizations and civil society movements in Uruguay and Bolivia from 9 to 16 July 2009. The team is traveling as “Living Letters” on behalf of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

Although located in the same region, Uruguay and Bolivia are extremely different in terms of their economic, cultural, ethnic, social and political profiles. The situations of violence range from the wounds left by a military dictatorship in Uruguay to conflicts over a political change process under first nations’ leadership in Bolivia.

In Uruguay, the team will learn about initiatives against domestic violence and violence against women, as well as youth violence, exclusion and drug abuse. The agenda of the 9-11 July 2009 visit includes encounters with women’s movements and visits to church-related youth projects in Barrio Borro and El Cerro, two suburbs of Montevideo that have become hotspots for conflict and violence.

In Bolivia, 13-16 July 2009, the team will visit Santa Cruz and its vast, poor suburb Plan 3000 with almost 300,000 inhabitants mostly of Aymara, Quechua, and Guarani descent, as well as La Paz with its predominantly indigenous neighbouring city El Alto, and Copacabana in the north-west of the country.

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Ecumenical Convention in Philadelphia on Saturday, September 26, 2009

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PHILADELPHIA: The General Body meeting of The Ecumenical Fellowship of Indian Churches in Philadelphia will be held on Sunday, August 16, 2009 at 3:00 PM at St. Thomas Syro Malabar Catholic Church, 608 Welsh Road, Philadelphia. This meeting is intended for the proper planning of the upcoming activities for the year 2009

The executive committee meeting of Ecumenical Fellowship of Indian Churches in Philadelphia, held on April 26, 2009 has scheduled several programs for the year 2009- 2010 as follows.

Parish Ecumenical day – Sunday, September 13, 2009

A representative from Ecumenical Fellowship will be visiting the Philadelphia member on that day, to make announcements on the activities of the Ecumenical Fellowship of Indian Churches in Philadelphia.

Ecumenical Convention – Saturday, September 26, 2009

Venue: St Thomas Indian Orthodox Church
10:00 – 12:00 – Youth Program
1:00 – 3:00 – Quiz for Youth
3:30 – 4:30 – Women’s Program
5:00 – 5:30 – Ecumenical worship (Song)
5:30 – 7:00 – Convention Speech

Fasting Prayer – Friday November 13, 2009

Venue: St Peters Church
Time: 10:00 – 12:00

Christmas Celebrations – Saturday, December 26, 2009

World Day of Prayer – March 6, 2010

The schedule of program for the year is released by the Chairman, Rev. M.C Skaria and the Secretary, Mody Jacob of the Ecumenical Fellowship.

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Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to Visit the United States

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NEW YORK: Archbishop Demetrios of America announces the visit of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the United States this coming October for a three-stage visit, which will include an Environmental Symposium on the Mississippi River and visits to New York, Atlanta and Washington D.C.

The Ecumenical Patriarch will arrive in Memphis, Tenn. Oct. 17 and between Oct.18-25 will lead the 8th Environmental Symposium titled “The Great Mississippi River: Restoring Balance.”   His All Holiness is the patron of this series of environmental symposia on various water bodies around the world and he is internationally known for his many efforts for environmental awareness and the well-deserved title “Green Patriarch.”

“This trip of His All Holiness to America will be a unique opportunity for all the American people to hear the Ecumenical Patriarch’s message of reconciliation among all religions and people of the world, a message of respect for human rights and religious freedom for all, and a message of respect and reverence for God’s creation, our natural environment. Finally, for the Orthodox Christians in America this trip will truly be a blessing,” said Archbishop Demetrios about the Patriarchal trip.

The Environmental Symposia are organized by “Religion, Science and the Environment,” a movement originally conceived in 1988 on the Aegean Isle of Patmos, at a meeting of environmental and religious leaders, out of concern for the water environment of the planet. RSE has convened seven symposia to study the fate of the world’s main bodies of water, which cover seven-tenths of the earth’s surface. These were held in the Aegean Sea, the Black Sea, the Danube River, the Adriatic Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Amazon River and the Arctic Sea.

On the second leg of his trip, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will come to New York on Oct. 25. His All Holiness’ program in New York will include two Patriarchal Divine Liturgies, meetings with the clergy, ecumenical leaders, members of the Archdiocesan Council and the Archons and the bestowing of an honorary doctorate degree from Fordham University. The Ecumenical Patriarch will make a short visit to Atlanta Oct. 29 and will be back in New York Oct. 30. Finally, the following week, Nov. 2-5 the Ecumenical Patriarch will visit Washington, D.C.

Details of the schedule of His All Holiness’ visit will be forthcoming as they become available.

His All Holiness, Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch is the 270th successor to the Apostle Andrew and spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.

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Naz Foundation and Faith Based Organisations Debate Homosexuality

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NEW DELHI: For the first time after it won the eight-year-long battle seeking the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the non-governmental Naz Foundation (India) came face to face with Christian and other faith based organisations in an enthralling debate on Saturday.

Coming close on the heels of Delhi High Court judgement legalising homosexuality among consenting adults by reading down Section 377 of 150-year-old Indian Penal Code (IPC), the open debate at the capital was held to hash over the decision and the hazards or its aftereffects on the society.

Organised by the Commission on Policy, Governance and Public Witness of the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), the polemical argumentation contained Anuradha Mukherji of NAZ India; Mujtaba Farooq, secretary of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind; Very Rev. MS Sakariah Ramban of the Indian Orthodox Church; Rev. Christopher Rajkumar of the NCCI and others.

Giving the welcome address, Anjna Masih of NCCI said the debate will help in “avoiding the escalation of arguments on homosexuality through awareness and dialogue” and will take a “holistic view keeping the concern of all sections of the society.”

Indeed inarguably the religious leaders keeping all differences apart seemed united as one against the gay ruling, terming it “immoral”, “dangerous” and “unacceptable” to the Indian society and religious communities.

Expressing his views, Mujtaba Farooq minced no words in his condemnation against the Delhi High Court allowing plea of gay rights activists July 2. “Same-sex unions will derange the society and will completely destroy the family order. It is unnatural and it bars procreation,” he said.

While he did praise the Naz Foundation for fighting against discrimination, he vociferously questions “there have been calls for prostitution to be legalised in India, can we do it?” adding “before talking about violations of human rights one must understand the true meaning of ‘freedom’ and where and when it can be applied.”

“Those who are sick we should serve, but those who are going to be sick we should stop and protect. We should not approve this ruling that can cause a disorder in the society and create problems,” he added.

Agreeing with much of it was Rev. Sakariah who touched all religion, social and health aspects and said the “ancient and traditional Orthodox Church is very much against the controversial gay ruling.”

“Religion is to make a healthy society. It is a custodian of morality and has a responsibility of protecting and building a meaningful culture in par with the Indian society and not the West,” he said, asking, “Sadists derive pleasure from cruelty and may be few thieves from stealing, so can we approve this too?”

Facing staunch disapproval of religious leaders was Anuradha Mukherji of Naz India who hailed the Delhi High Court order and said, “The court has only de-criminalised homosexuality and has not legalised it. This verdict will only free the victims (LGBT community) from harassment.”

The discussion heard both views of religious leaders and Naz Foundation and finally came to a conclusion with a serious question posed by Rev. Christopher Rajkumar of NCCI who asked if “faith based organisations that condemned homosexuality took any preventive steps in the past to mediate the issue?”

He urged Churches and other faith based organisations to “take further steps to educate the youths, study the issue and initiate engagement in the need” of people with different sexual orientation.

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North Korea Nuclear Test Highlights Need To Abolish All Nuclear Weapons

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GENEVA: At a time when the international community is re-kindling the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, the North Korean nuclear test is a source of profound concern, stated the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia.

“The World Council of Churches is deeply troubled by North Korea’s nuclear test and profoundly concerned for the people of North Korea and surrounding countries”, Kobia said in a public comment on 25 May. “There is no place for nuclear arsenals in international affairs – whether by a country like North Korea or by the eight other self-appointed nuclear powers that would have others believe their security requires weapons of mass destruction”, he added.

Praising the “remarkably positive meeting” on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty held at the United Nations ten days ago, Kobia stressed: “It is unfortunate that North Korea was not there; neither were Pakistan, India or Israel.”

The governing bodies of the WCC have repeatedly called on all states to join in negotiations and efforts towards the elimination of nuclear weapons. WCC member churches in every region of the world have consistently condemned nuclear weapons as a sin against God and humankind.

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Ecumenism Is A Way Of Life

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GENEVA: Sister Pina Sandu says that in her Orthodox monastery, in the mountains of Romania, they practise “touristic spirituality”. With a resort built up around the monastery, “like it or not” the tourists “hear the bells, hear the services three times a day… They hear, they feel, they know that something is happening.” As a result, their curiosity leads them into the yard and into the church – “small, sure steps towards something beautiful.”

Sister Pina and five other sisters – two each from Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant orders – are providing a similar subtle but radical witness at the Ecumenical Institute Bossey outside of Geneva, Switzerland, for students and visitors alike.

The sisters live together, coordinate the worship and prayer life at the Ecumenical Institute, participate in classes – and embody a sense of “ecumenical spirituality” in daily life.

Their presence alone, in their striking habits, is noticeable to all who use the Institute for meetings and events. Visitors come from church or development groups to secular organizations like Rolex or the regional Swiss television company, all of whom are invited to take part in the prayer life at the Institute.

But their main role over their year at Bossey is to provide pastoral support for the students. Rev. Emmanuel Twahirwa, a graduate student coming from the Anglican Church in Rwanda, appreciates their worship facilitation.

“When you come, you find yourself lost in academic study, you may end up forgetting your spiritual life,” he says. “We have to balance the two.”

Even more, he appreciates their presence: “Sisters from different denominations, living together – it is important for us to learn from them.”

Dealing with the tensions generated in the classroom is one way the sisters model ecumenical relationships. Sister Pina describes how after heated discussions, they would walk from the classroom to the kitchen for a meal, and the sisters would smile and talk.

“It is a very delicate way of knowing which is the border between academic discussion and spiritual relationship or friendship,” she emphasizes. “I hear about Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants. It is totally different when I meet a Catholic, when I meet a Protestant…. The person makes me love what the person does.”

The sisters themselves were uncertain how it would work living together. Sister Sperancia Mulashani Thadeo, from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, reflected that she had met other Roman Catholic sisters but “could not imagine” how it would work living with them. “I thought perhaps they would stay in other parts,” she says ruefully.

The reality she found was that it is possible to live together, and the “happiest of times is sharing about our life, what we are doing and our spiritual life.”

“For us,” says Ivy Athipozhiyil, a Dominican sister from India, “ecumenical spirituality is living together. We are sharing everything, laughing. This we offer, without knowing, to others, like the students. For them it is a sign.”

Their tangible witness is noticed not just by the students. Sister Ivy recalls overhearing a member of the Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches, who were meeting at Bossey. “One bishop looked at us walking together, and he said [to another participant], ‘we are talking, talking, talking – and there – you see!”

“What I have realized is that when we talk about unity, it doesn’t mean to change somebody’s faith,” states Deaconess Agnes Simbo Lema, from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. “It means to sit together, to share, to love each other and to accept each other.”

Maria Elena Romero Molina, a Missionary Dominican sister from Guatemala, states it most simply, “Ecumenism is not a concept. It is a way of life.”

Sister Pina reflects, “The motto of the life and work commission, back then, was doctrine divides, service unites.” Now, she states, “I could say doctrine divides, spirituality unites.”

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Anxiety On Increasing Violence Against Children :WCC

KOCHI: The Asian regional conference of W.C.C came to an end. In the conference held at Edathala Santhigiri Ashram near Aluva thirty representatives from 20 countries participated.

The conference expressed deep concern over the increasing violence against children. It was decided to take special care about those affected with H. I.V. Their rights will be protected and attempts for conscientisation will be held at church level. W. C. C will give leadership to the activities for safeguarding religions harmony , fraternity and creating awareness among the people about the danger of racial and communal riots. The meeting exhorted everyone to participate in the struggle for justice and world peace.

The conference was inaugurated on November 11 by Zechariahs Mar Theophilus, a member of the executive committee of W. C. C and presided over by Dr. Mathew George Chunakkara, the Asian secretary of W. C.C.

The concluding session was inaugurated by the Marthoma Metropolitan Dr. Philipose Mar Crysostom and was presided over by the Metropolitan Dr. Joseph Mar Irenaeus who is the President of the Christian Conference of Asia. The speakers were the Sree lankan Bishop Dileep D. Chikera, Metropolitan Zachariah Mar Theophilus, Fr. Dr. K. M. George, Chairman of the Program Committee of W.C.C, and Dr. Mathew George Chunakkara.