Taking place in the context of the 16-20 February meeting of the World Council of Churches (WCC) executive committee, the discussion was the first in a series of WCC-sponsored contributions to the UN International Year of Reconciliation, which is being marked in 2009.
In view of the multiple and convergent crises affecting the world today, the prophetic voice of the churches is sorely needed, said Fr Miguel d'Escoto Brockman in a video message opening the presentations. D'Escoto, who is the president of the 63rd session of the UN general assembly, said that Christians need to speak out in clear prophetic language because those crises are rooted in a more fundamental moral crisis.
While truth is an obvious precondition for reconciliation, reconciliation is in turn a precondition for lasting peace, said Rev. Kjell Magne Bondevik, who chaired the panel. However Bondevik, who is the moderator of the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, stressed the dilemma that societies often face between justice on the one hand and peace on the other.
For Rev. Dr Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, there is no possible choice between justice and peace as the latter cannot be achieved without the former. Nyomi highlighted the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Inter-religious Council of Liberia as exemplary faith-based contributions to healing and reconciliation. Today, he said, churches face the challenge of reconciling societies fragmented as a result of a greed-driven global economic system.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's permanent observer to the UN in Geneva, stressed the role of forgiveness - a transformative inner change of the person - in reconciliation processes. Highlighting that the word "forgiveness" is not even mentioned in the UN general assembly resolution declaring 2009 the International Year of Reconciliation, Tomasi affirmed forgiveness' critical role in reconciliation. It opens doors to possibilities that politics alone cannot reach, he said.
The concrete experience of churches involved in reconciliation processes across a religious divide in Indonesia's Moluccas islands was shared by Rev. Dr Margaretha Hendriks-Ririmasse, vice-moderator of the WCC central committee. At the beginning of the 1999-2004 conflict between Christian and Muslim populations in the region, churches did not know what to do, she said. But they reacted quickly and together with Muslim communities were able to tap into a long tradition of mutual help and cooperation.