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WCC leaders asked about stand on Ukraine at press conference

WCC moderator of the central committee Bishop Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm and the council’s general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay both addressed their first press conference since the 31 August-8 September WCC 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany in 2022, taking questions about the war in Ukraine.

For 75 percent of the central committee, the 21-27 June meeting is their first since the elections at the  WCC assembly.

Bedford-Strohm said, “It’s a great joy to come together. And it’s a very good spirit in which we are together and the decisions we must make.”

The central committee is the WCC’s highest governing body between the council’s assemblies, and it usually meets every two years.

It heard about a proposal for the council to host a roundtable to promote peace in Ukraine later this year as well in other parts of the world.

Churches from both sides of the conflict

At the press conference the WCC leaders were asked if talking to the Russian Orthodox Church could damage church unity, one of its key goals.

“We have already mentioned our trip to Ukraine (earlier in 2023); I do not have to repeat the innumerable victims of terrible suffering happening in Ukraine. But there is also the consequence of what has been happening worldwide. Because food prices and other daily necessities are rising,” said the WCC moderator.

Pillay said the WCC had made it categorically clear where it stands on the Russia-Ukraine conflict and he had visited Moscow earlier this year.

“We’ve communicated the same to the Russian Orthodox Church, that the WCC has called the war illegal and immoral. And we are calling for the ending of the war.”

“But part of the issue of the roundtable is to discuss precisely that. How do you justify a war we were talking about? We understand the Scriptures. And so the intention of the roundtable is to interrogate those kind of questions really seriously. So, I do not see this damaging the WCC,” said Pillay, adding, I think we exercised wisdom, in my opinion, by not suspending the Russian Orthodox Church” from its membership of the WCC.

The WCC general secretary said many other churches have been working with issues in Ukraine and for peace.

Reaching out to Moscow

“But they have not been able to reach out to Moscow. But we have been because they are our member church,” he said.

Pillay said it was hoped the roundtable might take place in Geneva in October.

He said many people believe that the situation in Ukraine is important and therefore the WCC hopes it can contribute to ending the war.

Bedford-Strohm said, “If we did not have the hope that dialogue can lead to progress. We would not do it. So, we want to seriously discuss all the questions.”

He said nobody could know the result of such talks, but the direction from them had come from the WCC 11th Assembly.

“We had a clear statement from the council. And we have had some informal talks, of course… It’s not in vain to talk, and there can be movement in thinking about all these issues.”