|World Council of Churches (WCC) acting general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca offers reflections upon receiving the Bridge Builder Award for building bridges of understanding between people, nations, and communities at national and international levels. The award is presented by the Jury of the 14th August Committee Norway together with The Oslo Center.|
What have you personally learned from peace meetings throughout the world and what would you like to share with us?
Dr Sauca: The absolutely central importance of dialogue, cooperation and building personal relationships. Though Christ’s peace is for all, peace must especially be built between enemies. The first step to peace can only be taken when enemies are prepared to set aside the grievances, suffering and losses that have accumulated before and during conflict, in order to meet and talk. Further, a sustainable peace cannot be imposed by force or other coercive measures. At best, such measures may create a pause in active conflict, but they cannot create peace; indeed, they may in some circumstances make a durable peace harder to achieve.
How do you feel we can put a stop to the growing intolerance and discrimination against different religions? What can all of us do to contribute in a positive manner?
Dr Sauca: The alarming rise of intolerance and discrimination against different religions today needs a shift in mindset from hostility to hospitality. In global contexts, where religions are often accused of inciting violence, the journey from hostility to hospitality can be a difficult one. It is a journey that requires courage and commitment from faith leaders to move beyond hate to hope. From the globalization of hostility we need to move to the globalization of solidarity. The need of the hour is interreligious solidarity—or what is commonly called “dialogue of the hands.” Interreligious solidarity through the cultivation of compassion can be an effective vaccine against the current pandemics of intolerance and discrimination. It is through the dia-praxis of interreligious solidarity that we can build dialogue into creative and compassionate action for the healing of the world.
How do you think we can build more bridges that will contribute to peace in the world? What roles can religious leaders play?
Dr Sauca: Religious identity is one of the key human characteristics around which conflict has arisen or been promoted. There are too many historic and current examples where religious differences have been the basis for discrimination, persecution and attack, and have been exploited for the purpose of promoting division and conflict. However, in general, religions share a recognition of the value of all human life, which finds its origins in God, our common creator. Though as human beings and communities we all suffer from the propensity to define ourselves in contradistinction to others – especially when we feel threatened by those others – religious leaders have a special responsibility to recall and promote the more fundamental and universal values that derive from our faiths. Those values, in principle, transcend political and other boundaries between people, and – especially through interreligious dialogue and cooperation – must be used to promote recognition of the equal human dignity of the “other“ and to provide a foundation for peaceful living together rather than enmity and conflict.
You and the WCC are a role model and inspiration for many. Can you share some of the secrets of WCC’s success?
Dr Sauca: It is impossible to speak of “success” in a world in which conflict, wilful destruction, division and discrimination are so prevalent, and seem in fact in many respects to be increasing. Looking around the world, in all the contexts in which we work and pray for justice, peace and care for God’s creation, it is hard to see anything but human failure to reflect the values to which we subscribe and to rise adequately to the challenges in front of us as a human community. And yet despite these divisions and failures, the fact that so many member churches from so many traditions, cultures and contexts come together in the ecumenical fellowship of the WCC is itself a sign of hope, and a basis on which to build. And ultimately, we know as Christians that despite the inevitable shortcomings of our own efforts, we are followers of a far greater power than our own, who is the source of our hope and inspiration. And so we continue the struggle.
For us dialogue is not just an intellectual engagement. It combines the intellectual, the spiritual and the collaborative dimensions. In other words, it is an engagement of the head, the heart and the hands. Over the years we have learnt to cultivate not just the spirit of mutual accompaniment with our interreligious partners, where we journey alongside them in the pilgrimage of justice and peace. Rather we have also combined this with the spirit of mutual accountability, where we challenge each other in a spirit of honesty and humility. It is this investment in mutual accompaniment and mutual accountability, that has ensured that our work remains timely and transformative.
What will you be emphasizing in your award ceremony speech?
Dr Sauca: The WCC is a worldwide fellowship of churches with the capacity, through its members, to mobilize more than half a billion Christians in every community around the world for the pursuit of justice, peace and more equitable societies. The WCC brings together Christians, those of other religious faiths and nonreligious communities, to call on governments to be accountable to those who are suffering and are excluded from the benefits of a peaceful and just world.