World Council of Churches leader looks to assembly in Germany to mobilize action for climate justice

Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca, acting general secretary of the World Council of Churches. Photo: Ivars Kupcis/WCC

WCC-The World Council of Churches (WCC) is looking to its assembly at the end of August in Karlsruhe to raise up the issue of climate justice and underline the need to care for the creation, says the WCC’s acting general secretary, Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca.

If we don’t change our behaviour, in 50 years our planet will be uninhabitable,” said Sauca on 12 August in Geneva, where the WCC has its offices.

“We must act now,” he said.

More than 4,500 participants are expected at the WCC’s 11th Assembly, which opens in Karlsruhe on 31 August and runs until 8 September around the theme “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity.”

At the assembly, Sauca said, “leaders will be asked to act now to care for our common planet, the Earth.”

The first thematic plenary of the gathering will take place on 1 September, which is marked by churches worldwide as the Day of Creation, Sauca noted.

“The emphasis on creation will be very much highlighted in that first plenary,” said Sauca. “It is a theological issue. God’s plan in Christ was also the reconciliation and healing of the whole creation.”

Sauca said there would be messages in Karlsruhe from world Christian leaders including His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and His Holiness Pope Francis highlighting the importance of God’s creation.

He recalled how the WCC has long been at the forefront of efforts to place the issue of climate justice on the world’s agenda, playing a major role at the COP21 climate conference in Paris in 2015.

Climate pilgrims from around the world, including from Germany, converged on the French capital in 2015 to demand action for climate justice, and to show their support for the care for creation.

 “The WCC deals with creation not as a fashionable issue of our time, but as a basic element of its very identity,” said Sauca.

In advance of the COP26 climate conference in 2021 in Glasgow, Sauca joined with other religious leaders in Rome, where they called on world leaders to recognize the urgency of the crisis and to take action to preserve God’s creation.

The WCC is the only faith based-organization that has had a permanent presence in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process, Sauca noted, and it has been present at all the UN climate conferences since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

However, the WCC played a prominent role in highlighting dangers to the environment even before the Rio summit, said Sauca.

In 1974, the WCC organized a world conference on Science and Technology for Human Development that issued a call for a “sustainable and just society.” This was followed in 1979 by a WCC conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US at which warnings were heard about climate change due to the build-up of carbon dioxide.

Sauca said that holding the WCC assembly in Karlsruhe would highlight the efforts of German churches and people to demonstrate care for creation. This went back to the 1970s when the WCC’s commitment to the environment helped stimulate the ecological movement in churches in the German Democratic Republic, East Germany.

He praised a recent statement by German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock that the climate crisis “is now the biggest security problem facing everyone on earth.”

Sauca returned to Geneva on 8 August from what he described as a moving 6-day visit to Ukraine to show solidarity with the people there and to ensure that voices from Ukraine are present at the WCC assembly in Karlsruhe.

He said that the WCC team that visited Christians and churches in Ukraine were told they were the first high-level religious leaders who had visited the local parishes there.

“We went there with a mandate from our governing bodies to ensure that we have Ukrainian participation in Germany, to give the floor to Ukrainians to speak about themselves,” said Sauca.

The WCC’s main governing body, the central committee, had discussed in June a proposal to suspend the Russian Orthodox Church as a WCC member but came to the unanimous conclusion that the WCC should remain an open platform where churches meet and challenge on another.

The WCC brings people together, “not because they agree with one another, but because they disagree,” said Sauca.

“However, saying that does not mean that we agree with the war which was started on 24 February,” he continued. The WCC central committee described this action as an illegal and unjustifiable war inflicted on the people and sovereign state of Ukraine.

Speaking of the situation in the Israel and Palestine, Sauca said that the WCC does not take a one-sided approach.

The WCC has recognized the State of Israel since its establishment in 1948, affirmed UN guarantees for its existence, acknowledged Israel’s right to protect its people under international law, and supported assurances of the territorial integrity of Israel and all nations in the region.

The WCC has consistently called for an end to violence, denounced all forms of antisemitism, appealed for an end to the illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and promoted a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict there.

“And we hope,” said Sauca, “that one day these two peoples will come to cohabit together on the way to peace, reconciliation, to just peace.”

Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca was interviewed by Dr Stephen G. Browneditor of the WCC journal, The Ecumenical Review.

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