As the bells of Karlsruhe, Germany rang out across the city, thousands of Christians gathered on Wednesday, 31 August in the prayer tent at the heart of the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC). Representatives from each of the eight geographical regions in which the WCC is active brought gifts and concerns reflecting their own cultural and historical contexts. The international congregation prayed in thanksgiving to God, adding their expectation for the coming nine days of the Assembly, “We share the hope of meeting each other in the warm embrace of Christ’s love that moves us to reconciliation and unity.”
31 August 2022, Karlsruhe, Germany: Pacific Islander dancers help lead opening prayer at the World Council of Churches' 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany. The assembly takes place August 31 to September 8 under the theme "Christ's Love Moves the World to Reconciliation and Unity." Photo: Mike DuBose/WCC
31 August 2022
Solemn observance was interpreted through colour, movement, words, sights and sound drawn from the breadth of the global Christian movement. Ancient liturgical chants, hymns, traditional dance and modern song stirred believers.
The opening prayers noted the contemporary setting of this assembly, lamenting, “We share the burden and the pain of this time of the Covid pandemic. We share the burden and the pain of armed conflicts and their consequences in deaths, destruction and forced migration. We share the burden and the pain of the pre-existing plagues of injustice, structural poverty, violence and a creation that suffers. We bring to you the memory of the victims of all these pandemics.”
The day’s preacher was Patriarch John X of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch (in Syria) and all the East. He spoke in Arabic, with translations available in other languages. The patriarch’s homily was based on Jesus’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, a narrative in the fourth chapter of John’s gospel. Despite wide gaps of religious belief, gender, culture and lifestyle, Jesus took the woman seriously and spoke to her on a personal level. She was joyfully inspired by the encounter.
31 August 2022, Karlsruhe, Germany: The Rev. Dr. Ioan Sauca (right) introduces John X, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, who gave the homily during the opening prayer service at the World Council of Churches' 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany. The assembly takes place August 31 to September 8 under the theme "Christ's Love Moves the World to Reconciliation and Unity." Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC
The patriarch encouraged a similar overcoming of boundaries. He called on his listeners and their churches and nations “to choose to pass through the suffering Middle East, as Christ chose to pass through Samaria. Pass and look at Christ’s beloved ones there, as he looked at the Samaritans, without disregarding those who differ from you, without excluding the people of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the Holy Land of Palestine, especially because their ancestors served the gospel of reconciliation and spread it to all nations.”
Among specific conditions in Syria and neighbouring countries cited by the patriarch, he called on members of the WCC Assembly to “raise your voice against the exclusion of the people of the Middle East, and against depriving them of food, medicine, heating and medical treatment, and against sanctions and economic blockades on the pretext of political disagreements. Object to banning Christians and their prayers and hymns, descending from Christ’s eternity, from the land that Christ trod and upon which the apostles worked. Raise your voice and make an appeal for the divulgence of the fate of the Metropolitans of Aleppo, Paul and Youhanna, whose case has gone unnoticed by the international community for more than nine years.”
When people are marginalized and forgotten, the patriarch concluded, hope for reconciliation fades. But “whenever there is genuine empathy and interest in a situation, actions of support become serious in their application and persist until they accomplish their objective. The Christians of Antioch are deserving of protection from exclusion, discrimination, starvation, oppression, torment and death.”
Following the homily, refugee resettlement volunteer Ann Jacobs of the United Methodist Church in the USA prayed: “May our love be a balm, healing wounds and tending to places of hurt. May our love be radical, proximate to the margins prioritizing people over profit. May we, in our love, offer Christ to one another, overflowing with peace and reconciliation. May it be so. Amen”