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WCC consults on humanitarian aid for Ukraine

27 March 2015


Rallying: President Putin speaks to crowds gathered in central Mosow on the first anniversay of the annexation of the inter­nation­­ally recognised Ukrainian territory of Crimea by the Russian Federation

Rallying: President Putin speaks to crowds gathered in central Mosow on the first anniversay of the annexation of the inter­nation­­ally recognised ...

THE World Council of Churches (WCC) is to consult its members about how to provide "a more adequate humanitarian response to the human suffering resulting from the conflict" in Ukraine.

The call came from a high-level delegation of church leaders who visited Ukraine last week with the General Secretary of the WCC, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit. The delegation included the President of the Conference of European Churches (CEC), the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, former Bishop of Guildford.

The delegation went close to the front line in the Luhansk region, near the city of Lisichansk, "to witness for themselves the de-struction and disruption resulting from the crisis", they said in a communiqué. They met with church leaders, state officials, and refugees.

"From the beginning of the crisis, the WCC has been especially concerned for the lives and livelihoods of all people affected," they said in their communiqué. Their series of meetings, and their hearing about the "central role being played by churches in providing humanitarian aid" had "underlined the critical situation for the people and communities most directly affected, the urgent need to increase humanitarian assistance to them, and the necessity of resolving this conflict in order to prevent even worse human suffering."

They said that they were "convinced of the potential of the churches and faith communities of Ukraine to play a leading role in transcending the competing nationalisms that pre-dispose towards conflict, in addressing the social, economic, and humanitarian needs that have been compounded by the fighting, and in promoting unity and reconciliation among all people of Ukraine."

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) could be "a bridge over the opposing political divisions throughout the territory of the Ukraine," Bishop Hill told the Church Times. "It is the only major Church which spans that divide."

Bishop Hill also said that the ecumenical and interfaith body the All Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organisations (AUCCRO) had "remained impressively united in spite of all the difficulties facing Ukraine.

"Christians are people of reconciliation. In the UOC and in the AUCCRO we saw seeds of hope which the ecumenical movement, through the WCC and CEC, will do all we can to nurture."

But on Sunday, the head of the Patriarchate of the independent Ukraine Orthodox Church (Kiev), Patriarch Filaret, took a different tone when he defended the right to kill in self-defence. In a sermon delivered at St Vladimir's Cathedral, in Kiev, he said: "How should we behave? Do we have the right to protect our land? Or, as some say church leaders say, must we keep the peace?

"Yes, we are for peace, for Christ has brought peace to the earth. But Christ brought to earth a just peace, not slavery. We do not want to live in peace with captivity. We want to live in peace with freedom. We have the divine right to defend the truth . . . our land and a just peace."

Meanwhile, the director-general for democracy at the Council of Europe, Snežana Samardžić-Marković, responded to a catalogue of human-rights abuses and attacks on churches, prepared by Metropolitan Mitro of Luhansk and Alchevsk in the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, by saying that "the Council of Europe will make every effort to ensure the rights of all citizens enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, regardless of their religious, political or other affiliation."

A survey by the Ukrainian polling company Research & Branding showed that the Church is the most trusted organisation in Ukraine: 62 per cent of respondents said that they trusted the Church, compared with 24 per cent who said that they did not. The army generates a 57 per cent trust-rating, as do civic and voluntary organisations.

In contrast, political parties are trusted by only eight per cent of respondents.

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