2/8/2001 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York
NOTE: This may be used as a sidebar to UMNS story #063.
By United Methodist News Service
An all-night vigil to remember child victims of violence preceded a Feb. 4 public kickoff in Berlin of the World Council of Churches' (WCC) Decade to Overcome Violence. The vigil was planned by German churches.
For Jan Love, a United Methodist laywoman serving as the decade's chairwoman, the launch highlight was testimony delivered during an ecumenical worship service in Kaiser Wilhem Memorial Church, which was mostly destroyed by Allied bombs during World War II and then rebuilt.
A man from Rwanda talked about a childhood friend approaching him during the genocide there and telling him that he had to kill the man's father or be killed himself. After the father was killed, the speaker never attempted to reconcile with the friend, who later committed suicide. He wondered, during the service, what he could have done to at least prevent the suicide.
A mother from Croatia who spends a great deal of time doing conflict resolution, both as a middle-school teacher and peace educator, described how stress caused her to yell at her own children. A woman from Canada discussed the historic sins of the churches there in dealing with aboriginal people.
At the service's conclusion, each participant received a cross made from spent bullets or rocket shells by George Togba of Liberia. Togba, who had joined rebel forces during Liberia's civil war to save his family, is now a Christian peace activist.
Conceived at the 1988 WCC's eighth assembly in Zimbabwe, the Decade to Overcome Violence, known as DOV, is a response to a call for peace for future generations. A message issued by the WCC for the launch noted the hope for the new century: "We come together from the four corners of the earth aware of the urgent need to overcome violence that pervades our lives, our communities, our world and the whole created order. We launch this decade in response to a deep yearning among our peoples to build lasting peace grounded in justice."
The decade coincides with a United Nations proclamation of 2001-2010 as the "International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World."
After an afternoon program of music, dance, speeches and interviews at Berlin's House of World Cultures, the entire WCC Central Committee, along with several hundred local citizens, participated in a candlelight march through the snow to the Brandenburg Gate, site of the former Berlin Wall. The group continued through the gate "and stood in the place where people had died trying to reach freedom," Love said.
Briefly addressing the crowd, the Rev. Konrad Raiser, the WCC's chief executive, paid homage to martyred peacemakers, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who would have been 95 years old on the day of the launch.
Beate Kraus, a United Methodist seminary student from Germany and central committee member, said the candlelight procession took her back to November of 1989. "I experienced those days of peaceful revolution as a 17-year-old youth in the former German Democratic Republic," she recalled. "This experience, that a violent structure can be removed by prayer, candles and nonviolent resistance, influenced my life in a deep way.
"So, I hope, the DOV will become successful by God's grace, our prayer and our actions," she added.
Exactly how the decade will be carried out depends upon the involvement and initiatives of the churches, but Love said she is excited about the opportunities for creative approaches to ending violence.
During Lent this year, U.S. member churches are inviting all Christians to participate in a "Lenten Fast From Violence." As part of the fast, they are asked to refrain from violence, including ways in which violence is indirectly consumed or supported; donate to efforts that address the causes and consequences of violence and that support peace and reconciliation; and pray daily the prayer of St. Francis, "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace."
Besides the international launch in Berlin, regional events are planned in Africa, Europe, Latin America, North America and the Pacific. The North American event will take place during the April 23-24 annual meeting of the WCC's U.S. Conference.
More information on DOV can be found at the WCC's Web site, www.wcc-coe.org.