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INTERNATIONAL CHURCH LEADERS, NCC
"Its not our responsibility to come give lectures, its to hold your hand, to weep with you, and together to ask questions, many difficult or impossible to answer," said South African Methodist Bishop Mvume Dandala, who led the delegation sent by the World Council of Churches.
Since arriving in the United States Nov. 8, the delegation has met with religious and civic leaders in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City, where they visited "Ground Zero" and met with local pastors. The NCC General Assembly is their last stop before leaving for home on Nov. 14.
Besides Bishop Dandala, the WCC delegation includes church leaders from Pakistan, Indonesia, South Africa, Palestine, Russia, France and Lebanon.
"Most of us come from wounded contexts," Bishop Dandala said, addressing the opening plenary of the NCCs Nov. 13-15 General Assembly. "We come, not because we are whole and healthy, but to share with you in your woundedness precisely because we ourselves are a wounded people. We pray and hope that as we share with you from our woundedness you will be able to find hope that you yourselves will come through."
Bishop Dandala commented on the breadth of emotions and questions expressed during the groups encounters with Americans. "We did not realize the extent of the questions being asked in this country," he said. "All we knew was what CNN had told us, that all Americans are prepared for war and theres no other way."
The group heard words of anger, hurt, pain, deep sadness and a desire to find a way forward, he said. Some told them, "Please give us space to grieve, please dont lecture to us, we are not ready for that." Others said, "What we fear most is that because we hate feeling vulnerable, we wont take time to own up to our pain but just want to show how macho we are." Many expressed grief for innocent lives lost both in the Sept. 11 attacks and the bombing of Afghanistan.
Bishop Dandala continued, "Some said, We are confused. How could some people hate us like this? Others said, Theres an emerging consciousness in our nation that maybe there are things done by our institutions in our name that we know nothing about. Isnt it time we find out?" A pastor ministering at Ground Zero said, "I saw not just the members of my congregation who were weeping, but the needs of the whole world."
"We go home more convinced than ever of the importance of the church to be in the forefront of the struggle to eliminate terrorism and violence," Bishop Dandala said, making reference to the WCCs 2000-2010 Decade to Overcome Violence. "Violence must be rejected. Terrorism in whatever form or guise must be rejected."
Each of the WCC delegation members brought a brief message to the NCC General Assembly out of their own particular contexts. Church of Pakistan Bishop Samuel Azariah reminded his audience that the U.S. government had supported the Taliban in the 1970s, and called for rebuilding of infrastructure in Central Asia and especially in Afghanistan as key to long-term peace.
Mrs. Jean Zaru, Presiding Clerk of the Religious Society of Friends, Ramalah, Palestine, shared the "profound grief of the people of Palestine for the events of Sept. 11 and said, "Our pain and grief is profound, but we can memorialize the victims of New York, Washington and the Middle East by trying to work for peace and justice."
The international guests then joined NCC General Assembly delegates in small group discussion around questions including, "How do we feel? What do we need? What are we doing to cope? What are the implications of Sept. 11 for our denominational and ecumenical work?"
Also on Tuesday . . .
The NCC Executive Board, meeting Tuesday morning:
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