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Remarks by Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos
To Participants in the July 28-August 1 Conference
Thank you for your warm welcome. It is always good to be among brothers and sisters, especially in a setting that has gathered many people from many places. This shows the richness, diversity and breadth of our faith. It also opens the challenges faced by our communities to the creative powers of collaboration wrought by the Spirit for those who seek peace.
It is a great pleasure to be here with you, at this conference on Directions, Diagnostics and Prospects for Christianity in Latin America and the Caribbean. Today, in addition to my own greetings, I bring you the greetings of Rev. Robert Edgar, the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, who wants you to know that Christians in the United States, Christians in the NCCCUSA, are in solidarity with Christians in Latin America and the Caribbean, in their struggle for justice, and in their witness to the God who saves.
On a personal note, I am glad to be here for at least two reasons. One, I have family in Mexico, and so I have fond memories of Latin hospitality and culture. And two, this conference brings me to a continent with such a dynamic history of Christian Faith. With a nod to the contemporary period of that history, I had the pleasure of reading many of the works of Latin American liberation theologians during my doctoral studies at Fordham University, where I studied Jürgen Moltmanns political theology under the guidance of Avery Dulles. So, while I am Orthodox in my own faith tradition, it seems that Ive got my Catholic and Reformed traditions covered.
As all of you of course know, the story of Christianity in Latin America and the Caribbean has its share of glories and tensions. Missionaries, Medellin, liberationists, martyrs, saints: indeed, though historical revisionism causes us to turn a critical eye toward the narrative, all of these illustrations reveal the complexity of the story of Latin American and Caribbean Christianity.
And the story is not over. The demographics reveal the changing face of Christianity in this region. While the majority of Christians in Latin America has traditionally been, and continues to be, Catholic, with an annual rate of growth of 6% over the last 40 years, the number of Protestants throughout the region has gone from 1 million in 1960 to 50 million today, or 10% of the population. In Brazil alone, where the share is 20% and accounts for ½ of the continents Protestant population, by 2050, the number will more than 40 million. (Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, Oxford University Press, 2002).
These demographic changes will certainly impact how your Churches - individually and together - address the issues confronting your people. In fact, there are many important issues facing Latin America and the Caribbean. These issues are important, in and of themselves, and they are important for the NCCCUSA as it relates to the Christian communities here. Certainly these issues are important because they affect us as Christian brothers and sisters, community to community; they are also important because of the role the US has played in Latin American and Caribbean society over the years.
But perhaps the most significant reason they are important has to do with the numbers: Hispanics account for 12.5% of the US population, and comprise the largest minority group at 35 million; the money repatriated to relatives back home equals $39 million per day, and in total is 25% of all direct foreign investment in the region. These numbers alone show us that, while we may be divided by geography, we are not divided by culture, or family, or faith, or commitment to the common good of all.
What are these issues? Time permits me only to list some of them here: economics, free trade and globalization; poverty; US-Cuba relations; drugs; discovery of the truth about, and the need for reconciliation over, historic injustices; and changing immigration policies and eroding civil liberties in the US since September 11.
The NCCCUSA is committed to working with you to address these and other pertinent issues in as constructively and holistic way as possible. Building on the relationship and work done together in the past with the Cuban Council of Churches, the Latin American Council of Churches, and others, we will work with you, in a Christian ecumenical context or in an interfaith setting, to solve the problems that affect us all.
Indeed, this commitment is based on a policy statement adopted by the NCCCUSA four years ago, called "Pillars of Peace for the 21st Century." In this policy, there are 7 basic principles to guide such work: political accountability; economic accountability; legal accountability; liberation and empowerment; peace and conflict resolution; human dignity and rights; and preservation of the environment. I am sure these principles resonate with every person in this room today.
Even more recently, in the lead-up to the war in Iraq, which the NCCCUSA steadfastly opposed arm-in-arm with the majority of religious communities in the US - Christian and otherwise - Bob Edgar articulated what he calls a "peace-centered foreign policy." Its main points reflect the sense of the Christian faithful in the NCCCUSA with regard to global issues: international engagement; multi-lateral cooperation; collective security through arms control, deterrence, disarmament and international cooperation; dedication to our countrys best principles; and being proactive, not reactive, in our approach to others. We could certainly add to this a retraction of a pre-emptive strike policy, as in the case of Iraq, and a call for nonviolence, as in the case of the Middle East. While this policy is directed at the US government in its dealings with other countries, it also gives us the NCCCUSA a platform from which to work on critical issues around the world.
As you know, I am the Associate General Secretary for International Affairs and Peace at the National Council of Churches USA. In addition, we have with us a colleague whose portfolio is solely to work with Latin American and Caribbean communities. He is Rev. Fred Morris, the Director for Latin American and Caribbean Affairs, who is also here at this conference. Many of you probably already know Fred, but please do not hesitate to call upon him, or me, for collaboration.
Again, thank you for this warm welcome. I look forward to speaking with many of you while we are here in the beautiful city of Sao Paolo. And I wish you the very best for the success of this important conference.
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