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Archbishop of Canterbury reflects on the "pilgrimage of justice and peace"

Posted on: September 15, 2014 4:46 PM
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby preaching at the Anglican Holy Trinity Church in São Paulo
Photo Credit: WCC/Marcelo Schneider
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[WCC] Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby generously granted an interview on the subject of “the pilgrimage of justice and peace” last week in São Paulo, Brazil. His visit to Brazil was part of a personal journey that has taken Welby to 31 Anglican provinces around the world since his enthronement as archbishop in March 2013.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is primate of the Church of England, a founding member church of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

The concept “pilgrimage of justice and peace” is found in a call to Christians and others of good will from the 10th Assembly of the WCC, an event in the Republic of Korea addressed by Welby in November 2013.

By Marcelo Schneider (*)

Archbishop Welby on the pilgrimage of justice and peace

This pilgrimage comes with encouragements and challenges.

The more I travel, I observe that the world is less capable of dealing with the diversity. Rather than embracing the “other” who is different, it seems we grab each other by the throat. Over the past years there has been conflict at a number of levels, including violent conflicts. In places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, I have heard the horrible stories of killings, rape and torture of women and children.

Another aspect of conflict is the conflict over the environment. While I was in the Solomon Islands, I observed that the problem is not simple. This nation has experienced a war recently and is struggling with reconciliation. The overwhelming issue there is rising sea levels. Whether we let countries submerge in water or bomb them, both actions count as injustice.

Injustice and lack of peace go together. Therefore peace includes justice.

In this pilgrimage, there are encouragements in the life of the church. Yes, there are divisions, but we see that the Spirit of God is at work in moving people into a deep commitment to justice and peace. Let me give you some examples. The church leaders in South Sudan, rather than taking sides in the war, are calling for reconciliation at great personal risk. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the African Great Lakes Initiative, led by church leaders particularly from Catholic, Anglican, Protestant and Pentecostal traditions, is generating the first signs of hope amidst the conflict, not just in the Congo, but also in Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda.

I will soon meet with leaders from the mining industry to discuss the meaning of operating well in the extraction industry. The initiative comes from Christians in the mining industry.

Spirit of God at work

The Spirit of God is at work overcoming denominational differences to address the issue of human trafficking and slavery. The dialogue between Pope Francis and me on this particular subject has been positive. He is a man with humour and a depth of spiritual life which is challenging and wonderful. We spoke about an initiative between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion on human trafficking and human slavery. The project is supported by an Australian source deeply committed to end human trafficking and slavery.

This is for the first time since the Reformation that we have a major joint global project to challenge human trafficking and slavery, together with the NGOs, charities and churches that have been working on these issues for many years. This is a massive challenge.

The Anglican Communion has a global network for a campaign against domestic violence and gender-based violence, particularly in conflict situations. This summer in England, there was a conference organized by the British government against gender-based violence. Cardinal Nichols, the Cardinal Archbishop in England, and I addressed this issue.

I really want to say that a global church that seeks afresh the presence of Jesus Christ will find itself centred by the Spirit in a pilgrimage of justice and peace and will change the world.

Fundamentalism, and relationships between Christianity and Islam

Fundamentalism is more of a sociological issue than merely a religious one. It can exist in any religion. Fundamentalism, in the sense we use it today, is usually a response from a group of people who find it difficult to cope with change in the society around them. So they try to create a place in which there is no change, in which they are safe. On exclusion from the society, fundamentalists end up very quickly opposed to the mainstream of society. So fundamentalism is a general characteristic that we find throughout history.

Following my meeting with the Christian leaders from the Middle East in England, we describe the trauma faced by people in Iraq and Syria as worse as anything that has hit the Christian community in the region since the invasion of Genghis Khan in 1259.

So how should we respond to that?

We have seen a number of young Muslims in Europe, the United States and the United Kingdom who find a purpose in life by being involved in Jihad. This understanding of Jihad which implies violence is rejected by the vast majority of Muslims. The only way we can address this issue is not to simplify but to take into consideration all aspects. This issue must be addressed in a way that brings together all religious traditions that value a nonviolent approach to dealing with conflict.

The question that was raised with Pope Francis was how we should respond immediately to these issues. And he said he was not calling for bombing, nor am I, but we do need to look at all possible means of creating a safe haven for Christians in that region. That may involve soldiers and intelligence operations. The governments need to decide how that is done. But one of the things that changed my mind came after a meeting with leaders in the Middle East who said, “we don’t want asylum. We want to be in the area in which we lived for 2000 years.”

Finally, relations with Islam are complicated because there is this particular, very small minority, who are incredibly dangerous. But on the 3rd of September there was a meeting outside Westminster Abbey with Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders in a vigil for peace in Iraq and Syria.

One danger is to simplify what is an incredibly complicated problem. The other danger is to think that we can deal with this quickly. It’s going to take years of building relationships, of dealing with social and economic problems, but, above all, of enabling young people to tackle issues of materialism in society so that they realize a spiritual purpose in which they can serve God faithfully within the great tradition of an internal Jihad for peace and justice in our lives.

(*) Dr Marcelo Schneider works as WCC communication liaison for Latin America and is based in Brazil.

Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace

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