Shortly after the 14th General Assembly of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), held recently in Indonesia´s capital Jakarta, WCC News had a brief chat with the newly elected general secretary of CCA, Dr Mathews George Chunakara.
“Our task ahead is to rediscover the real meaning of ecumenism in the Asian context and revitalize the ecumenical movement”, says Dr Mathews George Chunakara.
An experienced ecumenical worker and a seasoned advocate of ecumenism, he served as the director of WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs from 2009-2014, and WCC Asia secretary in Geneva from 2000 to 2009. He is determined to lead a well-established regional ecumenical organization with a clear focus and a set of strategic priorities. He feels the task will be supported with in the objectives of the mandates derived during the Assembly and by the newly approved CCA constitution.
The new general secretary raises a number of critical issues he feels are of utmost importance to deal with ecumenical responses to emerging situations in Asia’s ecclesial and geopolitical contexts.
First of all, he is reminded of the fact that the ecumenical movement belongs to God, which is also clearly was the vision of the founding fathers of the CCA back in 1957.
He says, “We must keep the ecumenical movement on track and always remain firmly rooted in our belief that this movement belongs to God and that we are all called to live together in the household of God.
Secondly, ecumenism must be shaped to address emerging challenges in Asian societies and we thus need to equip CCA members to do that, according to Mathews George Chunakara.
He envisions a more inclusive and comprehensive ecumenical fellowship in Asia which should be rooted, grown and flourished from grass-root level itself”. He believes in implementing contextually significant programmes as well as new initiatives with relevant theological undergirding as vital means to strengthen ecumenism in Asia.
“The revised constitution of CCA gives us a stronger mandate to set clear priorities for our programmes. We need to filter down from among a large number of initiatives to the most urgent and relevant ones. CCA must address the issue of being the church in a pluralistic Asia and demonstrate it is leadership in the context of wider ecumenism”, the new general secretary explains. Adding to the priorities, he includes unity and mission in a pluralistic context, prophetic witness and advocacy, ecumenical formation and leadership development These will be prime concerns and priorities for the CCA when it moves ahead with a vision for the future.
Nurturing a new generation of clergy and lay leaders as well as younger theological teachers who can be instrumental in promoting ecumenism in their congregations, churches and institutions as urgent needs, and the CCA will initiate and facilitate programmes to achieve this strategic goal in the post assembly period.
Dr Mathews George is also keen that Asian churches should clarify the criteria of articulating a relevant missiological concept in today’s Asian context. “The mission of the church is God´s mission and that should permeate at all levels when the whole inhabited world today faces unprecedented pressure. The old concept of mission meant for adding more believers and planting more churches on a denominational basis should not be the criteria of mission of the church today. It is time for the churches in Asia to rediscover the meaning of mission for all God’s people and find relevance of Jesus’ prayer ’that all may be one’”, he explains.
A major Asia mission conference sponsored by the CCA in 2017 is on his agenda. This will facilitate Asian churches to discuss this issue.
As the new general secretary, he visualizes s a revitalized, coherent, coordinated and viable Asian ecumenical movement in the future. And he remains convinced that ecumenical initiatives of all actors in Asia should be properly coordinated in order to avoid fragmentation of the Asian ecumenical movement and conciliar unity. He is also of the opinion that strengthening ecumenism at the grass-roots level plays a cardinal role in nurturing a genuine ecumenical ethos and spirit of the ecumenical movement, in Asia and elsewhere.
The next step towards a fresh agenda and concrete action plans with new priorities will be developed by the new Executive Committee of CCA in its meeting next October.
(Courtesy: WCC News)
The Armenian Genocide otherwise known as the Armenian Holocaust, the Armenian Massacres and, traditionally by Armenians, as Medz Yeghern (“Great Crime”), was the Ottoman government’s systematic extermination of its minority Armenian subjects inside their historic homeland. The total number of people killed as a result has been estimated at between 800,000 to 1.5 million. The starting date is conventionally held to be 24 April 1915, the day Ottoman authorities rounded up and arrested, subsequently executing, some 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople.
The centenary of the genocide was marked by a historic and unique event organized by the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Holy See of Cilicia, on 18 July 2015 at Beirut, Lebanon, to commemorate the martyrs of the Armenian genocide. Dr. Mathews George Chunakara represented CCA on this solemn and historic occasion. Please see the message delivered by him.
His Holiness Catholicos Aram I, ecclesiastical and ecumenical leaders from around the globe, distinguished guests and friends,
It is a great honor and privilege for me to participate in this historic and unique event of remembering the martyrs of the Armenian genocide organised by the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Holy See of Cilicia. I bring you greetings on behalf of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), which covers a vast geographical region, starting from Iran in West Asia to Japan in East Asia; from Nepal in the North of Asia to New Zealand in the South. In several of CCA’s member countries, the Armenian Diaspora has existed for several centuries, of course with their Christian faith and churches. This clearly shows that the presence of Armenians in various Asian countries has not been the result of their plight due to the Armenian genocide, but that they have been living in Asia for several centuries.
The presence of Armenians in Asian countries has been evident in several places in Asia, for example, in several major cities in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Afghanistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, and China. Some of the reminders of the centuries-old Armenian presence in Asia and the bygone era are still evident. There are even streets named after Armenia in certain Asian cities – Armenian street in Singapore, Madras and Kolkata in India; centuries-old historic Armenian church buildings in Madras, Kolkata, Dhaka, Rangoon, and Singapore. The best known Armenian institution in India is the Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy established in the 18th century in Kolkata. These are significant legacies by the Armenians in South and South East Asia. As we know, Armenians have a strong presence and roots especially in the West Asian countries. The participation of the Armenian Church in CCA is more actively taking place now through the Armenian Church in Iran, of the Holy See of Cilicia. Archbishop Sebouh Sarkissian, the primate of the Armenian Church in Iran is in the current leadership of CCA and has been serving as a valued member in the General Committee and Executive Committee of CCA. The relationship between the Holy See of Cilicia and CCA existed even before the Armenian churches from Iran or Australia became members of CCA. I remember the visit of His Holiness Catholicos Aram I to CCA headquarters in 1997 and also the subsequent visits of His Holiness to CCA member churches and councils in Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan.
As you know, the Asian Churches and the Asian ecumenical movement have been part of various expressions of the global ecumenical solidarity with the Armenian people all over the world. The most recent of such expressions was during the 14th General Assembly of CCA, which was held in Jakarta, Indonesia in May this year. The participants of the Assembly paid homage to the martyrs of the Armenian genocide and prayed for the departed souls during a session of the CCA Assembly. A statement on the Centenary of the Armenian genocide also was adopted by the Assembly.
As a representative of the CCA and the Asian ecumenical movement at this historic and unique event, I convey to you the message that Asian churches and the Asian ecumenical movement will continue to be in solidarity with all Armenians around the world who still bear the pain of the brutality experienced by their ancestors. As you continue your struggle for reclaiming justice, human rights and your lost dignity, we will accompany you in your ongoing struggle and continue to uphold you in our prayers.
May God Almighty’s divine blessings continue to be with all Armenians.
Mathews George Chunakara
General Secretary, CCA
“Peace be with you!”
This is the remarkable message of Easter.
It offered comfort and hope to Jesus’ disciples who were scared and overwhelmed by the death of Jesus. With Jesus killed and buried in the tomb, their sense of direction and purpose in life disappeared. They were left with a sense of failure, loss and confusion, not knowing what to do next. They huddled together in a room locking the door for their own security. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who proclaimed to the apostles the good news that ‘Jesus is risen’. They said that Jesus was not in the tomb and that two men in gleaming clothes told them not to search for the living among the dead, as He is risen.
“But the apostles did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”(Luke 24:11) After all they are only women, and women aren’t rational thinkers. Peter and another disciple ran to the tomb and saw the truth for themselves, but returned confused. Later that same evening as they were still talking of their fears and disillusions, the risen Christ appeared in their midst and greeted them saying “Peace be with you!”
Today, the frightening realities of the world we live in, create doubts, fears and disappointments in our minds. Easter reminds us that the risen Christ is present in our midst and greets us with his comforting message “Peace be with you.”
Yet one wonders how this can be possible? How can we experience peace, when we live in the midst of overwhelming life-threatening situations that create conflict and discord, poverty and despair in Asia and beyond? How can there be peace when a few people guided by their greed accumulate food and resources for themselves while the majority goes hungry; when many young people do not get proper access to education and suffer due to unemployment; when children are exploited and women continuously suffer the humiliation and pain of sexual harassment and the brutality of rapes; when natural disasters render many people homeless and families are on the run from conflict zones. It becomes hard to believe that there can be peace and harmony, when people living in pluralistic communities find it difficult to accept and respect differences in a diversity of religions, cultures and traditions; when people believe that war and violence is the only way to solve problems; when people live in the constant fear of terrorist attacks; indigenous people lose their right over land and are denied their livelihood; and all God’s creation cries out for freedom from such oppression and pain.
Our human understanding keeps telling us that there is no hope in such times of trials and tribulations. However, the risen Christ breathes on us, infusing in us a life force that enables us to envision a new direction and mission in our life, even when surrounded by strong signs of violence and death. He even sends us out to follow his steps: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21) With the gift of grace, Christ sends us out to proclaim love and forgiveness, so that all may live together in peace beyond social, cultural and religious differences. Our rich Asian cultures uphold the values of welcoming the stranger, of offering hospitality and generous sharing of food; and affirm a spirituality that reflects the teaching of the Gospel that God in His abundant grace has granted enough resources that can be enjoyed by all in a spirit of sharing.
As members of the Christian Conference of Asia, it is our earnest prayer that the Spirit of Christ will continue to help us to live as Easter people and enable us to commit ourselves to the theme of the 14th CCA General Assembly to be held in Jakarta in May 2015: “Living together in the household of God” in peace and harmony amidst Asian plurality.
May the living Christ, journey with us to Jakarta and beyond;
Wishing you a blessed Easter,
Henriette Hutabarat Lebang
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