Following the World Council of Churches’ General Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2006, Vanna Kitsinian, Esq., who participated in the assembly as a youth delegate from the Western Prelacy, was appointed by His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia, as a Commissioner for the Commission of Churches on International Affairs.
From September 11-13, 2007, joining thirty other church representatives and experienced professionals from around the world at the WCC headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, the Commissioners took part in a series of meetings in support of churches and various ecumenical bodies on urgent issues facing the world today.
The CCIA commissioners form an advisory committee whose responsibility is to make recommendations to the Central Committee, the highest governing body of the WCC, on a periodic basis for the next seven years concerning current perils throughout the world. Accordingly, the advisory commission is comprised of diplomats, politicians, attorneys, professors, theologians, and United Nations liaisons who have each been appointed by their church to provide their own professional expertise to assist in combating social, political, and economic challenges. Led by its moderator, The Rev. Kjell Magne Bondevik, former Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway, the CCIA represents a magnitude of experience and competence from different regions and Christian denominations.
As an advisory body, the CCIA faces a great challenge in dealing with a diverse body of topics under its mandate. These include, among others, churches engaged in nuclear arms control, justice and reconciliation at the International Criminal Court, advocacy for indigenous peoples at UN forums, human’security and the root causes of terrorism, international law and global governance, the churches’ encounters on wealth and poverty related to the impact of economic globalization, climate change, water as caring for creation, and HIV/AIDS initiative in Africa.
Migration is also a growing problem in many parts of the world. Therefore, the commissioners discussed their concern for the migration of people outside of their homelands and its relation to social justice. Migration, as was discussed, can take many forms, including trafficking and development-induced displacement, which threaten human dignity and raise questions about identity, racism, and inter-religious relations. A poignant statistic was delivered by a Romanian Commissioner who stated that there has been more than 1.5 million people who have migrated from Eastern to Western Europe, namely from Romania to Italy, in only the last ten years. Naturally, the consequences of migration at such a rate are devastating on families and the population at large- a situation the churches are left to remedy. Other commissioners addressed similar trends with respect to the migration of Christians out of the Middle East and how this changes the ecclesial landscape in the region.
The Middle East has always been a region of special interest for the WCC, as churches in the region have their roots in apostolic history. As a representative of a church headquartered and situated in the Middle East, the Catholicosate of Cilicia has a unique contribution to make to many core issues the CCIA deals with. Kitsinian explains, “The Catholicosate of Cilicia can make a significant difference in deepening the response of churches for a just peace in the Middle East, particularly with respect to the Israel/Palestine conflict and to inter-religious dialogue.” She adds, “The Holy See of Cilicia continues to be instrumental in finding solutions to not only the political challenges which they witness, but also the religious aspects of the conflict which they well understand.”
One main focus area during the next seven years will be the newly established Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel, which is a protection and advocacy initiative that places ecumenical accompaniers or helpers in and around Palestinian and Israeli communities. The purpose of this program is to expose the violence the occupation creates and to advance the application of humanitarian and international law in the face of human rights violations. The CCIA commissioners will advise the program directors of this initiative on how best to prevent further crisis in the area and how to deal with the various consequences of this conflict. In close relation, the CCIA will recommend to the WCC on how to stand alongside the churches in their quest for solidarity in the Middle East as they strive to be witnesses of peace. Further, the CCIA will also work to advance inter-religious trust and respect and to promote Christian/Muslim dialogue. Similarly, the CCIA commissioners will strive to analyze trends in the region to support various programs that foster religious freedom and combat violence and genocide.
The Armenian Church is in an exceptional position with respect to addressing issues related to genocide. This was one of the topics dealt with by the CCIA Commissioners at the meeting in Geneva, especially in light of the ongoing genocide occurring in Darfur and other areas of the world in the recent past. Upon being informed that the WCC Executive Committee would convene their next meeting in Armenia in September, 2007 and would reaffirm recognition of the Armenian Genocide, Armenian Church representatives, including Kitsinian recommended to Former Prime Minister Bondevik that the Executive Committee make a symbolic visit to the Genocide Memorial as a sign of solidarity with the Armenian people. In addition, Kitsinian proposed that Executive Committee officials further voice the WCC’s longstanding support for Armenian Genocide recognition by speaking out to the media to encourage genocide recognition by other groups and governmen’s. These recommendations were well received by the WCC governing bodies, and were followed by the Executive Committee while in Armenia.
The WCC has in the past consistently advocated for international recognition of the 1.5 million who perished during the Armenian Genocide and the additional million who were deported from their homeland from 1915-1917. The most recent occasion was in February, 2005, when the WCC Central Committee, under the tenure of His Holiness Aram I, recommended to the Council members churches to commemorate within their own local churches the 90th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in April of that year.
Kitsinian explains, “It is of great importance that we take our role as CCIA Commissioners with a high level of responsibility because we have the ability to impact policy and decision making processes on an international level.” In this respect, due to a heightened awareness on an international level of the Armenian Genocide by various organizations and governmen’s, the WCC saw it fitting to reaffirm its position on this serious human rights issue.
Kitsinian’s designation as a commissioner further strengthens the Catholicosate of Cilicia’s active participation in the WCC, which has been continuous since the early 1960’s. In nearly the last two decades, the Catholicosate of Cilicia has forged a leading role in the life and work of the WCC, as His Holiness Aram I served as the organization’s moderator for two unprecedented terms from 1991-1998 and 1998-2006.
The recommendations of the CCIA commissioners will be presented to the Central Committee in the next several months. Upon ratification and approval, the suggestions of the commissioners will be part of the official position of the WCC and its member churches on the issues discussed during the meeting. The CCIA commissioners are expected to reconvene for their next meeting in March, 2009, but will in the meantime monitor various international and political issues as they arise.
The Commission of Churches on International Affairs was created in 1946 by the International ionary Council and the Provisional Committee of the World Council of Churches as a specialized body to serve other international organizations as a source of information and guidance in their pursuit to address international problems. For further information, go to http://www.wcc-coe.org/wcc/what/international/index-e.html