Holy See of Cilicia Delegation Brings Their Active Participation in World Council of Churches 11th General Assembly

From August 31 through September 8, 2022, thousands of faithful gathered in Karlsrue, Germany to take part in the World Council of Churches’ (WCC) 11th General Assembly. The WCC is the broadest organization of the worldwide ecumenical movement and a fellowship of more than 352 churches in over 120 countries representing over 580 million Christians worldwide whose overall goal is to achieve Christian Unity.

Participants traveled from across the globe to work together for unity, justice and peace anchored around the Assembly’s theme – “Christ’s Love Moves the World to Reconciliation and Unity.” Delegates were officially welcomed by the President of Germany who shared his welcoming remarks in person.

The Armenian Orthodox Church – Holy See of Cilicia delegation consisted of 12 individuals representing various regions throughout the world and was a mix of both clergy and laypersons. The Cilician delegation included His Eminence Archbishop Gomidas Ohanian from Latin America, His Eminence Archbishop Sebouh Sarkissian from Iran, His Eminence Archbishop Kegham Khatcherian from Greece, His Eminence Archbishop Nareg Alemezian from Lebanon, His Eminence Bishop Masis Zoboyan from Syria, the Holy See of Cilicia’s Director of Ecumenical Relations Very Reverend Father Hrant Tahanian from Canada, Professor Teny Pirri-Simonian from Swizerland, Dr. Nora Bayrakdarian from Lebanon, Mrs. Seta Hadeshian from Lebanon, Ms. Tamar Kanarian from the Eastern Prelacy of the United States, Ms. Araz Kojoyan from Lebanon, and Mrs. Vanna Kitsinian, Esq. from the Western Prelacy of the United States. In true spirit of His Holiness Aram I’s belief that women play an integral role in the life of the church, Cilicia’s delegation was an equal balance of both male and female representatives. Culminating over 15 years of ecumenical engagement on behalf of the Holy See, this Assembly was Mrs. Kitsinian’s third time serving as a delegate to the WCC’s General Assembly. She had previously attended the General Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2006 and Busan, South Korea in 2013.

Members of the Cilician delegation brought their active participation to all facets of the Assembly’s work, frequently delivering statements on the main stage addressing the thousands of participants gathered, on the plenary floor, and throughout ecumenical conversations in smaller concentration groups (both as moderator and participants), regional meetings, and various focus committees including the Program Guidelines Committee, Nominations Committee, Public Issues Committee, Message Committee, and Finance Committee. For example, Kitsinian participated in a regional meeting for North America where the most pressing issues for that particular geographic area were assessed, including racism, white privilege/supremacy, climate justice, poverty and wealth inequality, Christian Nationalism, polarization and division, and reconciliation with indigenous peoples. Similarly, each delegate participated in their own geographic area’s regional meetings, bringing forth and discussing issues most pertinent to their church and specific communities. Likewise, all delegates contributed to smaller groups called ecumenical conversations centered around different topics. Some of the main topics addressed throughout the nearly ten day Assembly included peacebuilding, international affairs, migration, disarmament, interfaith dialogue, social and economic justice, care for creation, gender justice, and of course mission, spirituality, ecumenical relations, and youth engagement.

Aside from the business meetings, the Holy See of Cilicia participated in the worship of the Assembly, as well as led an Orthodox evening prayer with the spirited voices of Archbishop Ohanian and Archbishop Khatcherian echoing through the sky. Sharing culture and faith, song and prayer is one major way delegates engage in the process of giving and receiving with people of diverse interpretations of Christianity.

Additionally, two members of the Cilician delegation, His Eminence Archbishop Nareg Alemezian and Very Reverend Father Hrant Tahanian, were elected to the Central Committee.
The Central Committee is the main decision making body of the WCC between assemblies and is elected by the Assembly from among its delegates. They are responsible for carrying out the polices adopted by the Assembly, reviewing and supervising WCC programs and managing the budget.

Most importantly for the Armenian church delegation as a whole, delegates of both the Holy See of Etchmiadzin and Holy See of Cilicia came together to jointly draft a Public Issues statement on the “Consequences of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War.” The document was unanimously approved by the Assembly after it was presented to the participants by Dr. Nora Bayrakdarian. The Public Issues Minute statement that was read expanded on the prior statement adopted by the WCC Executive Committee following the attack on Artsakh in 2020 which prayed for wisdom, unity and calm, and expressed grief with all those who had suffered terrible losses not only in the renewed fighting, but through the long history of the struggle for self-determination in the region. At that time, the WCC condemned the use of the chemical weapons and cluster munitions, the targeting of civilians, hospitals and public infrastructure, and all other war crimes, beheadings, torture and other atrocities witnessed during the conflict. The Minute statement generated at the Assembly appealed to the United Nations, European Union, and authorities of Azerbaijan for the immediate release of all Armenian civilian hostages and POW’s in accordance with international law, reiterated its concern for holy sites and Armenian cultural heritage in the region, urged UNESCO and all members of the international community to take all possible and appropriate measures to protect these sites, and called for the start of meaningful dialogue for a just and peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh region in their search for a just and sustainable peace.

Of course, ecumenical engagement is not a new reality for the Catholicosate of Cilicia. In fact, the Holy See of Cilicia has been actively involved in the worldwide ecumenical movement for the past several decades and specifically in the WCC since 1962. Catholicos Aram I served as moderator of the WCC for two consecutive terms from 1991 through 2005, providing a powerful voice to bring mutual understanding to people of different denominations of Christianity, as well as people of different religious faiths. Recognizing the invaluable lifelong experience and knowledge His Holiness brings to the ecumenical movement, particularly in these trying and pivotal times, the governing bodies of the WCC sought the return of His Holiness in a leadership capacity yet again. Accordingly, during the Assembly the participants unanimously elected His Holiness Aram I as President of the WCC to represent the Oriental Orthodox families. “The election of His Holiness as President deepens the more than half a century’s long commitment of the Holy See of Cilicia’s dedication to the ecumenical movement and further allows us to place our church’s and nation’s concerns on a worldwide stage,” stated Mrs. Kitsinian.

For the first time in a long time (due to world events and the pandemic), the 11th Assembly provided a safe space for serious engagement, reflection, prayer and encounters. The commitment to the search for unity and mutual understanding was ever present and will continue in the next eight years until the next General Assembly.

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