Message of reconciliation, truth and justice highlighted at German protestant gathering
Reconciliation was once primarily seen as a message of the church but is now used by secular leaders trying to establish peace in communities torn by conflict and war, the World Council of Churches’ (WCC) president for Africa, the Rev. Mary Anne Plaatjies van Huffel, has said at a major Protestant gathering in Germany.
“To pursue punitive justice exclusively will not result in reconciliation,” said South African theologian Plaatjies van Huffel in a bible study during the 24-28 May German Protestant Kirchentag, or “church festival,” in Berlin. “Reconciliation has also to do with the uncovering of the truth and forgiveness.”
Referring to South Africa’s post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Plaatjies van Huffel said both victims and perpetrators revisited the divided past together and shared in collective feelings of hurt and shame.
“The premise of the truth and reconciliation process was that reconciliation is needed, not only at an individual level, nor only between individuals, but also within and between communities and the nation as a whole,” she noted.
“The road to reconciliation requires more than forgiveness and respectful remembrance. Forgiveness is not about forgetting, but rather means remembering the past in a way that makes a different kind of future possible for both victim and the wrongdoer,” said Plaatjies van Huffel, the first woman to be ordained as a pastor within the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa.
Organised every two years in a different German city, the Kirchentag this year has gathered more than 100,000 participants of all ages in Berlin.
Other bible studies were offered by WCC general secretary the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit; Agnes Abuom, moderator of the WCC Central Committee; and Central Committee members Bishop Samuel Azariah of the Church of Pakistan, and Audeh Quawas, belonging to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and from Amman in Jordan.
“For us at the World Council of Churches, the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace has become the key through which the fellowship of churches seeks to make its mission resonate in the face of the challenges of our time,” said Tveit in his bible study.
Referring to the biblical account of the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus, a repentant tax collector in Jericho (Luke 19:1-10), Tveit noted that Zacchaeus found peace in joyfully welcoming but he was also ready to make up for the injustice of the past by rendering justice.
“Our call as followers of Christ is to proclaim the message of justice in order that our world will experience true and lasting peace. And this is the core message of the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace,” he continued.
The story, said Tveit, “can open not only minds and hearts, but open the walls that are erected to divide people of today, walls of suspicion, of hatred, of sin.”
“This story brings hope to us, wherever we are in our closed minds and closed behaviour. The story can also bring hope to those who are living in Jericho and near Jericho today, who are divided by occupation and oppression and violence,” said the WCC general secretary.
In his bible study, Quawas noted that Zacchaeus would have been considered by his townspeople as a collaborator with the Roman occupiers of the time.
Jesus, however, showed unexpected grace and love towards Zacchaeus, and in so doing brought the anger of the townspeople upon himself. Grace is unexpected, “because Zacchaeus didn’t earn it,” said Quawas. “Grace is free, but not cheap. And its nature is love.”