Liju Cherian – Chief Editor – OCP News Service – 13/7/2020
Geneva-Switzerland- Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca, was appointed Interim General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) from April 1, 2020. WCC, an ecumenical fellowship of Churches founded in 1948, brings together 350 member churches from all over the world.
Excerpts from an exclusive email interview with the new General Secretary for OCP News Service. In the interview, Sauca affirms that COVID-19 reminded us that the search for Christian unity cannot be separated from the search for the unity of humanity.
What are your first impressions on being chosen as the interim head of World Council of Churches (WCC)?
Dr Sauca: I feel both honoured and humbled by such a great responsibility.
What is your plan of vision as you lead the WCC until the Central Committee meets in June 2021?
Dr Sauca: I will do my best to ensure, until the election of a new general secretary, that our ecumenical boat advances through the challenging waves of our present times and that we continue preparing for a good assembly which will give direction to the future ecumenical movement.
The implications of COVID-19 have been felt worldwide. In this regard, how will WCC plan to take up the issue among the community of churches? Will you plan to bring about an austerity drive or any changes in tune with the pandemic?
Dr Sauca: From the beginning of the pandemic, the leadership of the Central Committee guided our response. You have seen the pastoral letters from the moderator of the Central Committee encouraging the churches to implement the measures needed to protect lives, especially for the most vulnerable.
During all this period, the WCC online publications have been resourcing the fellowship with prayers, reliable information, new publications and webinars.
Already in February, we established a COVID Support Team to help churches address the pandemic and the related issues of health and healing; sexual and gender-based violence; diakonal service; the needs of children and young people; and the joy of our common faith in the resurrected Christ.
Together with regional ecumenical organizations, we issued a statement encouraging churches “to adapt our modes of worship and fellowship to the needs of this time of pandemic infection, in order to avoid the risk of becoming sources of viral transmission rather than means of grace.”
In preparation for Holy Week, the WCC assisted the World Health Organization (WHO) in establishing “Practical considerations and recommendations for religious leaders and faith-based communities in the context of COVID-19.” We implemented a ‘Thursdays in Black ambassadors’ campaign to address the increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence and vulnerability of children.
The pandemic reminds us that church leaders have a critical role to play in their communities and in society in helping people understand why change is needed and how, as people of faith, we can adapt.
Will you follow in the footsteps of your predecessor Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit? Will concepts like the Green Village be speeded up and what efforts will be done to boost sustainability issues?
Dr Sauca: This is decided by the Central Committee and I will continue the work initiated many years ago. The Green Village will provide six new buildings in the municipality of Le Grand-Saconnex, arranged around the Ecumenical Centre, WCC’s historic listed building.
The development includes administrative buildings, designed for international organisations and service-sector firms.
A hotel and a residential building are also planned. Enjoying a world-class location, Green Village will be set in a landscaped park at the heart of Geneva’s international district.
Each Green Village building will symbolically bear the name of a key international treaty in sustainable development: Kyoto, Montreal, Rio, Lima, Durban and Stockholm.
The first construction phase, with the Kyoto building (administrative) and the Montreal development (residential), should be completed by the end of 2022 or the start of 2023. https://green-village.ch/
As the director at Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, you had a long tenure of over two decades. What was the single most achievement at the Institute?
Dr Sauca: The WCC’s Ecumenical Institute was inaugurated in 1946 at the scenic Château de Bossey, on Lake Geneva. It draws students from churches within and outside the WCC and enables direct contact with people of different faiths each year.
Bossey is indeed a place which transforms lives. Our alumni are today all over the world and hold important key positions in their churches, universities, societies. Bossey has become a brand, a success story in the ecumenical movement, a place of unique relevance among other institutions in the world.
Among other achievements during these two decades, I was glad to see the institute developing and getting the recognition of its uniqueness, internationally and its courses accredited academically by the University of Geneva. The churches responded by helping us consolidate a strong scholarship fund, a solid faculty with seven highly qualified staff, most of them seconded. The number of applications to study at Bosseyhas increased considerably as they come from all over the world.
Will the “work-from-home” concept help WCC towards covering its programme areas or target areas? What changes do you foresee on the inter-religious dialogue front or in relations with other faiths?
Dr Sauca: Since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak we have seen a huge increase in the number of people following and engaging with the WCC through various channels.
The daily prayer seems to be particularly appreciated because people seek comfort and peace at this difficult time.
The WCC main website www.oikoumene.org has experienced a significant increase in its overall attendance in the first 6 months of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019: 43 per cent more users and 38 per cent more visits.
The WCC is a Christian fellowship, bound together on the confession that Jesus Christ is God and Saviour according to the Scriptures, to the glory of the One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is our very identity, our raison d’etre. On the basis of this affirmation, we look forward to our common call to unity and to serve the world and God’s creation, in dialogue and cooperation with all people of goodwill, without a difference.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences reminded us that the search for Christian unity cannot be separated from the search for the unity of humanity. We belong to one another, we are all one family, all God’s children. The new virus hit humanity beyond all borders that may differentiate people by confession, faith, colour, gender. We were all faced by suffering humanity and that experience brought us closer to one another.
The World Council of Churches invited all member churches to observe a global prayer day on May 14, 2020.
The joint initiative with the members of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity, of which the WCC is part.
In calling for the worldwide prayer, the committee stated in the invitation: “Each one, from wherever they are and according to the teachings of their religion, or faith, should implore God to lift this pandemic off us and the entire world, to rescue us all from this adversity.”
The Orthodox Church in Romania to which you belong is part of the autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Church. Will you take initiatives to coordinate with the sister churches to solve their various issues?
Dr Sauca: The WCC does not – according to the ecumenical protocol – interfere or comment on the internal discussions in the Orthodox family about canonical status. The WCC, if requested by its member Churches, may facilitate dialogue but any problem is to be solved by the churches themselves.
Any other related information you wish to inform?
Dr Sauca: Today, the WCC, 72 years old, faces a radically different world—not only in the scale and urgency of its problems but also in its fundamental character. We find the very foundations of the postwar world and liberal democracy challenged. We see hard-won postcolonial freedoms threaten to dissolve into chaos. We witness the globalization of a neoliberal economic system that institutionalizes injustice and inequity.
We observe a historic shift in Christianity’s centre of gravity to the global South. We see a dramatic and often volatile encounter of the world’s religious traditions. The WCC is more needed than ever in the midst of the global pandemic.
Profile of Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca
Fr Dr Sauca, currently serves as deputy general secretary for the WCC programme on Ecumenical Formation and Bossey Ecumenical Institute, will be holding the post until the WCC Executive Committee meets in June 2021. Sauca, is from the Orthodox Church in Romania, has been Professor of Missiology and Ecumenical Theology at Bossey since 1998 and its director since 2001. He has served as a WCC deputy general secretary since 2014. Sauca first joined the WCC in 1994 as executive secretary for Orthodox Studies and Relationship in Mission. Prior to joining the WCC, he taught mission and ecumenism at the faculty of theology in Sibiu, Romania and later served his patriarchate as head of the newly established Department of Press and Communication with additional responsibility for the Department for External and Ecumenical Church Relations and of religious education in public schools.
Sauca studied at the Theological Faculties in Sibiu and Bucharest, Romania, and obtained his PhD in Theology (Missiology) at the University of Birmingham, UK. He is also an alumnus of the Graduate School at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey.
OCP News Service