Ecumenical delegation in Pakistan to support churches amid conflict

Religious freedom and interreligious dialogue will be on the agenda of an international ecumenical delegation visiting Pakistan for a week starting on Monday.

The group will discuss how churches can help ease political and religions tensions with representatives from churches, the Muslim community and government officials.

The international ecumenical delegation sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC) will learn about the work of the churches in interreligious relations, how Christians deal with situations of tension and conflict and the contributions made by civil society organisations. Returning back home they will share their experience with their churches.

After almost a decade of military dictatorship, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan returned to democratically elected civilian rule in February this year. Fighting in the tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghan border has recently intensified with cross border attacks from US forces based in Afghanistan creating tensions between the Pakistani and US governments. Militant groups have sometimes targeted local Christians by kidnappings and killings, presuming them to be US proxies or sympathisers. They have also targeted foreigners in other parts of the country.

In February 2008 the WCC central committee hailed interfaith initiatives of the Church of Pakistan that "mobilise non-violent responses to acts of terrorism by building a culture of peace and interfaith harmony in the country".

It also noted that Pakistani churches and faith communities have condemned "violence, terrorism and all other forms of dehumanising measures".

The visit of the international ecumenical delegation, hosted by the Church of Pakistan and the National Council of Churches of Pakistan, is part of the WCC "Living Letters" initiative. Several Living Letters visits take place each year throughout the world in the context of the WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence in order to prepare for the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in 2011.

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