Consensus Assembly opens for business
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Music, drums and drama marked the opening plenary session of the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches. Declaring the Assembly open, WCC moderator Catholicos Aram I remarked that it was the first time an Assembly had been held in Latin America, and referred to the record number of young people attending.
Prayer, Bible study and conversation were integral to the event, he said, which could be described as a "consensus assembly" because of the new voting procedures. Aram concluded, "This Assembly is essentially a spiritual event. I invite and challenge you to make it a spiritual event in the authentic sense of the word."
Delegates were greeted according to the region from which they came, and guests brought greetings. Bishop Adriel de Souza Maia brought greetings on behalf of Brazilian churches, saying that to host the Assembly was "an honour" for Brazil. Bishop Julio Holguin, on behalf of Latin American churches, said, "We open our arms and hearts to receive you with the warmth and joy characteristic of our purposes and our churches."
He added, "Our greatest desire would have been to come together around the table of the Lord. The ecumenical movement ought to be able to share the gift of grace in each one of us." Delegates applauded his comments.
Greetings were also brought by the vice-mayor of Porto Alegre, Eliseu Santos, and by the Honourable Germano Rigotto, governor of Rio Grande Sul, who commended the Council and warned against relativism and materialism.
Messages had been received from church leaders unable to be present at the opening. The ecumenical patriarch, Bartholomew I, said, "An assembly of the WCC is an exceptional event for the entire ecumenical movement, and for the fellowship of churches constituting the WCC in particular." He expressed his satifaction at the positive reception of the special commission on Orthodox participation.
A greeting from Pope Benedict XVI was read by Cardinal Walter Kaspar. The Pope said, "After forty years of fruitful collaboration, we look forward to continuing this journey of hope and promise, as we intensify our endeavours towards reaching that day when Christians are united in proclaiming the gospel message of salvation to all." Walter Cardinal Kaspar assured hearers that although the Roman Catholic Church was not a WCC member, "ecumenical involvement is an irreversible commitment".
Other greetings were received from the archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who will travel to the Assembly later this week; Lourdes Saad Oliviera, representing the World YWCA and World Alliance of YMCAs; and the secretary general of the UN, Kofi Annan. Annan urged the Assembly to pray for the UN, saying, "Pray that world leaders find the wisdom and the will to use this tool to its full capactity."
The welcome of 31 new member churches into the WCC was followed by an act of recommitment led by Kobia. Those who had attended past Assemblies were recognised, including Philip Potter, a past general secretary who attended the first Assembly in Amsterdam as a young steward.
The plenary closed with a song, "Deus em tua Graca." It was followed by a celebratory prayer service in the Assembly tent.