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Portuguese-speaking women intend to be heard at WCC Assembly


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No more violence! Portuguese-speaking women are hoping that this cry will be heard at the World Council of Churches' (WCC) next Assembly. "Violence is sin, and God calls us to salvation," they say.


Meeting 11-15 August in Sâo Leopoldo, Brazil, some 50 women from churches in Angola, Brazil, Mozambique and Portugal worked to prepare for the WCC's 9th Assembly, to take place in Porto Alegre in February 2006.


Language was not the only thing they had in common at a meeting that brought together Roman Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Reformed and Anglicans. There, the women discovered that the violence marking their daily lives was something else they shared.


"We note that violence against women, whether physical, sexual, psychological, economic or spiritual, is a reality in our churches and our countries," says a message to the churches issued at the close of a meeting focused on the action of God's grace in women's lives.


Invoking the physical and psychological violence that is an integral part of life for Mozambican women, "African women's hearts have been broken," said theologian Invicta Tivane. "Unfortunately, in our culture, the belief that husbands must beat their wives to prove their love still exists," she explained.


"Power is still concentrated in men's hands," reported Rev. Paulina Makumbu from Angola. "There are African women who are educated but unemployed, and others who are working but badly paid, with husbands but who reproach them," she said. Makumbu hopes that the Assembly will be an opportunity to "shout out" for women's rights.


Rosa Maria Cruz Ángela from Portugal was deeply touched by what she heard, and by the women's courage. In spite of belonging to the so-called first world, women in her country also suffer from violence, she said. "Within the church we are respected, but in society not always. Many Portuguese women are forced to become prostitutes, suffer from domestic, sexual or psychological violence as well as from gender discrimination," she reported.


<span style="font-weight: bold; "» A gift from God that needs to be restored


"We realize that sexuality is a gift from God that makes us human," the meeting's message proclaimed. "However, this gift has been appropriated by the economic and cultural models that produce sex trafficking of girl children and facilitate the spread of HIV/AIDS, thus dehumanizing women and children around the world."


Participants committed themselves to denounce this situation, and to work preventively, seeking ways to struggle against sexual exploitation and the propagation of HIV/AIDS.


In Angola, according to the national coordinator of a network of ecumenical theologians, Eva Sebastião Cosme, people are misinformed about the risks of contracting HIV/AIDS. Churches are creating ecumenical networks to raise awareness on this issue, she added.


In Mozambique, an estimated ten percent of the population is infected by the virus. The myth that an HIV-positive man will be cured if he sleeps with a virgin is prevalent in her country, said Tivane. "Patriarchy invents myths to justify behaviour that suits it," she alleged.


In their message, the Portuguese-speaking women urged the churches to commit themselves at the Assembly to "work together to make concrete changes in the lives of women and children, as a sign of the transforming grace of God".


The meeting helped the women to "hone their language," commented Brazilian theologian Elaine Neuenfeldt, who helped evaluate the event. It was also useful in helping them to prepare themselves for participation in the Assembly, where a special space - "The Beehive" - awaits them and their particular concerns.



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9th WCC Assembly: Praying for a transformed world


The 9th assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) will be held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, from 14-23 February 2006. Its theme is a prayer: "God, in your grace, transform the world".


The first WCC assembly of the 21st century, it will gather up to 3,000 church leaders and ecumenical representatives from nearly every Christian tradition around the world. As such, it will be one of the broadest global gatherings of its kind.


WCC assemblies are often turning points in the life of the World Council, and this one is expected to leave its mark on ecumenical history. Deliberations will focus on issues such as the future of the ecumenical movement, the churches' commitment to economic justice as well as their witness to overcoming violence, and the challenges faced in the midst of religious plurality.


In Porto Alegre, members of the ecumenical family will be able to gather around the assembly at a Mutirão, a Portuguese word that means coming together for a common purpose. Made up of workshops, exhibitions and cultural celebrations, this part of the assembly programme will offer opportunities for members of the wider ecumenical movement to gather, reflect and celebrate together.


This is the first WCC assembly to be held in Latin America, and it is being hosted by the National Council of Christian Churches in Brazil (CONIC) on behalf of churches throughout the region. Pre-assembly events for youth and for women will be held from 11-13 February.


Assembly website: www.wcc-assembly.info


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Free high resolution photos to accompany this story are available at the WCC Assembly website: www.wcc-assembly.info