The general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, recently concluded a visit to Ethiopia, during which he highlighted the unique spiritual contribution of the country to Africa.
"As custodians of an ancient spiritual heritage, Ethiopian Christianity has a unique contribution which is of central importance in Africa and to the ecumenical family worldwide," Kobia stated, in a WCC report released on Monday.
"Ethiopia has a vocation to nurture a renewed commitment for peace and reconciliation in the troubled lands of the African continent," Kobia added.
Kobia began the seven-day trip to the eastern African nation on Sept. 24 with a visit to Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, where he and his delegation were welcomed by H.H. Patriarch Abune Paulos, leader of the 38-million-member Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
During his visit, Kobia spoke of the contrasting physical and spiritual situation in Africa, saying that even though the continent lives with "fear and poverty" and struggles with "HIV/AIDS, insecurity, corruption and conflict", it possess "moral wealth".
"Jesus Christ came into the world to give abundant life. This signifies the intrinsic connection between our quest for visible unity of the church and engagement in a life-centered ministry. Churches must unite their voices and their actions if lasting peace and justice is to be attained," the general secretary said, encouraging the Ethiopia Orthodox Church.
During the trip, the WCC delegation presented the mission and priorities of the WCC to a gathering of Ethiopian Orthodox hierarchs. They also visited some church holy sites and several social and educational initiatives, according to the press statement from WCC.
Kobia was also able to meet with Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, in midst of the social and political turmoil in the country. Earlier in the year, the government and opposition disputed the outcome of parliamentary elections.
The WCC head supported church efforts at negotiating a peaceful resolution to the political tensions between government and opposition.
"We sincerely appeal to the Ethiopian government to reach out to the opposition parties and civil society groups in Ethiopia and embrace the path of dialogue as the means to resolving the pending matters following the recent elections," Kobia stated.
"The WCC is willing to offer every assistance and support to the government and the opposition to avert confrontation and instead put the interests of the people of this great nation first."
Kobia also emphasized that religious communities in Ethiopia need to put more efforts to foster dialogue, apart from all the other concerns.
While Ethiopia has a long-standing history in preventing conflicts, minor conflicts do exist between Ethiopian Orthodox Christians and evangelical Protestants, and between Ethiopian Orthodox Christians and Muslims, according to International Religious Freedom Report 2004 published by the U.S. Department of State. Approximately 40 to 45 percent of the 71 million-strong Ethiopian population adheres to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) while approximately 45 percent of the population is Muslim.
"Religious institutions and political leaders have a common responsibility to employ all options to alleviate tensions and avoid conflict in a country which is emerging from a period of such calamities," Kobia urged.