The president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has already been invited to the next assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC), which will take place in February 2006 in Porto Alegre. The WCC general secretary, Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, extended this invitation during a meeting in Brasilia on 12 May 2003.
"I should still be head of the government at that time; I hope I shall still be worthy of the invitation", said the Brazilian president, mindful of the fact that politics is a slippery area where critical support offered today may prove to be an embarrassment in the future.
For the time being, Lula seems certain to be a welcome guest at the assembly. At the meeting with Raiser, he announced that at the next G8 meeting in Evian, he will propose that half the money spent servicing the foreign debt of poor countries, and one percent of expenditure on arms be allocated to a fund to eradicate hunger in the world.
During his meeting with the president, which lasted about 45 minutes, Raiser was accompanied by leaders of WCC member churches in Brazil, the heads of the Council of Christian Churches in Brazil (CONIC), and representatives of other Brazilian churches.
Rev. Walter Altmann, president of the Evangelical Church of Lutheran Confession in Brazil (IECLB), read a letter on behalf of Brazilian church leaders supporting government proposals for reform of social security and taxation as well as a programme to safeguard access to food. The letter underlined the churches' right to criticize the government, if necessary, in order to serve the nation.
President Lula spoke to the church leaders about projects his government is implementing in the social sphere, like the Zero Hunger programme and literacy classes. He said that while the government has no way of identifying the illiterate, the churches do, as they are present in the remotest parts of the country. The government therefore counts on the churches' cooperation in this task.
At the end of the meeting, Raiser said he felt he had obtained "a clear idea of the president's proposals in the social area".
Raiser attended the meeting with - representing WCC member churches - the head of the Episcopal Anglican Church, Glauco Soares de Lima, the bishop of the Methodist Church, Adriel de Souza Maia, the moderator of the United Presbyterian Church, Eser Tercio Pacheco, and the IECLB president.
The president of the Syrian Orthodox Catholic Church of Brazil and the vice-president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of Brazil (CNBB), as well as other members of the CONIC board, were also present.
Raiser will be in Porto Alegre from 13 May until Saturday 17 May. There, he will attend the first meeting of the committee in charge of local preparations for the next WCC assembly. He will also have contacts with leaders and members of churches, and with theology students.
His schedule includes visiting the campus and meeting with the rector of the Catholic Pontifical University of the Rio Grande state, where the assembly will be held. Raiser also has appointments with the state governor, Germando Rigotto, and the city mayor, Joao Verle.
The WCC's ninth assembly will be the first to take place in Latin America. Provisional dates are 14 to 23 February, 2006. The WCC central committee is to take a final decision concerning dates and theme when it meets in August this year.
WCC assemblies take place every seven years, and are attended by about 3500 people. Gathering Christians from all over the world and from virtually every Christian tradition, they are major events in the life of the Council.
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