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Lutheran Assembly to Demonstrate in Protest of Visa Denials

Canadian Bishop Schultz Offers "Sincere Apologies" to Those Denied Visas

WINNIPEG, Canada, 23 July 2003 - At an "extraordinary plenary session" last evening, delegates to the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Tenth Assembly agreed to stage a public demonstration on Tuesday, July 29, to protest the Canadian government’s failure to grant visas to 51 delegates, visitors and staff.

The estimated 700 participants in the international Lutheran gathering will process from the Winnipeg Convention Centre to the Federal Immigration Office at the Forks, where they will offer peaceful protest and demonstrate solidarity with their brothers and sisters who were not able to enter Canada to attend the ten-day meeting, hosted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).

ELCIC National Bishop Raymond Schultz proposed the protest march and offered "sincere apologies" on behalf of the Canadian church to the missing attendees. He said, "We want to be a welcoming community" and went on to deplore the "insensitivity and inaction" of the Canadian government.

Schultz also introduced the flags of many of the countries whose delegates are missing and asked that they be posted on the convention floor as a silent reminder. LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko announced an additional gesture in the placing of colored silk scarves tied to the missing delegates’ chairs.

LWF President Bishop emeritus Dr Christian Krause, also announced the Assembly’s intention to explore means of staying in communication with the missing church representatives and eventually unite symbolically with them in their own countries.

Noteworthy is the fact that all of those affected by denial of visas come from the poorest nations of the world. The Indian participants, who come from the most marginalized communities in Indian society, have been the worst affected. Other countries whose participants have failed to receive visas include Bangladesh, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Liberia, Madagascar, Philippines, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone and South Africa.

Of the 51 individuals, 38 are delegates to the Assembly. The remainder are visitors and volunteers.

The first indication of trouble came in May, when the Federation received word that two visas had been denied from Columbian delegates. When Noko’s repeated appeals had received no response by the end of June, by which time several additional applications had been turned down, the LWF issued the first of several press releases regarding the situation, to enormous media and public response.

The LWF leadership made a last ditch appeal to the Canadian government the day before the Assembly’s official opening on July 21 to influence them to grant the visas. It was the last of a series of pleas from Noko to Canadian government officials.

In his remarks, Schultz made reference to the closing of borders in many countries and noted the irony that "capital can move freely but people cannot." In conclusion, and to a standing ovation, he declared, "To this false god of exclusion, our communion must say ‘No!’"

The Tenth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is taking place 21-31 July 2003 in Winnipeg, Canada, under the theme "For the Healing of the World." It is being hosted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).

There are around 820 men, women and youth participants in the Tenth Assembly including 380 delegates from the 133 churches with full membership and three associate members. The Assembly is the highest decision-making body of the LWF, and meets normally every six years. Between Assemblies, the LWF is governed by its Council that meets annually, and by its Executive Committee.

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