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Absent Delegates Remembered at LWF Assembly

LWF Denounces Visa Refusals by Canadian Government

WINNIPEG, Canada, 23 July 2003 - Red and blue scarves were draped over the backs of empty chairs at the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Tenth Assembly last night in silent tribute to people who should have been there but were not.

The scarves – red for Asia, blue for Africa – symbolized participants at the LWF Assembly who had not received visas to come to Canada for the event.

"As you pass by one of these chairs, you will know you are passing by an absent sister or brother," LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko told a special plenary session of the Assembly.

Currently, 51 participants, including 38 delegates and 14 others (including 12 youth) had failed to receive visas for entry to Canada. All affected individuals were from Asia and Africa.

Over half of those affected were from India, where 20 delegates and seven others had either been denied visas or were still awaiting the outcome of their visa applications.

Other affected countries were Ethiopia (five delegates), Indonesia (three delegates), Madagascar (two delegates and one journalist), Cameroon (one delegate and two stewards), Bangladesh (one delegate and one steward), Democratic Republic of Congo (one delegate and one adviser), Senegal (two delegates), Liberia (one steward), Philippines (one steward), Rwanda (one delegate), Sierra Leone (one delegate) and South Africa (one delegate).

An emotional ELCIC National Bishop Raymond Schultz denounced the Canadian government’s denial of the visas, noting that his parents had been welcomed into Canada as children after fleeing Russia with their own parents decades earlier.

Schultz expressed "profound disappointment and shame" at the "insensitivity and inaction" of the federal government in not responding to LWF pleas that the visas be granted.

"The principalities and powers of globalization have created a world where capital moves freely and people cannot," Schultz told the gathering.

But Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan reminded delegates the reason for their presence at the Assembly was greater than any government’s power to deny visas.

"Thank God the communion of churches does not need a visa," Younan said. "Our visa is the Lord Jesus Christ who gathered us in this house."

During the session, four young people marched solemnly to the main stage at the Winnipeg Convention Centre carrying four national flags of countries whose delegations had been affected. The flags will remain on the stage during the duration of the LWF Assembly July 21 to 31.

Bishop Jubil Raplan Hutauruk of the Protestant Christian Batak Church in Indonesia sat at a table next to three chairs bearing red scarves representing three colleagues who traveled twice to Jakarta to apply in vain for visas to Canada.

Hutauruk, who leads the largest Lutheran church in Indonesia, suggested possible fear of Islamic militant groups in southeast Asia may have influenced the decision not to grant the visas.

"We come from the southern part of the world – the so-called Third World. We see that political and economic power play a great role in this situation," Hutauruk said.

"The powerful countries think that people who come from the south can make danger for them if they come here to the northern part of the world."

But Hutauruk cautioned against reacting with anger toward the visa issue, which has so far overshadowed the LWF Assembly.

"I see it with a Christian hope. Even if people can’t come here, in my faith they are here in spirit," he said.

"I don’t like to create violence against violence. It is not the aim of this communion. Let us see how we can overcome violence with non-violence."

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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