The World Council of Churches’ (WCC) general secretary, the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, has condemned the “criminal act of terror” Sunday in Baghdad, Iraq, when gunmen took hostages in the Sayidat al-Nejat Church.

The death toll from the hostage standoff rose to some 58 people on Monday, including priests, women and children and Iraqi security forces who conducted a raid to end the siege.

“The World Council of Churches strongly condemns the criminal act of terror that took place on Sunday in the Sayyidat al-Najat Church in Baghdad and expresses its deep sympathy and solidarity with those who lost their loved ones and pray for a speedy recovery for the injured,” Tveit said shortly after the violent attack. 

“The fellowship of the World Council of Churches is deeply troubled by the continuous suffering of Christians in Iraq and continues to stand in solidarity with all churches as they pass through turbulent and challenging times and witness to the love and peace of God in Jesus Christ even amidst hatred and aggression.

“This is not the first time that such attacks have targeted Christian communities in Iraq. All those responsible need to be brought to justice, and governmental authorities should take their responsibility to bring safety and security to all citizens and particularly to those in vulnerable situation.”

Tveit made his comments shortly before delivering the opening address at a high-level Christian-Muslim consultation, which takes place here Nov. 1-4.

High-ranking Muslim and Christian leaders as well as renowned scholars and interfaith practitioners will gather Nov. 1-4 at the Ecumenical Center here for an international consultation on Christian and Muslim concerns.

The international consultation, which is called “Transforming Communities: Christians and Muslims Building a Common Future,” will identify and address issues of common concern and provide guidance for cooperation between Muslims and Christians, including faith-inspired approaches for joint Christian-Muslim action.

A joint statement will be issued at the end of the consultation on Nov. 4 during a press conference.  

The consultation will open with keynote addresses by His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammad bin Talal, personal envoy and special advisor to His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan, and Archbishop Anders Wejryd of the Church of Sweden.

Also participating in the consultation will be Tveit; Muhammad Ahmed Sharif, general secretary of the World Islamic Call Society; Abdulrahman Al-Zayed representing the Muslim World League; and Ayatollah Muhammad Ali Al-Tashkiri, secretary general of the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought.

The Rev. Thomas Wipf, president of the Federation of the Swiss Protestant Churches and the Swiss Council of Religions, and Sheikh Yousef Ibram, imam of the Geneva mosque, will also be attending.

The consultation, which builds on past initiatives and achievements by a variety of organizations and networks, is a joint Christian-Muslim initiative in planning, funding and participation. The conveners are the World Council of Churches (WCC), the World Islamic Call Society, the Royal Aal al Bayt Institute and the Consortium of A Common Word.  

“Christians and Muslims have a joint responsibility to contribute the very best of their theological, spiritual, and ethical resources for the common good of humanity,” stated the organizers.

The group expects the consultation to “develop concrete ways of building a common future, in order to achieve more compassionate and just societies, based on equality, co-citizenship and mutual respect.”

The group will also visit St. Pierre’s Cathedral and the Islamic Cultural Center and mosque in Geneva, where members of the group will meet with members of Geneva faith communities and the Geneva Interfaith Platform.

The 60 participants plus consultation guests will address three key issues in the present context of Muslim-Christian relations:  

  • Beyond Majority and Minority;
  • From Conflict to Compassionate Justice: Building ecologies of peace; and
  • Learning to Overcome; formulating educational tools to resolve issues.

The first days of the consultation — Nov. 1-3 — will be closed to the media and public. However, at the end of each day a summary of the discussions will be made available. The Nov. 4 press conference will discuss the joint statement from the group.