During intense global vaccinations to fight COVID-19, churches can play a vital role in guiding people to better health in informing them on vaccine hesitancy and advocating for equity in immunization, international church leaders have told journalists.
The World Council of Churches convened a press briefing from its headquarters on April 28.
Dr. Isabel Apawo Phiri, WCC deputy general secretary; Archbishop emeritus Anders Wejryd, WCC president for Europe; and Dr. Mwai Makoka, WCC program executive for Health and Healing, informed journalists of the WCC's campaign for World Immunization Week.
"It is a good thing for the WCC to engage and for churches to commit themselves to this," said Wejryd, who was introduced as a "WCC Vaccine Champion."
"It's a good thing to start in a very basic ethical sentence -- "do to others, what you want them to do to you; and don't do to others, what you don't want them to do to you," said the WCC Europe president.
'I DON'T WANT TO BE INFECTED'
"I don't want to be infected by COVID-19. And I absolutely don't want to be the one that brings it on to someone else. I think that is the very basic thing. It is all about solidarity."
As of April 28, the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center reported that the world had confirmed more than 149 million COVID-19 cases and that in excess of 3.1 million people have died of the disease.
Wejryd said that naturally, there are risks with vaccinations.
"But those risks are minimal, compared to the risks that follow from the infection from the actual disease, which obviously, is such a strange and difficult one."
Phiri spoke of the WCC in the arena of health. "Part of our mission is to promote healing. Health and healing have always been important in the work of the World Council of Churches, from its inception.
"And this is because of the mission of Jesus Christ that included healing," she said. "So part of our mission is to promote healing."
She added: "WCC facilitated the establishment of national-level Christian health associations in several countries, especially in Africa, to promote ecumenical cooperation in health service delivery among different churches."
CHURCH HEALING MINISTRY
Makoka said that, in a 1964 WCC consultation, a key issue that came out was that "the healing ministry belongs to the whole church, and that specialized programmes, like church hospitals and clinics, must reasonably be integrated into the life and witness of the church."
He outlined four interventions.
"The first one is health education, that churches, local church congregations, can be places to be places or health education. The other one is practical actions. The third one is advocacy for care for creation. And the other area is public witness, taking a public stand on key issues, each one in their area of influence."
He said there is now a handbook the WCC has produced to accompany churches in establishing and running sustainable health promotion ministries. There is also material for churches to deal with "bottlenecks" in dealing with COVID-19 issues.
Back on Feb. 25 two well-known evangelical leaders in the United States were encouraging Christians to reject conspiracy theories and to embrace the COVID-19 vaccine, calling it "consistent with a pro-life ethic" and an example of God's "common grace," Christian Headlines reported.
Russell D. Moore and Walter Kim, in a column they co-wrote for The Washington Post, addressed some evangelicals' hesitancy to receive the vaccine. Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, while Kim is president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Some of the journalists' questions related to how the WCC supports the global campaign for vaccine equity include easing intellectual property rules around patents to enable the quicker and more equitable manufacture of vaccines.
During the annual World Immunization Week, an initiative by UNICEF taking place 24-30 April, the WCC has intensified its support. It has done this by appointing influential members from the fellowship to join the 300 Vaccination Champions, which its long-time child-rights partner UNICEF is mobilizing for world immunization.
The objective is to exercise influence through social media blogs and other channels to raise awareness about the critical role of immunisation through vaccination in saving lives.
WCC acting general secretary Rev. Ioan Sauca encourages religious leaders in all contexts to lend weight to vaccination programs.
"We must do all we can to protect people from COVID-19 and other potentially fatal diseases. It is our duty to exercise the influence trusted upon us, beyond the pulpits in our local churches," he said.