People gather around the cathedral of Oslo to offer flowers in memory of the shooting and bombing victims in Norway last July 22. Photo: Espen E./Shutterstock
Geneva – A genuinely Christian response to terror of the kind inflicted upon Norway three weeks ago must be communal and inspire people of faith to consult their consciences and "continue in dialogue with our neighbors," said the Rev. Olav Fyske Tveit, the Norwegian-born general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
Many Norwegians are still having difficulty comprehending the tragedy, he wrote in a reflection posted on Aug.16 on the WCC’s website. "Like many Norwegians, I was acquainted with some of the victims and their distraught families. One of those killed …was the son of a Norwegian official who had visited me only months
before in the Geneva offices of the World Council of Churches. Like many Norwegians, I am still struggling to realize that this actually happened," Tveit wrote.
On July 22, a bomb detonated in downtown Oslo killed eight people and a
gunman murdered 69 people, mostly young men and women, at a summer camp
on the nearby island of Utoya. Anders Breivik, a Norwegian, has been arrested in connection with the attacks. In a written manifesto, he has said he was defending Europe’s Christian culture against Marxism and Islam.
Referring to Breivik, Tveit wrote that "the man who has confessed to causing this carnage insists that he acted in defence of ‘Christian culture.’ He has adopted an attitude that diverse ‘civilizations’ must inevitably ‘clash.’ He is criminally mistaken."
The churches of Norway, he said, exhibited a "united pastoral response" that expressed "a genuinely Christian culture" and "truly Christian values." They work in cooperation with other faiths, he noted. "An image that comes to me again and again is that of the Christian pastor and the Muslim imam standing side by side, presiding at the funeral of one of the young victims of violence. This picture has … become a nearly iconic symbol of the determination to build a sustainable, caring, open society — together."
Churches are committed to work together for peace and for "open societies where people of all groups are treated as individual human beings with their duties and rights, and where unjust and sinful behaviour is condemned," Tveit said. Individuals also should consult their consciences "about what we say, and what we do not say — and continue in dialogue with our neighbours."
Reflecting upon the most fundamental Christian value, the command to love one’s neighbor, is necessary "in times of pain and death" and when "we address honestly the profound challenges implied by changes in immigration patterns and an increasingly multi-religious society," he wrote.
The conclusion is that "for all of us, the human catastrophe of July 22 serves as a dire warning."