Praying for peace: Archbishop Songulashvili (left) and the Revd Bertrand Olivier, Vicar of All Hallows’ by the Tower, in London, when the Archbishop visited the church on Sunday
by Bill Bowder
A GEORGIAN peace campaigner, Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of the Georgian Baptist Church, has called on Christians for aid and prayers for people in Georgia. He was due to lead a two-hour vigil for peace at the St Michael at the North Gate, in Oxford, on Wednesday evening. A truce was agreed between Russia and Georgia on Tuesday after a week of fighting that left hundreds dead and wounded, and tens of thousands homeless.
Archbishop Songulashvili, the leader of the largest Protestant denomination in Georgia, said on Monday that he was appealing for aid to provide medicines, shelter, and clothing to the 100,000 refugees created by the fighting, and for help with prisoners of war.
“In Gori, we have two church congregations who are very involved in looking after the poor and destitute. But they have had to leave the city and hide in the rural villages, and hope the Russian bombers do not find them there. In the Peace Cathedral in Tbilisi, we have a 24-hour prayer circle, praying for a peaceful resolution for the conflict.”
In the past, Christians in South Ossetia and Georgia had helped each other in times of civil war, finding a common identity as Christians, despite ethnic differences. “This time, this conflict has been started by a third party — that is, Russia. There is a sense of powerlessness and helplessness because there is little we can do, except pray: that is very important.”
The aid would be channelled through the Betheli Humanitarian Association, which was originally set up to help Chechen refugees.
The Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Stephen Platten, has called on Georgian church leaders to continue to put pressure on the governments of Georgia and Russia to resolve the conflict. The Bishop, who officiated at the wedding of Archbishop Songulashvili earlier this year (News, 27 June), said there had been regular visits by Church of England bishops to Patriarch Ilya II of the Georgian Orthodox Church, since Archbishop George Carey paid an official visit in 1993. “These bonds are both of a theological/spiritual nature, and also involve engagement in a number of social projects.”
It was not appropriate for the Churches to apportion blame in the current situation, he said.
A statement issued on Tuesday by the World Council of Churches and Conference of European Churches said: “The use of force . . . has cost the precious lives of civilians and soldiers, risks destabilizing a fragile region, and reawakens deep fears there and far beyond.”
It said that the Russian Orthodox Church, the Georgian Orthodox Church, and the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia had all called for a ceasefire, a negotiated solution to the conflict, and urgent relief for those affected. It encouraged Churches around the world to support them.
Details of aid are available from Archbishop Songulashvili at malkhazS@ebcgeorgia.org. Donations can be sent to St Michael at the North Gate, Cornmarket Street, Oxford OX13EY, marked “Georgia Humanitarian Relief”.