Bahai News -- Sun-Herald - Church leader joins Peace Day meeting

Church leader joins Peace Day meeting

ENGLEWOOD -- The Rev. Fred Morris, executive director of the Orlando-based Florida Council of Churches, has joined the list of speakers scheduled for Wednesday's World Peace Day celebration at Englewood United Methodist Church.

Morris, who made national headlines in the 1970s when he was kidnapped by the Brazilian army and spent 17 days being tortured while in captivity, is among several prominent religious leaders scheduled for the event, which begins at 11 a.m. in the sanctuary of the church, at 700 E. Dearborn St.

The Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel, moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA), will be the keynote speaker. Akel is a United States citizen of Palestinian-Arab origin. He spent part of this childhood in a Palestinian refugee camp before becoming a Christian minister in the U.S.

"It is a great honor to have people of their stature come to Englewood," Peter Duisberg said of Morris and Abu-Akel. Duisberg helped organize the program, which is sponsored by the Southwest Florida Peace Education Coalition, the Englewood Ministers Association and the Englewood Prayer Day for World Peace Committee

Morris, a United Methodist Church pastor, graduated from Cornell College in Iowa with majors in English literature and history. He has two master's degrees: one in theology, graduating cum laude from Drew University in Madison, N.J., and the other in social science from the University of Chicago.

In the early 1960s, Morris started a new church in the Chicago suburb of Addison. During his three-year ministry there, Good Samaritan United Methodist Church became the fastest-growing church in Northern Illinois, growing to 227 members in that period.

In 1963, he became a missionary to Brazil, where he spent 11 years. He worked closely with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Recife and Olinda, the late Dom Helder Camara, from 1970 to 1974. During this period, he also served as resident correspondent for Time magazine and the Associated Press

As the result of his journalistic activities and his close association with Camara, who was the leading opponent of the Brazilian military dictatorship, he was kidnapped by the Brazilian army in 1974.

"I was a guest in their torture chambers for 17 days," Morris said Monday. "I was released after immense international pressure was brought to bear to bear by the Methodist Church, Congress, family members and Time magazine."

Upon his return to the United States, Time published a two-page, first-person account of Morris' experiences. He subsequently appeared on the Today Show and more than 25 other TV talk shows in the United States and Canada, always speaking out for human rights. He also testified before Congress, lobbied for human rights in Latin America in Washington for nearly two years and published another story in Harper's magazine.

"He's a very courageous man," Duisberg said.

In 1976, Morris went to Costa Rica, where he founded and directed his own construction company. He also taught at the national university and was associate pastor at the English-language Union Church in San Josť.

In 1981, he organized the Institute for Central American Studies and began publishing Mesoamerica, an alternative newsletter about Central America that became the premier publication on the region during the 1980s. He was also the resident correspondent in Costa Rica for ABC News from 1977 to 1988.

He returned to the United States in 1988 to assume pastorates in United Methodist churches in the Chicago area until 1995, when he returned to Brazil as executive director of Ecopaz, the Institute for Ecology, Peace and Justice Studies, based in Rio de Janeiro. He also taught ethics and contemporary ideology at the Methodist university in Rio de Janeiro.

Morris became executive director of the Florida Council of Churches in 1997. He helps oversee an organization whose mission is "to promote and facilitate the oneness of the body of Christ while celebrating the diversity among the various confessions." It is an ecumenical organization whose 27-member regional churches represent numerous Christian faiths, including Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Church of Christ and Methodist.

Wednesday's Peace Day celebration also will feature prominent members of the Jewish, Muslim and Baha'i communities, who will give their thoughts on peace and unity throughout the world.

Morris said he planned to talk about a new book he is working on with a Catholic priest from Brazil, entitled "Solidarity: The New Name of Faith."

"If you believe in God, you must care for all creation," Morris said. "War is a direct violation of this solidarity. War must be the last resort after every other possibility is exhausted.

"To be a human being, part of the human family, you can't pick and choose what portion of humanity you will care for," he added.

Duisberg is hoping for a full house Wednesday for World Peace Day. With speakers like Morris on tap, it promises to be a powerful experience.

For more on the Florida Council of Churches, see

You can e-mail Dan Mearns at

Englewood Editor

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