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"Peace with the earth" in the context of the decade to overcome violence.

Issues of War and Peace at the Birth of the WCC

Created in 1948 in the aftermath of the Second World War, the World Council of Churches (WCC) initially considered issues of violence and peace in terms of international conflicts between sovereign states. Reflecting on the recent end of the war, the WCC's founding assembly in Amsterdam asked, "Can war now be an act of justice?" It concluded by saying, "We cannot answer this question unanimously". (1)

This divergence came to the fore again at the WCC's second assembly, held in 1954 in Evanston, which stated that Christians should search for new approaches to peace, "taking into account both Christian pacifism as a mode of witness and the conviction of Christians that in certain circumstances military action is justifiable". (2)

As John H. Yoder notes, "The question of war had been present in WCC assemblies since the creation of the WCC. Amsterdam 1948 (sec. 4) included such affirmation as 'war is contrary to the will of God' and 'peace requires an attack on the causes of conflict between the powers but could not find agreement in answering the question: Can war now be an act of justice?" (3) In 1966, the World Conference on Church and Society, held in Geneva, argued in favour of "nuclear pacifism", (4) yet the Uppsala assembly two years later did not follow the Geneva conference on this point; instead the assembly stated that "the concentration of nuclear weapons in the hands of a few nations presents the world with serious problems: (a) how to guarantee the security of the non-nuclear nations; (b) how to prevent the nuclear powers from freezing the existing order at the expense of changes needed for social and political justice". (5) It was not until the Vancouver assembly that "the all-out rejection of nuclear weapons [found] expression in assembly documents". The Vancouver assembly also drew attention to another aspect of divergence on issues related to peace. If the concern at Uppsala had been that of the nuclear powers "freezing" the existing order at the expense of justice, in Vancouver the concern was of justice being squeezed out by a concentration on the future threat posed by nuclear weapons. In his keynote address to the assembly, Allan Boesak stated, "[O]ne cannot use the issue of peace to escape from the unresolved issues of injustice, poverty, hunger and racism. If we do this we will make of our concern for peace an ideology of oppression which in the end will be used to justify injustice". (6)

Neverthelcss, despite apparent consensus on the issue of nuclear weapons, developments after the Vancouver assembly demonstrated, as Lodberg noted, that the debate about whether a "just war" could be ethically defended in the case of conventional warfare remained open. The Canberra assembly in 1991 rejected an amendment by Konrad Raiser, a delegate of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), to the public statement on the Gulf War, to call on the churches "to give up any theological or moral justification of the use of military power, be it in war or through other forms of oppressive security systems, and to become public advocates of a just peace. (7)

The Decade to Overcome Violence--Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace

Half a century after its first assembly, held in Amsterdam, the "Decade to Overcome Violence 2001-2010--Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace" has become the WCC's most recent effort to address violence in its multiple manifestations. (8) At the same time, however, it also shows that attempts to reach a consensus on peace at the international level were far from having been achieved.

The launch of the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) during the WCC's central committee in Potsdam in 2001 coincided with a discussion on a document initially called "The Use of Armed Force in Support of Humanitarian Purposes", but whose rifle in the course of the meeting became "The Protection of Endangered Populations in Situations of Armed Violence". (9) This work led to the adoption at the WCC's 2006 assembly in Porto Alegre of a statement on "Vulnerable Populations at Risk--Statement on the Responsibility to Protect" (R2P). (10) This process demonstrated that different standpoints remain within the membership of the WCC. While some within the WCC fellowship see the emerging international norm of R2P as an adequate response to prevent atrocities such as genocides, ethnic cleansing or arbitrary mass executions, others reject the statement as a new formulation of the just war theory, which could serve as a justification for military interventions in situations of violent conflict without consideration of peaceful means through which such situations might be transformed. This remains an unresolved issue that needs further discussion.

Nevertheless, the Decade to Overcome Violence has helped to make visible both the extent of violence and the efforts and possibilities to overcome such violence and to promote peace. The DOV was intended as an ecumenical initiative that went beyond the borders of the World Council of Churches, but within the WCC, the initiative built up and continued the previous programme to overcome violence. The DOV also broadened its perspective and action, in the sense that different programmes of the WCC attempted to address various manifestations of violence. These included, in the area of international relations, the programmes of "Impunity, Truth, Justice and Reconciliation" and "Peacebuilding and Disarmament", and later the "Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel" (EAPPI).

In other programme areas, for example, "On the Wings of a Dove" was a worldwide campaign on overcoming violence against women and children aimed at addressing this particular form of violence. (11) Faith and Order developed a study process--"Nurturing Peace, Overcoming Violence: In the Way of Christ for the Sake of the World"--through a series of consultations: Interrogating and Redefining Power (2003); Affirming Human Dignity, Rights of Peoples and the Integrity of Creation (2004); and A Theological Reflection on Cruelty--The Ugly Face of Violence (2006). (12)

In 2005, the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism, held near Athens, Greece, had as its theme "Come, Holy Spirit, Heal and Reconcile--Called in Christ to Be Reconciling and Healing Communities". This conference addressed the issue of mission as reconciliation. It took place in a majority Orthodox context, and was the first time representatives from the Roman Catholic Church and from Evangelical and Pentecostal churches participated as delegates with full rights. The theme, as expressed in the preparatory papers, urged a more humble approach to mission, recalling the priority of the mission of God's Holy Spirit in the world, as the only one able to bring healing and reconciliation in the full sense of the terms. Within that overall dynamic of God in the world, the churches were seen as having the specific calling to be ambassadors of reconciliation, and in particular to build, renew and multiply spaces where human beings can experience something of God's healing and reconciling grace. (13) In the area of inter-religious dialogue, one of the consultations of the process, "Thinking together", focused on religion and violence, with contributions from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim perspectives. (14)

In this way, WCC programmes drawing upon different ecumenical traditions (such as Faith and Order, Mission, International Affairs) addressed the concerns of the Decade to Overcome Violence. As already noted, however, the DOV was not intended to be a WCC programme, nor only a WCC, Geneva-based initiative. During the decade, various initiatives were undertaken in different regions and countries, promoted by churches, councils of churches and ecumenical organizations associated with the DOV.

On way in which these initiatives were stimulated was through a decision that each year of the decade should focus on a different theme and a different region, highlighting some of the most challenging, and, in some cases, controversial topics in countries and regions. Regional ecumenical organizations and National Councils of Churches played a key role in contextualizing the DOV within their respective countries and regions.

While 2001 was dedicated to the launch of the DOC in various countries, the focus the following year on Palestine--Israel was: "End the Illegal Occupation of Palestine: Support a Just Peace in the Middle East". This focus led to the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), which is still running today. In 2003, the geographical focus was on Africa, and Sudan in particular; the theme was "Healing and Reconciliation", building on peace and reconciliation processes, including Truth and Reconciliation commissions.

In 2004, the DOV's focus on the United States aimed at strengthening and resourcing churches and movements working for peace in the US, encouraging a commitment to mutual accountability, and deepening the churches' understanding of issues such as power, militarism and community-building. Based on the call of the 12th Assembly of the Christian Conference of Asia, taking place in Thailand with the theme "Building Communities of Peace for All", Asia was the regional focus in 2005; churches were encouraged regionally and locally in their efforts for peace, justice, reconciliation and solidarity, highlighting the interfaith cooperation in the region.

The DOV focus on Latin America was launched at the WCC's 9th Assembly, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in February 2006. The Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) called upon churches and Christians to mainstream a "culture of peace" within the agenda of the churches and to make local congregations "households of peace". Domestic violence and urban youth gangs (maras) in Central America were a specific concern in the region. "Make Me a Channel of Your Peace" was the 2007 focus of the DOV in Europe. Echoing the example of Saint Francis of Assisi, young adults from all over Europe chose this theme, which contributed to the third European Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu, Romania, convened by the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the Council of European (Roman Catholic) Bishops' Conferences (CCEE).

In 2008, the theme was "Witnessing to the Peace of God in Oceania". Launched at the Pacific Conference of Churches Assembly in late 2007, and building on its outcomes, the Pacific focus highlighted the challenges that climate change poses to the populations and churches in Oceania. In the Caribbean in 2009, churches stressed "One Love: Building a Peaceful Caribbean", and in 2010, the final year of the decade, the focus returned to Africa, with the theme "Work and Pray in Hope for Peace", with the All Africa Conference of Churches as a focal point in this endeavour.

The experience of these 10 years has shown that the various aspects of violence and peace are intertwined, and that only a holistic approach can effectively respond to the challenges posed by the diverse manifestations of violence. Churches are among those best placed to respond in a comprehensive way because of their wide range of action, from the groups, congregations and parishes at the local level to the advocacy work at the governmental and intergovernmental levels. A thorough process of discernment is needed at local, national and global levels to decide on the best strategy, since no single person, community or organization can responsibly and effectively address all layers of violence and pathways to peace.

The International Ecumenical Peace Convocation and the Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace

The experiences of the decade have helped shape the content of the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) taking place in Jamaica in May 2011. The convocation is intended to be a "harvest festival" that can both celebrate the achievements of the DOV and overcome its shortcomings. At the same time, the event is intended to encourage individuals and churches to renew their commitment to non-violence, peace and justice.

The four themes of the Convocation--Peace in the Community, Peace with the Earth, Peace in the Marketplace, and Peace Among the Peoples--are interrelated. In other words, there can be no peace among the peoples without peace in the community, peace with the earth, and peace in the marketplace. The reverse is also true. We cannot talk about peace among the peoples without tackling domestic violence, violence against women and children, racism, human trafficking, ethnic violence, poverty, and violence against the whole of creation.

The convocation is thus intended to go beyond a classical and limited understanding of peacebuilding and to adopt a more comprehensive and biblical notion of peace.

In the Bible, peace is always understood as being peace with justice. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaimed at the same time "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" (Matthew 5:9) and "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled" (Matthew 5:6). Psalm 85 contains a wonderful image for the intertwining of justice and peace: "Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky" (Psalm 85:10-11).

It is this biblical and theological approach that has led to the process towards an Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace, (15) which is to be presented to the IEPC.

This declaration (16) makes clear that the concept of "just peace" goes beyond being the opposite of "just war". Just Peace demands the absence of all forms of structural violence, including gender-based, cultural and media violence. Just Peace involves a fundamental shift--a transformation not only in method, but also in attitudes away from violence and towards non- violent resistance.

Such a shift away from violence makes the justification of war increasingly difficult and implausible. However, to condemn war is not enough; we must do everything we can to promote justice and peace among peoples and nations as well. The strength of the powerful resides in the obedience and compliance of citizens, of soldiers and, increasingly, of consumers.

As a spiritual journey, the path to a Just Peace is a path towards the mystery of a peace that passes all understanding. Nevertheless, Just Peace can also be understood as a multifaceted, collective and dynamic process of ensuring that human beings are free from fear and from want, ate overcoming enmity, exclusion and oppression, and are establishing conditions for right relationships that privilege the experience of the most vulnerable and respect the integrity of creation.

Just Peace involves being mindful about our own inescapable vulnerability as human beings as well as the vulnerability of the other, the Divine, and the created order. (17) Vulnerability opens us up to our surroundings and to our fellow human beings in a way that allows us to recognize their suffering as our own and to accept responsibility for alleviating their distress. We are called to be responsible for Just Peace in the face of such vulnerability. Our responsibility extends to those who have gone before us and to those who are the future: our children and coming generations.

Just Peace and Peace with the Earth

In the ecumenical discussion, the issue of peace has been increasingly strongly linked to the issue of justice. In its declaration on "peace and justice", the WCC's sixth assembly at Vancouver in 1983 stated that "The ecumenical approach to peace and justice is based on the belief that without justice for all everywhere we shall never have peace anywhere". (18) It was also the Vancouver assembly that launched the conciliar process for justice, peace and the integrity of creation (JPIC), intended to explore "the links as well as the tensions between the goals of justice, peace and the wellbeing of creation [...] from biblical, socio-economic and political perspectives". (19)

Nevertheless, despite the JPIC process, one of the dimensions of "just peace" that is often overlooked is that of "peace with the earth".

More and more news headlines refer to natural disasters of to the challenges humanity faces through factors such as the depletion of natural resources, deforestation, soil erosion through the use of pesticides and intensive agriculture, and the increase of C[O.sub.2] emissions. Many of these phenomena are related to climate change. This situation has increased the frequency and strength of hurricanes and cyclones, droughts and floods, and is intimately related to the water crisis. A deeper analysis of the climate change crisis shows also that it is related to violence. As Alastair McIntosh puts it, after having analyzed the data available on climate change, "it is violence that's the problem". Recalling the meaning of the Greek word hybris as wanton violence, McIntosh states that "pride leads to violence because it lives a lie that cuts us off from the fullness of relationship with others. Ecocide, the death of nature is the extension of that violence into nature". (20) The way humanity is treating the earth in our civilization is, indeed, violent.

To adequately address the challenges of climate change and other related crises, there is an urgent need to go beyond scientific, technical and political analyses and possible solutions. There is a need to tackle the cultural and spiritual attitudes that have led to the situation we are facing today. It is at this level that "Peace with the Earth" becomes an imperative.

The International Ecumenical Peace Convocation has as its theme "Glory to God and Peace on Earth"; one of its thematic areas is indeed "Peace with the Earth". The rationale for this theme is outlined in the following way: "Peace on earth includes peace with the earth. Human beings are called to take responsibility for nature. Today's challenges in regard to ecology, climate change and natural resources make it urgent to consider our views and actions. What are Christian ways to care for creation? What can people of faith do on both the personal and the collective levels?" (21)

The Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace highlights the intimate relationship between peace and justice. In the Peace with the Earth perspective, Just Peace refers also to climate justice, since the challenges posed by climate change, taking into account their various dimensions (environmental, political, economic, social, cultural), are also a matter of justice, as "those who suffer most due to the impact of climate change are impoverished and vulnerable communities who contribute only minimally to global warming". (22)

The current situation of the destruction of the environment and the increase in C[O.sub.2] emissions requires a deep change in the way human beings place themselves in front of creation (a form of confronting creation) instead of understanding human beings as part of creation. The gospel call to conversion, metanoia (Mark 1:15), which includes, as the etymology of the word suggests, a change of mind, refers also to the way we, as human beings, relate to nature. Furthermore, theologically speaking, as Fernando Enns states,
 the incarnation is more than God reconciling humankind with
 Godself. Revealing himself in the Love of Christ, the incarnation
 prepares the redemption of all creation. What we find here is a
 theological concept of cosmic dimension: "eirene tas gas"--peace on
 Earth (!) is included in the will of God's peace. Therefore we
 cannot reduce peacebuilding to interpersonal conflicts or
 structural violence but [must] include our responsibility for
 nature, even the climate. (23)

The process of recognizing "peace with the earth" as being part of "peace on earth" has not been an easy one. Many Christian pacifists have not realized the ecological dimension of their peace efforts. As Enns notes, peacebuilding has focused on interpersonal or structural violence. On the other hand, "environmentalists" have not seen their care for the environment as an activity that contributes to peace.

Theology has only recently addressed in a more specific way this understanding that enriches both traditions. A symposium in Geneva in September 2008, with participants from various regions of the world, served as a catalyst for the reflections that were being developed. (24) Participants at the meeting described the environmental crisis as being a direct result of human cultures and economic systems.

According to a memorandum issued by the consultation,
 the Industrial Revolution, colonialism and political
 marginalization have been accompanied by ah epistemological
 violence in which the wisdom and insights of people in the South,
 as well as women, indigenous people and racially marginalized
 communities have been at best ignored and at worst intentionally
 destroyed in the name of "progress" and "development". Recovering
 this wisdom and honouring these perspectives is a crucial challenge
 for today.

This statement presents a particular challenge for Christianity, because it has been deeply related to the Industrial Revolution, to colonialism and to such "epistemological violence".

The memorandum states that Christian theology needs to reassess critically its tendency to over-identify with philosophical thought forms and lifestyles that have developed mainly in Europe and to build on the biblical stories and examples of peace with the earth, such as the Sabbath and Jubilee ordinances in ancient Israel, Noah's Ark, Joseph's "food security programme" in Egypt, and the post-exilic reconstruction programme of Ezra and Nehemiah. It continues,
 Groaning as it does through an ecological crisis of epochal
 proportions the earth calls for and is in desperate need of a
 vision of peace that will enable it to restore itself in accord
 with its own intrinsic dynamism. A faith that transforms minds and
 people and generates transformative actions is the crying need of
 the present era. Such a faith engaged with the world places peace
 with earth and justice for its peoples at its core. (25)

Such a faith is seen not only as Christian faith, as there is a need to recognize that other cultural and religious traditions and their ways of looking at creation have been discarded.
 The wisdom traditions in indigenous cultures, such as ubuntu and
 bophelo in large areas of Southern Africa or sangseng in Korea, are
 important components in rediscovering the art of peace-building
 within God's creation. This leads directly to the cooperation with
 emerging social movements at local, national and global levels that
 attempt to protect, and work within, the sustaining structures of
 life on earth. (26)

Such affirmations open the way to interfaith cooperation, something that is also reflected in the rationale for the Peace with the Earth component of the IEPC when it encourages people of faith from various religions to work at both the personal and the collective levels to contribute to peace with the earth.

Finally, the memorandum proposes some concrete steps to advance Peace with the Earth, such as working for eco-literacy, linking information and analysis with the broader and deeper philosophical and cultural contexts; developing an ethics of intrinsic worth of all creation, to counteract the destructive role of anthropocentrism, enabling children and young people in particular to value nature as an inherent part of God's creation; educating persons and communities for lifestyles that are in harmony with nature; and encouraging church communities to develop alternative modes of practice and lifestyle. The memorandum concludes that "Peace with Earth is possible if we live by the values of sustainability, respect, inclusiveness, justice, equality and solidarity."


Throughout the past decade, the Decade to Overcome Violence and the process leading to the IEPC in Kingston, Jamaica, has focused on some of the most significant challenges to peace, making contemporary the commitment to peace of the ecumenical movement that was one of the core components in the creation of the World Council of Churches in 1948. In the 21st century, Peace with the Earth has revealed some aspects of this commitment to peace that might not have been so strongly addressed in previous decades. These aspects call for a revision of theological presuppositions, as stressed, for instance, in the memorandum of the symposium held in Geneva in 2008. At the same time, they are a call to action to change the present attitudes towards nature. The justice aspect of Peace with the Earth needs to be stressed to echo the cry of the earth, of the victims of climate change, and of vulnerable populations who already experience the drama of a violently changing climate, and will experience this shift more and more in the future.

While addressing peace in all its manifestations, Peace with the Earth needs to be placed in a prominent position. Peace is, today, as urgent as it was in 1948, when the WCC was created. Christians, who are aware of this imperative, are called to develop a holistic approach to this issue, understanding the implications it has for the community, with the earth, in the marketplace and among the peoples. The IEPC is an opportunity to harvest various initiatives of networks that ate working towards peace in these areas and to re-create synergies among them, while the Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace should provide an adequate framework to systematize lessons learned in recent decades and to push the WCC and the ecumenical movement significantly in a decisive action towards Just Peace.

DOI: 10.1111/j.1758-6623.2010.00091.x

(1) W. A. Visser't Hooft (ed) "The Church and the International Disorder: Report of Section IV", The First Assembly of the World Council of Churches, SCM Press, London, 1949, p. 89.

(2) Cf. David Gill, "Violence and Non-violence" in Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement, WCC, Geneva, 2002, p. 1189.

(3) John H. Yoder, "Peace" in Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement, WCC, Geneva, 2002, p. 894.

(4) Peter Lodberg, "Justice and Peace in a World of Chaos", in John Briggs, Mercy Amba Oduyoye and Georges Tsetsis, A History of the Ecumenical Movement, volume 3: 1968-2000, WCC, Geneva, p. 335.

(5) Peter Lodberg, "Justice and Peace in a World of Chaos," p. 335.

(6) See David Gill (ed) Gathered for Life." Official Report VI Assembly, World Council of Churches, World Council of Churches/Wm. B. Eerdmans, Geneva/Grand Rapids, 1983, p. 227.

(7) Peter Lodberg, "Justice and Peace in a World of Chaos", p. 336.

(8) Cf.

(9) World Council of Churches, Central Committee, Minutes of the Fifty-Fifth Meeting, Potsdam, Germany, 28 January-6 February 2001, pp. 219-42. See also the comments of the moderator of the central committee, HH Catholicos Aram I, pp. 15-17.

(10) The statement was adopted by the WCC Assembly in Porto Alegre in February 2006. Cf. id=4326 (Accessed 18.10.2010). The presentations and outcomes of a conference on the topic, including approaches from different Christian traditions, were published in a book: G. Kerber, R Weiderud, S. Asfaw (eds.) The Responsibility to Protect: Ethical and Theological Reflections. WCC, Geneva, 2006.

(11) Cf. en/extra/archive/past-campaigns/on-the- wings-of-a-dove-2004.html (Accessed 18.10. 2010).

(12) Aide-memoires of these consultations are available at: http://wcc- (Accessed 18.10.2010).

(13) Cf.

(14) The presentations and a summary of the consultation were published in the June 2002 issue of the journal Current Dialogue, at: (Accessed 18.10.2010).

(15) See (Accessed 18.10.2010).

(16) I summarize, in the following paragraphs, some of the contents of the Second Draft of the EDJP.

(17) Cf. for example Vulnerability and Security: Current Challenges in Security Policy from an Ethical and Theological Perspective, prepared by the Commission on International Affairs in Church of Norway Council on Ecumenical and International Relations, Oslo 2002. Available at: (Accessed 18.10.2010).

(18) "Statement on Peace and Justice", in David Gill (ed) Gathered for Life, p. 132.

(19) "Report of the Assembly's Programme Guidelines Committee", in D. Gill, Gathered for Life, p. 255.

(20) Alastair McIntosh, Hell and High Water: Climate Change, Hope and the Human Condition, Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2008, pp. 111, 116.

(21) IEPC themes are available at: convocation/kingston-2011/themes.html (Accessed 18.10.2010).

(22) WCC's Executive Committee Minute on UNFCCC Conference of Parties--COP 15 in Copenhagen, February 2010, available at: (Accessed 19.10.2010).

(23) Fernando Enns, Bible Study on Luke 2, presented during the WCC Central Committee meeting, February 2008. Available online at: resources/documents/bible-studies/glory-to-god-and-peace- on-earth. html (Accessed 18.10.2010).

(24) The complete Memorandum from this Symposium, "Peace on Earth is Peace with the Earth", is available online at: iepc/expert_consultations/ Creation-Memorandum.pdf (Accessed 18. 10.2010).

(25) The Symposium builds on previous meetings held at the John Knox Centre in Geneva, under the leadership of Lukas Vischer. In 2004, a Consultation on Creation Theology organized by the European Christian Environmental Network (ECEN) looked at the biblical, theological and ethical approaches from various Christian denominations. The Report and presentations were published as Lukas Vischer (ed), Listening to Creation Groaning, John Knox Series 16, Geneva, 2004. In 2006, two consultations took place. The first one was convened by ECEN and focused on Spirituality; the second one focused on Mission. Reports and papers were published respectively as Spirituality, Creation and the Ecology of Eucharist, John Knox Series 18, Genera, 2007 and Lukas Vischer (ed), Witnessing in the Midst of a Suffering Creation, John Knox Series 19, Geneva, 2007.

(26) The Memorandum commends the efforts done by the Earth Charter. Cf., especially its Religion and Spirituality section (Accessed 18.10.2010).

Dr Guillermo Kerber from Uruguay is a Roman Catholic and currently serves as the WCC Programme Executive on Climate Change.
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Author:Kerber, Guillermo
Publication:The Ecumenical Review
Date:Mar 1, 2011
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