CALLS for the Christian community worldwide to put more effort into addressing the challenges faced by the inhabitants of the Middle East, and by Christians there in particular, were made at two church gatherings last week — in the United States, and in Cyprus.
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, told a fund-raising meeting in Los Angeles for the Anglican diocese in Jerusalem that the different communities in the Holy Land should interact more in order to find common ground for a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
What was needed, she said, was a “two-state solution with a dignified home for Palestinians and for Israelis”, and for “deeper engagement; people of different traditions eating together, listening to each other’s stories”.
On the question of relations with the state of Israel, Dr Jefferts Schori said that the Episcopal Church did not “endorse divestment or boycott”. Instead, Episcopalians should “invest in legitimate development in Palestine’s West Bank, and in Gaza”. Boycotting Israel would “only end in punishing Palestinians economically”.
She also urged Episcopalians to visit the Holy Land and meet representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths there: “Pilgrimage forms peacemakers, people who stand in solidarity with those who suffer.”
This theme was taken up by the Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt Revd Suheil Dawani. He called for deeper engagement through visits, and relationship-building with “the living stones”, the people of the land who faces economic hardship and other challenges. “Our hearts always welcome you,” he continued. “Please come and visit us.”
Bishop Dawani said that the pressures facing the Christian community in the Holy Land meant that “we are losing so many young families — young people who leave and look for a better future outside our land.”
Bishop Dawani also mentioned that an emphasis on education was essential for young Palestinians. The diocese in Jerusalem sponsored some 20 educational institutions for more than 6400 Arab children, regardless of faith. They include kindergarten and high-school classes, and centres for children with special needs, as well as technical and vocational institutions.
The Bishop spoke of the initiative Educate for Hope, which helps to educate children in Zababdeh, one of the few remaining predominantly Christian towns, located between Nablus and Jenin on the West Bank. Funds administered through the Anglican church there, St Matthew’s, help children to build lives for themselves, and stay in their home country, and serve to stem the steady decline of the Christian population in the Holy Land. Educate for Hope now sponsors about 56 students each school year.
Bishop Dawani also praised the contributions of American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese in Jerusalem, which offers support for a number of ministries. Emphasising the need for Jerusalem to “remain open”, he said: “We need your support to work for peace and justice. Jerusalem is known as the city of God, the home of the three Abrahamic faiths. It is a beautiful city, a special place. It must remain open for all. Jerusalem is for unity, and not for division. Jerusalem is for everybody.”
At the same time last week, a Synaxis of the Primates of Eastern Orthodox Churches in the Middle East, meeting in Cyprus, proposed a series of visits to “different decision-making centres” in order to voice the Primates’ “concern for peace and reconciliation, and to create awareness of the situation of the Christians in the Middle East”.
The invitation for the gathering was extended by Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Cyprus. He was joined by Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria and All Africa, Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch and All the East, and Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
A communiqué issued at the end of the meeting said that it was agreed “that due to the current situation in Syria, this Synaxis has had a special importance and supported the immediate need for peace, security and stability”.
The Primates noted that Syria was a land in which Christianity had existed since the days of the first apostles, and that today Syrian Christians “coexist with mosques in a unique symbolism of symbiosis, fraternity and mutual respect”.
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