THE gathering with Muslims and Christians at a reception in
Cairo all went well, until near the end, when the host said:
"Everyone here is afraid. Say something to encourage us."
There I sat, ticket to Jordan in my pocket, no risk to me,
called on to speak to a group of people who were talking with some
of the deepest fear and tension I have ever heard.
Much of the press attention has focused on the last 48 hours of
the trip, in the Holy Land. But the first three days were in an
Egypt full of stress, meeting Pope Tawadros (whose ministry of
leadership also began this year, about four weeks before that of
Pope Francis), the Grand Imam at al-Azhar, a former Grand Mufti,
and a whole host of others. It was deep immersion in the aftermath
of the Arab Spring, and all I know is that I know very little.
THE Anglican Communion is extraordinary - a wonderful gift to
the world Church. I say that from the bottom of my heart. Both the
diocese in Egypt (which includes the Horn of Africa and North
Africa) and the diocese in Jerusalem punch far above their weight,
and do it by love expressed in action.
Both dioceses have more institutions (including a full-size,
full-range hospital in Egypt) than churches - institutions through
which the love of Christ pours unconditionally to all who come.
There are schools, clinics, advice centres, and all manner of
general care. Both dioceses have effective relationships with
governments, other Churches, and with the Muslim majorities. Both
maintain a passionate and profound spirituality, and a commitment
to the whole Anglican Communion.
But what challenges they face! Egypt is on the edge: everyone
says that; and one person said to me, unconsciously imitating
Shakespeare: "I foresee much blood."
We can and must pray fervently for peace and justice in Egypt. I
was very glad that, at such a time, half the visit was there. I am
trying to visit all the Primates by the end of 2014; to see the
President-Bishop in Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Most Revd
Mouneer Anis (who is also the Bishop in Egypt), and to hear his
views on both the local and the global was a vast privilege.
THE Holy Land is another place of great tension and suffering. I
was invited by the Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt Revd Suheil Dawani,
and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch. The aim was partly personal
pilgrimage, partly meeting Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders,
and partly being taken round by Bishop Dawani.
The contrast between West Jerusalem and Ramallah is shocking,
however often you see it, as I have done so often. It is a smaller
contrast than in many of the cities such as Bethlehem (which I have
also visited and stayed in), Jenin, and Nablus.
On the way in, we stopped at an Israeli checkpoint, and listened
to some observers from EAPPI (the Ecumenical Accompaniement
Programme in Palestine and Israel). Seeing with them the indignity
that so many Palestinians suffer on a daily basis was an
The visit was mainly to take part in the dedication of a
diabetes clinic set up by the Anglican Church. The imagination and
enterprise of this diocese of 9000 worshippers inspires me. In the
Church of England, we must do all we can to serve them, those in
Egypt, and people across the whole region. They are our
IN THE Holy Land, it is impossible to say anything without
treading on toes, or to go anywhere without some people feeling
that you should not have, or that somewhere else was more
Let me echo here what many others have said: Israel is a state
that has the same rights and obligations as every other state in
the world, including the right to security and peace within
internationally recognised boundaries. The people of the region,
without exception, whether Palestinian, Jewish, Druze, or any
other, have the right to peace, security, and justice, especially
over land, and increasingly over water. But how can these things be
In a region where a civil war is raging to the north in Syria,
and insecurity is pervasive, it is absurd to imagine that there are
simple solutions to the total absence of trust that prevents
progress towards peace. As one person said to me: "Mistrust means
that every action is seen as part of a zero-sum game, and I can
only gain by making someone else lose."
Both sides are eloquent about the reasons for the fear and
insecurity. Going through checkpoints and hearing of the
indignities suffered daily by many Palestinians explains much. So
does visiting Yad Vashem, or hearing from those who have endured
All communities are suffering; the Christians are reduced in
number to a small proportion. I would have loved to visit further
afield, and to have gone to places such as Damascus, or Aleppo,
Sidon, or Beirut. I wanted to stay with the people in Egypt, not
leave as the political temperature rose. Over time, I hope and pray
that this will be possible.
As the Church in England, we must take great care to listen to
the voices of pain, and to contribute as servants, not coming with
some grand idea of solution. The issues of justice and fear must be
con- fronted (as we were trying to do last week), but in keeping
with these wonderful dioceses, confronted with love, humility, and
To read more about the Archbishop's trip to the Middle East,