THE Archbishop of Canterbury has commended an initiative to encourage Jewish communities to join in a month of prayer and reflection for Christians suffering persecution in the Middle East.
The scheme If Not Now When, by the Council for Christians and Jews (CCJ), is a “timely and pioneering resource,” the Archbishop said last week. He went on to praise the Jewish community for using their own experience as a “catalyst for a compassionate and prayerful response” to Christians facing persecution in the Middle East.
“A deeply impressive contribution to the work of reconciliation and peace-building, this resource will be an invaluable tool for active grassroots engagement,” he said.
The Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, has also expressed his support in a statement, pointing to “the scourge of hatred, intolerance, and oppression” which he deemed “the most urgent global challenge” of the present day. “Each one of us bears a responsibility to reflect on what we can do for those who are suffering because of their faith,” he said.
If Not Now When started on Saturday as a “mirror image” of past campaigns against anti-Semitism in the UK, most recently in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, in January (News, 8 January). Special events of “prayer, reflection, and learning” will be held in synagogues and Jewish youth groups throughout August.
The deputy director of CCJ, Elizabeth Harris-Sawczenko, said that the month of prayer was designed “to increase compassion and empathy” for both sides of the organisation.
“The Jewish community is coming together to show consciousness on a key issue facing the Christian community; to say that we care about each other, and that we have to do things for one another no matter which side is suffering. This unique campaign has united all dominations in the Jewish community, which is quite rare, to stand together. It is a springboard for the future.”
In a report on the initiative, the CCJ pointed to the thousands of Christians killed, and hundreds of thousands forced to flee their homes, under the threat of violence from extremist groups. Today, there are 300,000 Christians living in Iraq, down from 1.4 million in 1987. Few Christians remain in areas controlled by the Islamic State.
The Senior Rabbi of Finchley United Synagogue, Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence, said: “Our Jewish Community expresses its profound concern for the well-being of the Christian Community, their Churches and Holy Sites in the Middle East. It is incumbent on all peoples of faith . . . to protest at the desecration of Christian sites, the restrictions on their teachings, and the persecution and exile of their historic communities. We must add our voices to the protest and augment our prayers for their welfare.”
If Not Now When promises to be an educational resource and encourages anyone engaging in the scheme “to reach out to their local Christian community, to offer support and demonstrate a commitment” to bringing peace to the region.
The Pope has also urged the international community to take action against the persecution of Christians and religious minorities abroad.
In a letter to the Auxiliary Bishop of Jerusalem, Maroun Lahham, published by Vatican Radio on Thursday, Pope Francis wrote of his concern for those “humiliated and discriminated against” for their faith, and expressed his solidarity with Iraqi refugees in Jordan forced to abandon their homes.
He wrote: “I have wished to give voice to the atrocious, inhuman and inexplicable persecutions of those, who in many parts of the world – and especially amongst Christians – are victims of fanaticism and intolerance, often under the eyes and in the silence of all.
“My words, which appeal for solidarity, are the sign of a Church that does not forget and that does not abandon her children who have been exiled on account of their faith.”
The letter coincides with the Secretary General of the Italian Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Nunzio Galantino’s visit to Jordan to mark one year since the arrival of Iraqi refugees in the nation.