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Ecumenical visitors to Jerusalem take shelter amid chaos

13 October 2023

‘We continued our work and prayer, while watching with horror’ says Bishop of Norwich

JESSIE ANAND

The Revd Jessie Anand, with fellow pilgrims in Yardenit, the baptismal site on the River Jordan, in February 2020

The Revd Jessie Anand, with fellow pilgrims in Yardenit, the baptismal site on the River Jordan, in February 2020

MEMBERS of the International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue took shelter at St George’s College, Jerusalem, the Anglican centre in the city, on Saturday. Among the group of 26 were the Rector of St Bride’s, Fleet Street, Canon Alison Joyce, and the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, who were present to discuss organ donation.

“We continued our dialogue work and our rhythm of prayer, whilst watching with horror the media as events unfolded,” Bishop Usher said on Tuesday. “The staff slept at St George’s rather than go home, and have been wonderfully caring. . . When the sirens went off we could hear the rockets being intercepted overhead or landing.”

A trip to Orthodox monasteries had been cancelled, but, on Tuesday, under the care of the Greek Patriarchate, the group had been able to go early to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to join the Divine Liturgy.

“It was a moving service at the place of crucifixion, Golgotha Chapel,” Bishop Usher said. “Powerful to pray for peace in that place of fear, agony, and desolation, and then in the tomb — the site of resurrection hope and light.” The atmosphere was “quiet and subdued”, with “fear expressed by many about what will happen next”.

Bishop Usher had been in Gaza the previous Wednesday, visiting the diocese of Jerusalem’s Al-Ahli Hospital with Archbishop Hosam: “The shops were full, the streets vibrant, and I was greeted with great warmth and Arab hospitality. I can’t get out of my mind the eyes of the people I met at the hospital — many wonderful doctors and clinicians at the hospital — and I know the medical director’s home has been badly damaged. Nor can I get out of my mind the videos I’ve seen of death and kidnapping of Israelis during the Hamas attack, which I utterly condemn.”

On Tuesday, the Episcopal News Service confirmed that members of St Paul’s, Daphne, Alabama, who arrived in Israel before the attacks, were safe after being moved from Tel Aviv to Galilee.

The violence of the past week has meant the cancellation of other trips to the Holy Land. A group of 14 was due to travel with Embrace the Middle East on Friday, to help bring in the olive harvest in the West Bank. The trip is conducted with the help of Worldwide Christian Tours, and is a partnership with the Joint Advocacy Initiative, established in 2003 by the East Jerusalem YMCA.

A “creative advocacy initiative”, it entails spending ten days working with farmers in a part of the West Bank under Israeli control. Farmers in the area are often allowed to visit their fields for just a few days a year. The slogan is “Keep hope alive”; 100,000 Palestinian families rely on olive production to support their livelihoods, “a way of life threatened by settlement expansion, military-zoning, and intimidation. . . Since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967, Palestinian farmers have lost hundreds of thousands of olive trees, ” Embrace says.

The Revd Jessie Anand, who serves as minister to the London Tamil Christian Congregation, and as a USPG chaplain, was due to lead a pilgrimage to the Holy Land on Tuesday, including five days in the West Bank, with a focus on “building ecumenism and peace”.

“My visits to the Holy Land, seven times since 2013, have made me treasure for ever the lovely people, the incredible holy sites, the different expressions of Abrahamic faith, and, of course, walking in the footsteps of Jesus, reflecting his life and ministry,” she said on Tuesday.

“My conversations with both Israelis and Palestinians have enhanced my understanding of the courageous lives lived by our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land in the midst of their ongoing conflict situation. When I reflect upon their daily lives, they lead me always to treasure the people’s faith and love in the Holy Land.”

The outbreak of violence had increased her concern, and that of her fellow pilgrims, “to be made an instrument for building peace in the Holy Land, rather than focusing on our own uncomfortable situations in life. . . My heart is still longing to see peace in the Holy Land, and we are waiting to be part of the next pilgrimage in 2024.”

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