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Welby appears in Jerusalem to show solidarity with victims of the conflict

20 October 2023


Damage in the compound of the Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza after a building collapsed on Thursday evening after an Israeli airstrike

Damage in the compound of the Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza after a building collapsed on Thursday evening after an Israeli airstrike

THE Archbishop of Canterbury is paying a short visit to Jerusalem, which is intended to show solidarity with Anglicans after an explosion at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, which killed and injured hundreds of Palestinians (News, 17 October).

Archbishop Welby arrived in Jerusalem late on Thursday afternoon for what Lambeth Palace described as a “pastoral visit”.

“The intention of the short visit is to offer solidarity to the local Anglican Church, and particularly the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, the Most Revd Hosam Naoum,” a statement said. “During his visit the Archbishop will meet other Christian leaders in Jerusalem. He will be shown some examples of practical service offered by Christians to their wider communities.

“The Archbishop also hopes to meet with some religious Jewish leadership and renew an appeal for release of hostages, as well as offering sympathy and condolences for Israeli victims of the Hamas terror attacks.”

A Lambeth Palace spokesperson said: “This a crucial time for all of us to show solidarity and care to those impacted by this war. At heart of the Christian faith is the idea that the Church is one body. When one part of the body suffers, we all suffer. Being alongside our fellow Christians, to listen, share and support is central to our faith. We are praying constantly for all who suffer in the Holy Land.”

Archbishop Welby has described the attack on the Al-Ahli Arab hospital, run by the Episcopal diocese of Jerusalem, as “atrocious”.

“This atrocity violates the sanctity and dignity of human life,” he said. “It is a violation of humanitarian law, which is clear that hospitals, doctors, and patients must be protected. For this reason, it’s essential that we exercise restraint in apportioning responsibility before all the facts are clear.”

He has also condemned “the evil and heinous terror attacks by Hamas on people in Israel”, describing them as “crimes against God and humanity”.

He continued: “Israel has a legitimate right and duty to defend itself, and to pursue a proportionate and discriminate response to establish its security. The rules of war are there to safeguard civilians and the value of every human life. They must be upheld to the highest degree possible amidst the chaos of conflict, otherwise the cycle of violence will continue for generations to come.”

On Friday morning, Archbishop met the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem. On Thursday night, a building within the compound of the St Porphyrios Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza was hit by an Israeli air strike, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate reported.

Lambeth PalaceArchbishop Welby meets the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem, on Friday morning

Its statement said: “The Patriarchate emphasises that targeting churches and their institutions — along with the shelters they provide to protect innocent citizens, especially children and women who have lost their homes due to Israeli airstrikes on residential areas over the past 13 days — constitutes a war crime that cannot be ignored.”

Archbishop Welby wrote on social media after the meeting: “I join with my brother in Christ, Patriarch Theophilos III, in horror and grief that the Orthodox Church compound in Gaza was struck last night. When we met in Jerusalem this morning, the death toll was still unknown and people were still buried under the rubble.

“I pray for our Christian brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, and for all civilians caught up in this appalling violence.”

The World Council of Churches (WCC) said that reports from the Patriarchate indicated that many people had been injured, some seriously during the air strike, among them Christian and Muslim refugees who had been taking shelter in the church, which is located next to the destroyed building.

The general secretary of the WCC, the Revd Professor Jerry Pillay, said on Friday: “We condemn this unconscionable attack on a sacred compound, and call upon the world community to enforce protections in Gaza for sanctuaries of refuge, including hospitals, schools, and houses of worship.”

The Patriarchate said that it remained “committed to fulfilling its religious and moral duty in providing assistance, support, and refuge to those in need, amidst continuous Israeli demands to evacuate these institutions of civilians and the pressures exerted on the churches in this regard.

“The Patriarchate stresses that it will not abandon its religious and humanitarian duty, rooted in its Christian values, to provide all that is necessary in times of war and peace alike.”

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