Richmond Hill, Ont.
Initiatives like Jerusalem Sunday and the Canadian Companions of the Diocese of Jerusalem are vital sources of hope to people in a highly troubled part of the world, and Canadian Anglicans should consider giving more support to them, a Canadian Anglican priest told General Synod Saturday, July 9.
“You ask me why we have Jerusalem Sunday, why is it important to have a companion relationship with the diocese of Jerusalem,” Canon Richard LeSueur, a former lecturer at St. George’s College in Jerusalem and a member of the advisory council of the companions, said in an address on the Anglican Church of Canada’s partnership relationship with the Episcopal diocese of Jerusalem.
The answer, LeSueur said, is “they need to know that we care about them, are concerned, and are praying for them.”
Jerusalem Sunday, a 2013 initiative to set aside one Sunday a week—the Sunday after the Ascension—to learn about the diocese of Jerusalem “has yet to really percolate into the life of the church,” he said. The Canadian Companions of the Diocese of Jerusalem, established by General Synod in 2010, is a program intended to foster connections between Canadian dioceses, parishes and individuals with the diocese of Jerusalem.
Yet the diocese is in great need of support, LeSueur said. It includes parishes in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, many of which are struggling with conflict. In fact, the diocese’s parish in Damascus, Syria, appears to no longer exist as a result of the war in that country, he said.
“We have not heard from them for some time, and it’s now believed that they are lost and in flight,” he said.
Most Christians in Israel, he said, face the challenge of belonging to a “double minority,” since they tend to be Palestinians living among Israelis but also, within the Arab population, a minority among Muslims. Because living in Israel has provided them with so little opportunity, there has been a historic outmigration of Christians in modern times, he said.
“Most of the Christian community there are trying to get their children out,” he said. “So there’s been this huge exodus. The population of Jerusalem used to be 20 per cent Christian; now it’s less than two per cent Christian.”
The Jerusalem diocese, he said, provides “an enormous institutional outreach,” running 30 hospitals, schools and other agencies that together employ some 1,500 people. This, he said, is because Palestinians don’t qualify for the state programs open to Israelis, and are responsible for their own education and health care.
When he lived in Israel, LeSueur said, his social life was often strained by pressure he felt on the part of Jews and Arabs to sympathize with their side to the exclusion of the other.
“People want to know right away, ‘Whose side are you on?’ ” he said. “A really sad reality is the binary thinking that you encounter.”
Israelis, he said, still remember that the world turned its back on them around the time of the Holocaust; Palestinians, on the other hand, sometimes tell him that “the West is responsible for the Holocaust, but we’ve had to bear its cost.”
LeSueur said he agrees with an opinion recently expressed by some American writers, that there’s now no hope for the “two-state solution” once envisaged for Israelis and Palestinians.
“Even if you wanted to create a Palestinian state, there’s no place to put it,” he said.
Some say the stark choice facing Israel now is to either integrate all the peoples of the country and give them equal rights, or create “the equivalent of a kind of apartheid state,” he said.