Deepening ties with Jerusalem

Published October 1, 2009

Archbishop Fred Hiltz conducts a service during his eight-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories Aug. 22 to 30.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, ended his first visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories with a strong commitment to deepen ties with the Episcopal diocese of Jerusalem.

As a symbol of renewed partnership, Archbishop Hiltz has invited the bishop in Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, to attend the Canadian church’s General Synod in June 2010. Enthroned as the 14th bishop in Jerusalem in 2007, Bishop Dawani, a Palestinian-Christian, has made peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians a cornerstone of his church’s ministry in the Holy Land.

“I told him we’ll give him a good block of time to address the General Synod on the life and witness of the church in the Holy Land,” said Archbishop Hiltz in an interview. “Part of that inevitably will touch on the political situation there.”

The Anglican Church of Canada and the diocese of Jerusalem are exploring ways to enhance their relationship in the areas of theological education, parish-to-parish and diocese-to-diocese companion relationships, volunteers in mission, and support for particular projects. The hope is to launch some initiatives at General Synod. There are also plans to arrange a meeting in Ottawa between Bishop Dawani and Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon.

During his trip Aug. 22 to 30, Archbishop Hiltz learned how the local church “bears witness to the Gospel in a situation that’s highly politicized, that always has the potential to be volatile, and where Christians are clearly in the minority.” The evidence of Israeli occupation in the Holy Land is “very real,” he said. Bishop Dawani and the diocese have chosen to advocate for peace and reconciliation among the three Abrahaimic faiths. The diocese has 27 parishes, 30 priests and 7,000 parishioners across Palestine, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

“Bishop Dawani’s mindset is, ‘There’s room in Jerusalem for everyone; we just have to find a way for that to be a reality,’ ” said Archbishop Hiltz. “When we met with Beatitude Theophilos III (the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem), he talked about the need for continuing Christian presence…[for] Christians representing a kind of bridge between Judaism and Islam.”

Bishop Dawani is “committed to bringing about change” primarily through healthcare and education accessible to anyone regardless of religion or race, said Archbishop Hiltz. The church is also trying to shape a new generation. “Children study together [and] they learn that, ‘We can be friends, we can share this land.’ ” This kind of education creates a different kind of leadership, said the primate, made up of those “who actually have hope.”

Archbishop Hiltz noted a discussion on how churches respond to conflict involving Israeli and Palestinian leaderships. Asked whether some actions advocating for the plight of those caught in the crossfire have backfired, he said, “That’s what I’m hearing.” The challenge, he added, is to call for an end to the loss of land, livelihood and lives “in such a way that there won’t be action that feels like retaliation.”

Archbishop Hiltz and Andrea Mann, global relations co-ordinator of the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod, also visited Gaza, where thousands were killed or injured during renewed fighting between Israeli military forces and the militant Palestinian group Hamas last December. The primate experienced mixed emotions after seeing bombed-out buildings on one side of the road and a huge refugee camp on the other, while in other areas, life appeared to be relatively normal, with markets open, children playing and people roaming the streets.

Archbishop Hiltz also visited the diocese-run Al Ahli Arab Hospital, and took communion on site, at St. Philip’s Church. “It was amazing to hear the deep, deep commitment to the people’s healthcare,” he said. The primate was moved by the story of one doctor who was in the middle of a surgery when told that his son, who also worked in the hospital, had been killed on an ambulance route. “He said, ‘What could I do? I couldn’t leave to save him, so I stayed to save another life.’ ”

During the eight-day visit, the primate found Galilee particularly awe-inspiring. “Galilee is so beautiful,” he said. “You go up a long, long hill to the Mount of Beatitudes, where they believe Jesus would have preached the Sermon on the Mount. There’s a peace there that’s beyond imagination.” At the Church of St. Peter’s Primacy, where Jesus is said to have prepared breakfast for his disciples and commissioned Peter, the primate and Ms. Mann waded into the water and prayed.

Bishop Dawani accompanied the primate to the Old City, where they followed the Stations of the Cross, believed to have been the same route that Jesus walked on his way to Calvary. They also visited the Dome of the Rock, a sacred site for Muslims since it is where Mohammed is believed to have ascended into heaven.

For more details and a photo essay about the primate’s visit, please visit


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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