Jerusalem Christian leaders seek day of prayer, halt to Gaza violence

Published January 2, 2009

The heads of Christian churches in Jerusalem have denounced continuing hostilities in the Gaza Strip as well as “all forms of violence and killings from all parties” and have called for a world day of prayer for peace in the Holy Land.In a joint statement, made available on 30 December, the church leaders noted that “this bloodshed and violence will not lead to peace and justice but breed more hatred and hostility”. It followed days of Israeli air strikes said to be in retaliation for continuing rockets attacks by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad from Gaza into Israel.The Christian leaders called on the world to keep Sunday, Jan. 4 as a day of prayer for justice and peace, “in the land of peace”. This came after five days of violence had left more than 360 people dead, while the U.N. Relief and Works Agency said at least 62 of those killed were civilians.They said: “We, the Patriarchs, Bishops and the Heads of Christian churches in Jerusalem, follow with deep concern, regret, and shock the war currently raging in the Gaza Strip and the subsequent destruction, murder and bloodshed, especially at a time when we celebrate Christmas, the birth of the King of love and peace.”The church leaders noted, “Accordingly, we call upon all officials of both parties to the conflict to return to their senses and refrain from all violent acts, which only bring destruction and tragedy, and urge them instead to work to resolve their differences through peaceful and non-violent means.”They also called on the international community to meet its responsibilities and intervene immediately and actively stop the bloodshed and end all forms of confrontation. That community should strive to end the current confrontation and remove the causes of conflict between the Palestinian and Israeli peoples. The church leaders urged the international community to push for a “just and comprehensive solution based on international resolutions”.”To the various Palestinian factions we say: It is time to end your division and settle your differences. We call on all factions at this particular time to put the interests of the Palestinian people above personal and factional interests and to move immediately toward national comprehensive reconciliation and use all non-violent means to achieve a just and comprehensive peace in the region.Among the signatories were Patriarch Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate; Patriarch Fouad Twal, of the Latin Patriarchate the most senior Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land; Patriarch Torkom II, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox; Father Pier Battista Pizzaballa, Custodian of the Holy Land; Anba Abraham, Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate; Abune Matthias, Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate; Archbishop Paul Nabil Sayyah, Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate; Bishop Suheil Dawani, Episcopal (Anglican) Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East and Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.Archbishop Fouad Twal, had on Dec. 21 held his first Sunday Mass in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip urging peace. At his Christmas sermon in Bethlehem on Dec. 24 he preached, “War does not produce peace, prisons do not guarantee stability … The highest of walls do not assure security. Neither the aggressor nor the aggressed enjoy peace. Peace is a gift of God and only God can give that peace.”In the United States, Churches for Middle East Peace and the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East released a letter sent to President George W. Bush saying “there must now be prompt action by your administration to help bring about an end to the violence”.The religious leaders said, “As people of faith, we care deeply about the welfare of both Israelis and Palestinians and deplore the violent deaths of those caught in this conflict … We reject all justifications for the unconscionable Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza into Israel. We similarly reject the Israeli response as disproportionate and believe that it is likely to strengthen extremists and undermine moderates in the region.”


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