Bishop Suheil Dawani talks to Leigh Anne Williams. Photo: Art Babych
After visiting the Holy Land last summer, Archbishop Fred Hiltz wanted to strengthen ties with the Episcopal diocese of Jerusalem. So the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada invited Bishop Suheil Dawani to attend General Synod 2010 in Halifax.
Since his installation in 2007, Bishop Dawani has focused his attention on a ministry of peace and reconciliation. He sat down with Leigh Anne Williams shortly before he addressed synod members.
What are your impressions of General Synod 2010?
“I am…enjoying the fellowship here. It is great to be for the first time attending a General Synod in Canada, and I have seen that the Spirit of God is moving [in] the way that people talk and [in] the way they discuss… issues, and the way they look for the future of the church. I was very impressed with Vision 2019. It is good for any church to strategize for the future.”
After Archbishop Fred Hiltz returned from your diocese, he spoke of the damage sustained in Gaza after the 2009 conflict with Israel. How is the repair progressing at St. Philip’s chapel at Al Ahli Arab Hospital?
The hospital is doing very well now and the church has been recently renovated. We rededicated the church just three months ago. The Archbishop of Canterbury came for a visit and we went together to Gaza and we rededicated the church in the presence of the Christian community in Gaza, which was really nice and we thank God for that.
What are some of the challenges facing your diocese?
The diocese is spread over five countries in the Middle East. We are in Palestine, Israel, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. And the church runs over 35 institutions in the health field and educational field and rehabilitation, so I believe this is our main focus of work. These institutions are in need of funds and support to keep them up to the standard and to keep their services alive.
We run two big hospitals and a major clinic in the north of Palestine and now we are planning to enlarge this clinic to serve many villages around the Zebabdeh village [northern part of West Bank].
What kind of ecumenical and interfaith work are you involved in?
The ecumenical fellowship is really good. In Jerusalem, we have 13 traditional churches and the Anglican church is one of the 13. We meet almost once a month as an ecumenical forum to deal with the issues that concern the Christian community in that land.
….I am very active in the interfaith work because I am an active member in the Council of Religious leaders in Jerusalem. Christians, Muslims and Jews come together to discuss peace issues and the co-existence among the three Abrahamic faiths…. I am also a member of the Anglican-Jewish committee, which is headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the two chiefs rabbis of Israel, and we meet once a year.
Besides that, we started…’Kids for Peace’ in 2002, bringing the children of Abraham together. This is very important work because we believe that we have to work with the grassroots…the little children…to encourage them to talk to each other, accept each other, and [to get to] know about each other. Every year, we have two or three groups, usually they travel to the [United] States for summer camps.
You have established a department for peace and reconciliation in your diocese. How can Canadians help support this work?
I believe the most important thing is for the Canadian churches to start coming to visit our local churches….Personal contact is very important, that they come and see. Like the primate, when he came to see for the first time. He has first-hand experience. He’s seen lots of things, and he [went] back and revealed what he had seen….Maybe in the future we can have some youth exchanges, children’s exchanges. Maybe in the future, Kids for Peace can come to Canada.
What advice do you have for the Canadian Church and the General Synod?
I cannot say it is advice. It is a prayer. I will keep the church in Canada in our prayers in Jerusalem as we pray at the Cathedral. And we pray that the Canadian church will always be united. Our unity is the strength for our witness. Unity and witness go together. If we are united in Christ, we can tell the whole world that we are disciples of Jesus Christ and give hope, love and courage to others.