Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey joins pilgrims for the annual Palm Sunday procession in Jerusalem.
Calling on Canadian Anglicans to remember their connection to Christians in Palestine, Archbishop Michael Peers, the Anglican primate, has issued a strongly worded plea for peace with justice in the Middle East.
In an open letter to Canadian Anglicans, which outlines some of the history of the conflict in the Middle East (see page 5), Archbishop Peers noted the recent heroism of the Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, Bishop Riah Al Abu Assal, who went to Bethlehem “as a witness to peace and justice.”
Archbishop Peers also said that many Canadian Anglican clergy and lay people have served at St. George’s College in Jerusalem. “These are flesh-and-blood brothers and sisters who serve Christ in the midst of violence and terror?
In the Anglican Communion, there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’.”
The primate’s letter noted that the British promise in 1916 of a Palestinian state has not been fulfilled. He added that the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948-49 and after the 1967 war and “the legacy of despair” that has resulted for their descendents “is a deep offence against God’s justice.”
Overlooked in the actions of Israel’s armed forces and the desperation of the Palestinians, Archbishop Peers noted, “is the overwhelming majority of Palestinians whose struggle for peace has been humane, and the many Israelis whose quest for peace is undermined by the distorted assertion that the only path to peace is littered with the bodies of the innocent. Attacks against civilians, in Hebron or Jerusalem, by the state or by a suicide bomber cannot lead to peace,” he said.
Earlier, other religious leaders around the world, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, condemned the dramatic escalation of violence in the Holy Land. The church leaders had called for U.S. intervention.
As the primate’s statement was released, U.S. president George Bush bowed to international pressure and sent Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Middle East in an attempt to broker a cease-fire and re-open Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. President Bush was also issuing strongly worded statements to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for an immediate withdrawal of Israel’s defense forces from Palestinian towns and cities.
In London, Archbishop Carey had appealed to Israelis and Palestinians to step back from the “brink of catastrophe.” Archbishop Carey, leader of the world’s 70 million Anglicans, called for steps to “help salve the pain and frustration of Palestinians who long for a land of their own” and to “honour the deep Israeli yearning for peace and security and for an end to the hostility towards Israel’s very existence.”
Robert Edgar, general secretary of the U.S. National Council of Churches, told a press conference that with the escalating violence, “grievance is being heaped upon grievance, tragedy upon tragedy and grief upon grief.”
Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A., called for United Nations peacekeepers to be sent to the region.
“Clearly, the two parties in this tragic conflict no longer have the means or the will to control events,” Bishop Griswold said in a statement. “The United States must impress upon both sides the absolute necessity of this action. The current round of violence in Israel and the occupied territories has brought the crisis to its lowest and most dangerous ebb in many years,” he warned.
But he noted that even in the midst of the turmoil hopeful signs had emerged and pointed to the Arab League’s offer of normal relations with Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders.
Bishop Griswold described the offer as “precedent-setting, even breathtaking, and the moment must not be lost.”
In Rome, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said that Pope John Paul II was closely following the “dramatic situation” in the Middle East, and that the Vatican had been in contact about the situation with the United States, Israel, the Arab League and the Palestinian Authority, according to the international Catholic press agency APIC.
In Paris, the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox co-presidents of the country’s Council of Christian Churches called on political leaders, “starting with those of our country … to use all of their influence to convince the parties in conflict to sit down at the negotiating table. It is a question of the lives of hundreds of men and women who are victims of the conflict, of the ability of Israelis and Palestinians to live together, of peace in Israel-Palestine and throughout the Middle East and of our credibility as people living in the West.”
In Hanover, Manfred Kock, head of the Evangelical Church in Germany, called on his government to promote a joint initiative by the U.N., the European Union, the United States and Russia to exercise their “common responsibility” for the region. He appealed to Israeli and Palestinian leaders to break out of the cycle of “violence and counter-violence” and said that the Evangelical Church would offer support to Christian Palestinian schools, congregations and projects.
In Geneva, Dr. Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, called for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from Palestinian territory and an end to attacks on civilians and civilian property, including places of worship. He described suicide bombings as “morally abhorrent and beyond any possible justification.”
In Moscow, the Russian Orthodox Church complained about Israeli troops occupying a hostel built by the Moscow Patriarchate next to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The troops were laying siege to 200 Palestinian fighters who were occupying the church.
In a letter of protest sent to Israeli president Moshe Katsav and Prime Minister Sharon, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II demanded the immediate withdrawal of the troops, saying that the use of religious property for military purposes was impermissible.