Church Leaders say Middle East Conflicts Not Religious

( [email protected] ) Aug 06, 2004 01:14 PM EDT

Three leaders of churches in Jerusalem, Roman Catholic patriarch Michel Sbbah, Lutheran bishop Munib Younan and Greek Melkite archimandrite Mtanios Haddad, visited three predominantly Muslim Palestinian communities to take a stand for inter-faith cooperation and peace, August 2, 2004.

The three West Bank communities of Tulkaren, Jayyous and Nablus were chosen specifically because workers for the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) has already been serving the area.

According to the WCC, the three church leaders praised the work of the EAPPI as “demonstrating the positive role that churches play in Palestinian society, both Muslim and Christian.

Another reason these sites were chosen because they were the communities that “have suffered the effects of Israel’s “separation wall” and its polities restricting freedom of movement” the WCC said.

In light of this tension, much of the trip was dedicated to promote ecumenical relationships between Muslims and Christians. Many religious and civil leaders of both Christian and Muslim traditions gathered in the three cities to greet the church heads, showing “the fact that the Palestinian people are one and united.”

At the city of Nablus, the Latin Patriarch Sabbah addressed the Christian and Muslim crowd with the inclusive love of Christ.

"The love of Christ is not only for Christians; it is for everyone," Sabbah said.

He also took time for the workers in the EAPPI.

Said Sabbah: And to the ecumenical accompaniers from the World Council of Churches, we called upon you and you came. We have put faith in you and we are always with you. This is an occasion to thank you, and also to thank the churches you represent and the World Council of Churches."

Lutheran Bishop Younan said the conflicts in the world are a struggle for mankind as a whole, rather than one faith fighting against another.

"It is not true that there is a struggle between Christianity and Islam," Younan said. "We are communicating to the world that we are one nation, one cause, seeking justice and reconciliation - Christians and Muslims.”

Younan also complimented the EAPPI, saying, “The programme (EAPPI) proves this, as it is not only in Palestine but in Israel as well. We work with everyone who works for justice and reconciliation - Christians, Muslims and Jews. This programme works with people of all three faiths who work against injustice and for reaching a solution as members of one human family."

The Archimandrite Haddad also agreed that the EAPPI is important, and that the conflicts facing the world are not religious but rather political.

"This programme is important," Haddad said. "It shows that the church is working for justice, without worrying about whom we are helping. I am very happy that Muslims accept the ecumenical accompaniers without worrying about religious divisions. This shows that it is not a religious problem; it is a political problem. This programme is a Christian testimony to peace."

Following the church heads’ addresses, members of the local communities expressed gratitude and solidarity with the churches.

We are one people, Muslims and Christians. We are together against the occupation,” said Abu Azzam, a member of the Land Defense Committee in Jayyous. “This visit not only confirms that, but shows the support we get from the churches and that we are not alone. They have supported us all the time. The ecumenical accompaniers show that as well. …They are good friends to this community, and we are all one family."

"It's an honour to have them come and see what we're doing here, and the village people's reaction," said Ann-Catrin Andersson from Sweden, one of the EAPPI accompaniers in Jayyous. "It is very important to see the commitment to us of the people who invited us. It is gratifying to see that they appreciate us. …There are strong relations between the church and the community, a fruitful cooperation. I think that the work of the ecumenical accompaniers here has helped as well."

The EAPPI was launched following a call by the heads of churches in Jerusalem for an ecumenical presence here in the Holy Land. Ecumenical accompaniers are placed in communities throughout Palestine and Israel, working alongside all those who struggle non-violently against the occupation.