April 29, 2008 – The leaders of Ireland ‘s four main churches prayed for peace with justice with Palestinian Christian leaders in the chapel of one of the Beit Sahour shepherds’ fields tonight. The Rev. Dr. John Finlay, moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, said this:
“We are here most especially to be in solidarity with the Christians of Bethlehem and throughout Palestine and Israel who suffer so much because of the current political conflict in this land. We know something of what it is to have incompatible histories, and we wish to offer hope for peace.
“With the people here we will pray for a treat of peace that will finally put an end to the occupation imposed by one people on another, granting freedom to Palestinians, giving security to Israelis, and freeing all from fear,” said Rev. Dr. John Finlay, moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
The church leaders are here to express a desire for peace in the area and offer Christian hope in a situation where continuing hostilities are causing increased hardship for ordinary people. Cardinal Seán Brady, Roman Catholic Primate, Rev. Roy Cooper, President of the Methodist Church, Dr. John Finlay, Presbyterian Moderator and Archbishop Alan Harper, Church of Ireland Primate, are responding to the urgent need for solidarity with local Christians and are bringing a message of peace from the churches in Ireland. The leaders’ visit will focus mainly on Bethlehem and Jerusalem where they will meet local church leaders and representatives from the Palestinian Authority and Israeli Government, as well as seeing first hand the relief and development work that is being undertaken by partners of Christian Aid and Trócaire.
Cardinal Brady, who visited the area last January, and who is scheduled to accompany the Latin Patriarch on a pastoral visit to Gaza tomorrow, recently described the situation:
“The situation in the Holy Land and the continuing hostilities are causing great hardship to both Palestinian and Israeli, and to Jew, Muslim and Christian in both jurisdictions. There is a sense of absolute desperation and that hope is running out. It is in this kind of situation that voices of moderation need to be heard; that actions of kindness and solidarity need to be undertaken; that all the people of faith in God need to join together and work together for peace. Archbishop Harper sees the visit as one of listening to and experiencing the difficulties of others. “This is an opportunity to show the solidarity of churches in Ireland with people living in the Holy Land and especially the Christian community. By sharing our experiences of living through troubledtimes and listening and observing we hope to share an authentic message of peace and reconciliation which will offer hope in this awful situation.”
Dr John Finlay hopes the reporting of the visit will create better understanding of the Middle East situation in Ireland. “For many of us we only think of the Holy Land as it is portrayed in the Bible and pay little attention to what is happening there at present. By experiencing today’s Holy Land for ourselves, establishing new links, building on existing contacts and recounting what we see and hear to others, we hope that our churches will be able to make appropriate gestures of solidarity.”
Rev Roy Cooper thinks the visit will be an encouragement to all they meet. “As well as showing solidarity, all our churches are involved in supporting the practical action of relief and development work being carried on in the area by local agencies with the help of our partners, Christian Aid and Trócaire. Through our visits to various projects we want to broaden our understanding and show our support and encouragement for all that is being done to help those who are suffering in a very difficult situation.”