Visit to Israeli President Moshe Katsav

The same leaders met with Israeli President Moshe Katsav to discuss the future of Middle East peace, conditions of the Palestinian people and the status of the AVH tax case.

Katsav spoke of the importance and the trauma of the Gaza disengagement for his people, and said that because of this a “historic opportunity” is here that the Palestinians should now take hold of. He said that President Abbas must now get terrorism under control, which Katsav believes he can do. He also said that the suffering, injustice and harsh realities of the Palestinians were brought on by the Palestinians and their terror. Bishop Younan said that the security of Israelis and the freedom and justice of the Palestinians were dependent on the other. Younan told Katsav that local religious leaders have started a “Council for Religious Leadership in the Holy Land” to promote greater religious understanding.

They urged the President to intervene on behalf of the AVH tax case in which the Israeli government is attempting to revoke a decades-long tax exemption that has allowed the hospital to function. Israel says that all other hospitals pay taxes and AVH should be no exception. LWF Area Representative the Rev. Mark Brown pointed out that other Israeli hospitals are entitled to benefits and resources that AVH would not be able to enjoy. He also cited the poor economic conditions the patient base lives in:

“The hospital is unique. We’re serving people who are not part of the national health insurance who have little or no capacity to pay,” Brown said of the AVH’s services that include cancer treatment and kidney dialysis.

Visits with Church and Political Leaders in Jordan

This same group of leaders traveled to Jordan the weekend before the Annual Council Meeting began. They discussed the role of faith communities in promoting a culture of non-violence, respect for all religions and peaceful co-existence with Jordanian government officials in Amman.

At a meeting with Jordanian Prime Minister Adnan Badran, delegation leaders Hanson, Noko and Younan commended Jordan’s contribution to the Middle East peace process, especially its support for inter-religious dialogue and far-reaching efforts to promote a culture of non-violence in resolving conflict. The meeting with Badran who is also Minister of Defence was also attended by Foreign Minister Farouq Qasrawi.

The representatives of the Jordanian government and king commended the LWF for its support to Palestinian refugees over several decades especially through humanitarian relief work. They also expressed willingness to work with the ELCJHL and the LWF on joint efforts to promote practical religious co-existence.

During separate meetings with the king’s personal envoy Prince Ghazi, and advisor, Mr Akel Biltaji, the significance of religious education in early schooling was discussed. Jordan, the LWF delegation learned, is involving students in education projects that promote religious tolerance. The LWF leaders also commended Jordan’s role as the custodian of holy sites in the Holy Land.

His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi, personal envoy and special advisor to King Abdullah, spoke frankly of the situation in Israel and the West Bank, emphasized the Royal Family’s interest in peaceful relations between Muslims and Christians, and sought formally to work with Lutherans to promote greater understanding.

Ghazi said Jordan is particularly concerned about the West Bank separation barrier which makes a two-state solution between Palestinians and Israelis impossible.

The prince proposed a Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, which attempts to avoid “a clash of civilizations” and depoliticizes religion. There is a growing awareness among Muslims that there needs to be dialogue with Christians and others, he said. Education is also important for Muslims to promote greater understanding with others. Seven “principles” of emphasis for Muslims the prince highlighted were: no terrorism, no offensive jihad, good citizenry, the possibility of democracy, respect for religions, human rights and women’s rights, he said. “Those are seven issues we think we can deliver through education,” he said. Taken from stories by John Brooks, ELCA News Director

Youth from the USA, Sweden and the ELCJHL Meet in the Holy Land

15 people, including 7 young adults from the USA and 3 from Sweden, are visiting the ELCJHL for over 2 weeks. The Southeast Michigan Synod of the ELCA, a companion synod of the ELCJHL, has been planning the trip for over a year. They wanted their young people and others from ELCJHL partners to meet the young people of the ELCJHL in their own churches and homes to learn about the church’s ministry and life here. They went to each congregation, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, where 6 of the ELCJHL youth there welcomed them, showed them their lives in Amman and then traveled with them to Petra.

The original plan to have a group of ELCJHL youth accompany the group the whole time was unworkable because they didn’t have permits to get from one city to the other. From permits to checkpoints, roadblocks to the Wall, the visiting group began to see that a normal life is virtually impossible under military occupation. So the group ebbed and flowed, depending on which Palestinian youth could attend each day. Nevertheless, they formed a strong bond through the stories and sharing of experiences.

At each congregation, group leader Scott Thams presented the churches with CDs of the Bible in Arabic and gave them bracelets they had made to raise funds for the trip that said “Bridges not Walls” in Arabic and English. He brought greetings from the synod, where they have been working hard to raise awareness of the harsh Palestinian reality and the need for a just peace.

ELCJHL Bishop Urges Tolerance Not Desecration

In the wake of accusations of the desecration of Holy Scriptures recently, Bishop Munib Younan issued the following statement:

A Call for Co-existence not Desecration: Sacred Scriptures, Sacred Places – A Sacred Trust for Peace:

The reality of Jerusalem and the Holy Land has taught us deep respect for the three Monotheistic religions so that we strive to live together in tolerance and mutual acceptance.

Despite any differences of doctrine or teachings there is a red line which we all agree can not be crossed. We all respect the Jewish, Muslim and Christian Holy Scriptures and Holy Places.

For us this fundamental principle of mutual respect for that which each religion holds sacred is inviolable. No person or group can be permitted to trivialize, destroy or besmirch these sacred things.

We are distressed and alarmed by the shocking allegations that in the U.S. Military Base at Guantanamo Bay and now here in Meggido and Nafhah prisons irresponsible persons have desecrated the Holy Koran.

We as a Palestinian Christians and our ELCJHL church, firmly denounce all such acts of desecration and violation of sacred scripture. The fact that sacred books are abused or desecrated in order to torture, pressure, humiliate or demoralize prisoners is an abomination. The dignity and human rights of all prisoners must be ensured according to the rule of law, human rights and the standards of justice according to Geneva Conventions. In equal measure the dignity and sacredness of the Holy Scriptures must be defended and preserved.

No one has the right to desecrate the sacred writings of any religion for any purpose. We therefore demand that the responsible authorities take the strongest measures possible to investigate these allegations and hold those responsible for any such violation of sacred trust accountable. In so doing they must redouble all efforts to prevent and eliminate religious abuse.

We are equally alarmed by recent cynical attempts to incite conflict by repeated threats to harm and attempts invade the precincts of the Al Aqsa mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem –the third most Holy Site for Muslims. Jerusalem must be maintained as a city shared by three religions and two peoples. As Palestinian Christians we stand to defend the sanctity of Al Aqsa for the Muslims and the Holy Sites for the Jews as well as to defend Christian Holy Sites for our faithful.

Authorities and Government officials must ensure that no one uses Holy Books, Holy Writings or Holy places to transform a political conflict into a religious conflict. As religious leaders we will not accept or tolerate such unholy manipulation, not in Israel, not in Palestine and not anywhere else in the world!

We are calling on the local and international community to vigorously oppose and stop the use of religion for hidden political agendas or aims.

We wish to make known to the whole world that Jerusalem shows that religious co-existence is possible, even in situations of political conflict. It is possible for the three Monotheistic religions to mutually respect the believers and Holy Places of each religion. We have a sacred obligation and divine call to work together to protect all Holy Places so that the Status Quo of the Holy Places remains intact and religious co-existence is upheld.

Our daily lives together in the Holy Land has taught us to defend and respect the Koran, the Torah and the Bible not to desecrate or diminish that which is Holy to our neighbors, our brothers and sisters of other faiths.

To desecrate the Holy Place or Holy Book of one is a desecration for all. To violate any Holy Place is an assault on all people of Faith. To insult the teaching of any is scorn the teachings of all three Monotheistic religions!

We pray to the Almighty God and call upon all adherents of religions, people of conscience, politicians, educators and people responsible in civil societies, that religious co-existence based on mutual respect and tolerance may continue in this Holy Land as a paradigm for the whole world.

Activities of the Women of the ELCJHL, April 2005

What is the role of women in strengthening the ministry and mission of the Church?

Is it possible to develop a core group of key lay women in a region where many of the churches have not seriously sought to strengthen lay leadership, and are predominantly patriarchal, clerical and hierarchical? Can women leaders develop better skills in a church which is depleted by the political conflict and emigration? These questions and more are asked every now and then as part of a healthy evaluation of the work process and its objectives. It has not been easy, when circumstances in our region have reached dangerous boiling points and when people have endured a long history of suffering and unrest. Yet we believe that the establishment of bonds – through encounter meetings and other forms of exchange – is an essential element of confidence-building and healing.

The political climate has indeed hindered our frequent meetings and encounters as women of the ELCJHL, but it has not prevented us from coming together to hear each others stories. In addition to the activities and social involvement of ELCJHL’s congregation-based women’s core groups, women from each congregation come together for joint encounters and workshops as part of ongoing initiatives and process. Our encounters provide a common platform for sharing and for focusing on education and spirituality and for exploration of ways for active engagement in Church life.

After months of uncertainty, joint encounters resumed at the request of the Church to go deeper into some of the issues which women found very helpful and applicable in their daily lives and experiences. The most pressing need was for self empowerment, personal growth and conflict management, specifically because the women come from a conflict situation. Issues like violence, roles, conflict analysis, communication, team work, decision-making and creative resolution conflicts are boldly addressed.

A two-day workshop was held recently and only close to sixty women could attend out of seventy five because the Israeli military sealed off Ramallah from neighboring villages and towns and from Jerusalem. For those few women from Ramallah who dared to break the siege to reach Beit-Jala, the trip lasted seven hours back and forth. Beside the workshop, which was led and facilitated by a female specialist in conflict resolution, the program provided time for bible reflections, discussion of the foundations of reconciliation, sharing personal stories and experiential exchanges.

As entertainment, Dar Annadwa International Center was gracious to show a film, recently produced by a Palestinian producer, addressing the realities of Palestinian Marriage customs. A discussion about the values and social codes which the film tackled followed the show. These kinds of workshops aim at:

  • Encouraging women to participate in activities and programs and to acquire new techniques of team-building.
  • Exposing women to an array of issues that correspond to the young and old and that are ecumenically and universally oriented.
  • Handling tensions and stress.
  • Analyzing needs and visions.
  • Improving positive thinking and attitudes towards self and life and self-esteem.

Two new methodologies were introduced along with the training workshops:

  1. “Congregations group” discussions and evaluation of practices followed by participants input and recommendations.
  2. Assessment questionnaires to be filled individually and anonymously. The outcome of such questionnaires enables the ELCJHL women’s committee not only to configure the impact of the workshop on participants, but to plan future directions, methodologies and programs.

Two encounters will take place in 2005: One in Jerusalem and will provide participants with additional opportunities to gain knowledge and skills in the field of conflict management, peace education, intercultural learning and active church membership and civil citizenship. In October 2005, in coordination with the FMEEC (Fellowship of the Middle East Evangelical Churches) who will nominate professionals and experts in Church management, a training program for young women leaders will take place in Amman Jordan.

The main focus will be on organizing activity planning and operating women’s groups in congregations. Some of the methodological tools which the women will acquire are:

  • How to plan and lead Bible studies.
  • Methods to plan women’s meetings and conferences.
  • How to draw more women to the group.
  • The evangelical identity: how to live it and to co-exist in an ecumenical setting.
  • Traits of Christian women leaders.
  • Tasteful music and how to use it in meetings.

We hope that concrete outcomes will emerge that can help us advance in a more hopeful direction.

Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik Visits Palestine, Israel and the ELCJHL

Let us pray that Jerusalem, the city where Jesus suffered and died, will rise again at Easter, making Jerusalem the open city that it has been, open to believers of all three of the world religions. Norway’s Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik visited the Holy Land in February to support both Palestinians and Israelis in the peace process and mediations. He spent one day with Palestinians and one day with Israelis. He had dinner with Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Bishop Munib Younan, Bishop Riah Abu al Assal of the Episcopal Church and other Christian and Muslim leaders to discuss the process of peacemaking. PM Bondevik, also an ordained pastor, worshipped with the Lutheran Church of Hope in Ramallah. The congregation was overwhelmed when he read the gospel in Norwegian, celebrated Holy Communion with them and shook every member’s hand.

Palestinian Lutheran Bishop in Jerusalem Supports Catholic Call for a Day of Fasting and Prayer for Peace

Twenty-five Catholic bishops through-out the Middle East and Africa have called for a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Israel and Palestine on Dec. 22 and for urgent action by the Christian world to do more to make peace. Bishop Dr. Munib Younan of the ELCJ, serving in Palestine, Jordan and Israel, has written his colleague His Beatitude Patriarch Michael Sabbah of the Roman Catholic Church in Jerusalem in gratitude and support, and is asking the Lutheran world and all partners to join in solidarity with them.

“The situation has dragged on many years now, and requires, today more than ever, action to put an end to the sufferings of all inhabitants of this land, Jews, Christians and Moslems, who have become equally incapable of ending the conflict, fettered as they are in a spiral of cruel and irrational violence. Both peoples, Palestinian and Israeli, are on the verge of perishing, the strong as well as the weak, those who use violence as well as those who wait patiently for a peaceful solution,” the statement says.

Bishop Younan states, “We believe that churches should stand together at this time for the sake of humanity and justice in Israel and Palestine and to save them from every kind of fear or oppression, in order that the two nations may live together in their own viable states, side by side in justice, peace and reconciliation.”

Bishop Younan also states that this call must also extend to all people of faith and courage who seek just peace in the Middle East for the sake of our children. He also strongly agrees with the Catholic bishop’s call for urgent action in the Christian churches because it represents the mind of the grassroots when it says:

“We believe that the churches can do still more. If all the Churches of the world recognize their duty towards the Holy Land, and if they all join together in common and concerted action to sensitive their governments, their people and the international community, their intervention will become a decisive factor in the attainment of justice, peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land”.

Both the Statement and Bishop Younan stress the need for relieving suffering on all sides of the conflict.

“We do not call you to take one side against the other. On the contrary, we want you to help both sides find the way to reconciliation. We are calling for an awakening in the Churches of the world, for a strong voice to be raised to promote peace in this Holy Land, where both peoples are in need of outside help in order to find peace and reconciliation,” the statement said.

Bishop Younan asks all the world to join the initiative of the Catholic bishops for a day of fasting, and prayer on Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2004 because “we believe that the babe of the manger in Bethlehem will hear the yearnings of every suffering person and will transform the hearts and minds of peoples and politicians toward justice, peace, forgiveness and reconciliation for Christ is our only hope in our troubled Middle East.”

Maundy Thursday Pan-Lutheran Worship and Procession to Gethsemane

On Maundy Thursday, April 8, 2004, hundreds of Lutherans gathered together in the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer for the remembrance of the Last Supper Jesus ate with his disciples, and to participate in the Eucharist. Bishop Younan, eight Lutheran pastors from six countries (Palestine, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Finland and the U.S.) and a vicar from Germany led the worship service. The Rev. Russell O. Siler, pastor of the English-speaking Redeemer congregation preached and Bishop Younan and German Probst Martin Reyer officiated at the Eucharist. With the words of the Gospel of Mark in their ears – “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” – the congregation, led by Bishop Younan, processed through the Old City streets, out St. Stephen Gate, and down into the Kidron Valley. The procession passed the Garden of Gethsemane and proceeded up a narrow road and many steps to the courtyard of the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Mary Magdalene. A short service of Scripture readings about Jesus praying in Gethsemane and being arrested were read, and several hymns were sung.

Twelve Young People Confirm Their Faith in Beit Jala on Palm Sunday

The Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Beit Jala was filled to overflowing on April 4, Palm Sunday 2004. The Sunday School children processed into the sanctuary with flowers and palm branches, and sang their praises to God. Flutes, guitar and organ accompanied the singing of the children and a young adult choir as well as the congregational singing.

Bishop Younan and Pastor Jadallah Shihadeh confirmed twelve young people and gave them their first Holy Communion in both elements. (The bread of Holy Communion is given to children but the wine is reserved until after confirmation in the ELCJ.) Following the worship service people greeted the newly-confirmed young people in a receiving line with the bishop and pastor, and a special reception was held.

Mother’s Day Luncheon and Program for the Day Center for the Elderly

On April 1, 2004, over one-hundred elderly women and men enjoyed a special program and a noon lunch to celebrate Mother’s Day. For this occasion the elderly people were brought to the refectory in the cloister area of the Lutheran church for a program of music and greetings. Later they sat at tables in the cloister courtyard and the refectory for their lunch and conversation. The Day Center for the Elderly is a program of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The Day Center is open from 9 am to 2 pm every day but Sunday and is located in the former Martin Luther School building next to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. Over two-hundred elderly people are served through the center. Many are able to come to the center and receive various services and enjoy activities; others who are unable to come to the center due to illness or disability are visited in their homes by nurses, a parish worker and the pastor of the Redeemer congregation, the Rev. Ibrahim Azar.