Bishop Younan Releases Statement Concerning The Tabgha Arson

TIBERIAS, Israel – July 14th, 2015

Dear Fathers,

We have come from Jerusalem to stand in solidarity with the brother monks of this monastery after the arson and burning of this historic Church. The atrocity is not only against you and this particular church vicinity, but against every Christian and believer in the One True God, and must be denounced vehemently. This Church was built on the real story of the blessing of the loaves and fish, and despite the atrocity against it, it will survive the hatred and will remain a spiritual haven and blessing to all who enter its doors.

Dear Fathers,

The problem which we face is sadly the recurrence of these incidents on religious sites. We have heard recently the authorities arrested suspects who are thought to be the perpetrators. We strongly recommend that they are taken into justice. However, the problem is much deeper and succinct: the prevalence of intolerance, religious bigotry and discrimination. This, in turn, creates a mentality of non-acceptance of diversity and of the otherness of the other.

The Lutheran Church demands a change in the public discourse, a total reform of the education systems and complete transformation of how one sees the other who is different. There is absolutely no other solution in this place other than educating our children to tolerate and co-exist with other religions in the region: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

If this Country wishes to continue being seen as Holy, this is only possible through egalitarian right, and freedom of religion where every religion has the right to equally worship the One Holy True God and to equally respect the Church as the Synagogue as the Mosque.

We are saddened by the silence vis-à-vis these atrocities. To be silent is to allow the extremists including the perpetrators to turn us to hostages and pawns. We demand that all believers in God speak up and raise their voices to denounce hostile acts such as this venomous act.

Once we speak up, then future generations would learn to accept the other who is different. This way, we promote peace and justice, living with others and reconciliation which are desperately needed in this Country.

May this venomous act be the last and may the minds of those who deny others a dignified life accept diversity as a norm and as projection of God’s multi-genius creation of human beings.

Jesus consoles us by saying: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

May God bless you and continue to protect you to further God’s kingdom in this Holy Land.

Bishop Munib Younan Receives 2014 Civis Mundi Award

Bishop Munib Younan receives 2014 Civis Mundi Award
Bishop Munib Younan receives 2014 Civis Mundi Award
Bishop Munib Younan receives the 2014 Civis Mundi Award (© Susan Johnson)

WATERLOO, CANADA – On Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014, Bishop Munib Younan was awarded the 2014 Civis Muni Award for Global Citizenship by the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary in Waterloo, Canada.  The award is being presented to Bishop Younan for his dedication to bringing peace to the Middle East.  The award is given to those who embody global citizenship and who tirelessly work towards peace, justice, and integrity.  The award is in recognition of Bishop Younan’s efforts through both the ELCJHL and the global Lutheran communion to bring peace based on justice to the Middle East.

It [the award] tells us, ‘Don’t grow tired. Continue your good work to bring peace based on justice, to combat any types of extremism, and to continue to strengthen Christians in this county,”’ Younan said before the event.

Bishop Younan is an international religious leader who has dedicated his life and ministry to building bridges across the borders of separation,” said David Pfrimmer, Principal-Dean of Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. “It is an honour for us to be able recognize him and the challenge to follow his example.”

Mabrouk and Congratulations to Bishop Munib Younan on the 2014 Civis Muni Award!

Watch Bishop Younan receive the 2014 Civis Mundi Award here.

To read Bishop Younan’s acceptance speech, you can download it here (Word).

Bishop Younan and Mainline Evangelical Churches Meet With Grand Imam of Al-Azhar

Rev. Dr. Andrea Zaki Stephanous introduces Bishop Munib Younan to His Excellency Ahmed Tayyeb, The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar (© Al Azar Al Shareef)
Rev. Dr. Andrea Zaki Stephanous introduces Bishop Munib Younan to His Excellency Ahmed Tayyeb, The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar (© Al Azar Al Shareef)
Rev. Dr. Andrea Zaki Stephanous introduces Bishop Munib Younan to His Excellency Ahmed Tayyeb, The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar (© Al Azar Al Shareef)

AL-AZHAR, Egypt – With the help of the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services (CEOSS), the leadership of the Mainline Evangelical Churches of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Palestine, Jordan, and Egypt were given a chance to meet with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, His Excellency Ahmed Tayyib, the highest authority of Islam.

Led by Rev. Dr. Andrea Zaki Stephanous, General Director of CEOSS and President of the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches (FMEEC), and in the presence of the General Secretary of FMEEC, Mrs. Rosangela Jarjour, the heads of churches discussed the significance of Al-Azhar and the significance of the Grand Imam using his authority to speak out for moderate Islam.

Continue reading “Bishop Younan and Mainline Evangelical Churches Meet With Grand Imam of Al-Azhar”

Bishop Younan Launches New Book

Our Shared Witness - cover Bishop Younan launches new book, "Our Shared Witness". Photo by Kai Staats, ELCJHL

“Our Shared Witness, A Voice for Justice and Reconciliation”

The Rt. Rev. Bishop Munib Younan, President of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) has written a new book called Our Shared Witness: A Voice for Justice and Reconciliation. Bishop Younan is known as a bridge-builder, an ambassador of reconciliation, a prophetic voice and an advocate for justice, peace, and non-violence.

In the world in which he lives – where Palestinians struggle for life and coexistence with their neighbor Israelies – one might imagine that despair and hopelessness dominate. However, in reading Bishop Younan’s writings readers will find unending hope for a future of peace and goodwill, along with an optimistic determination to be part of the solution for this troubled Holy Land.

This collection of writings, speeches, and sermons reveals Bishop Younan’s context, his perspective, and his hope. Readers will find his theology to be contextual—deeply rooted in his daily reality as a Palestinian Christian —while at the same time being universal, offering insights and principles that apply to other situations in vastly different parts of the world.

Order his book from the Lutheran Press.

The first launch was held in Bethlehem, Friday, October 12. The second was held at the Swedish Theological Institute, West of the Old City, Monday, October 22. Both were well attended and featured guest speakers who provided reviews of the book, providing insightful feedback and praise for the Bishop’s endeavor.

Listen to the Bishop’s introduction.

Bishop Younan launches new book, "Our Shared Witness". Photo by Kai Staats, ELCJHL Bishop Younan launches new book, "Our Shared Witness". Photo by Kai Staats, ELCJHL

Book Launch 1
Oct. 12, Friday, 6:00 pm
Dar Annadwa in Bethlehem

  • Moderator and introduction of Book: Fred Strickert, moderator
  • Review 1: Rev. Sven Oppegaard, Church of Norway (download his review)
  • Review 2: Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Church, Bethlehem
  • Response: Bishop Munib A. Younan, response.

Bishop Younan launches new book, "Our Shared Witness". Photo by Kai Staats, ELCJHL Bishop Younan launches new book, "Our Shared Witness". Photo by Kai Staats, ELCJHL

Book Launch 2
Oct.22, Monday, 6:00 pm
Swedish Theological Institute

  • Moderator: Hakan Bengston, STI
  • Introduction: Fred Strickert
  • Review 1: Rev. Dr. Jesper Svartvik, STI/ University of Lund (download his review)
  • Review 2: Dr. Ophir Yarden, Interreligious Coordinating Council of Israel
  • Review 3: Yusef Daher, Jerusalem Interchurch Council
  • Response: Bishop Munib A. Younan

Council demands respect for all religious sites

The Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, comprised of leaders of Jerusalem’s Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities, has released a statement calling for respect for the holy sites of all three religions.

The Nov. 13 statement came in response to recent clashes on the al-Aqsa Mosque compound. The statement reads:

“The Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land regrets that the holy sites in Jerusalem continue to be exploited for conflict in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. The Council reaffirms its commitment to advancing respect between religious communities in Jerusalem, the protection of each community’s holy sites and their sensitivities.

“Accordingly, in the wake of recent violent events, we express our support for all calls such as that of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Muhammed Hussein, advocating non-violence and respect for the special and current status of the Al Aqsa Mosque, and the official repeated position of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel that it is prohibited by Jewish law (the Halacha) [for Jews] to enter the area.

“Together we call for the respect for the holy sites of all three religions and for peace of Jerusalem.”

Clashes broke out in late September when extremist Jews entered the area with Israeli soldiers, according to a Ma’an News Agency report available here.

This followed reports by the Islamic Christian Society in Support of Jerusalem that said that Israel plans to allow Jewish worshippers exclusive access to the compound to worship on 50 Jewish holidays.

Love Thy Neighbor Brings Peace Camp to Ramallah School of Hope

For two weeks in July they met, about 20 kids from Ramallah School of Hope, with facilitators from a peace group in the US, to learn and foster creativity, non-violence and peace-building skills.  “Love thy Neighbor” is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing educational resources and programs about the plight of Palestinians in Palestine/Israel to support both peoples’ deepening commitment to nonviolence as the way to bring a just peace for themselves and their neighbors.

Opening Windows within Walls – Teaching Peace in the ELCJHL

by Sister Sylvia Countess
Ass’t to the ELCJHL Schools’ Director

Although the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land was officially recognized as an autonomous church in 1959, it traces its history to German mission work in the mid-nineteenth century. The schools founded at that time were the first to provide education to Christian and Muslim boys and girls on an equal basis.

Today the Church sees its educational ministry as more important than ever before, especially in light of the present state of life for Palestinians. Israeli military occupation and travel restrictions make it increasingly difficult for families to choose good schools for their children. In addition, the economic conditions resulting from the political situation have limited parents’ incomes and their ability to pay school costs. Operation and development of school programs are serious problems in such a situation, but committed sponsors and partners overseas provide much needed support and funding to alleviate this dire situation.

Approximately 2100 students from pre-school through Grade 12 receive education at four campuses: Dar Al-Kalima Lutheran School in Bethlehem, the Evangelical Lutheran School in Beit Sahour, Talitha Kumi Lutheran School in Beit Jala, and the Lutheran School of Hope in Ramallah. The Church also supports four educational programs: a preschool and kindergarten program at Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem, the Martin Luther Community Development Center in Jerusalem’s Old City, a boys’ home, and the Environmental Education Center, both in Beit Jala. All the schools and programs are located within a twenty mile area of occupied Palestine.

The students in our schools come from varied backgrounds. Some families have long histories in their towns; others are political refugees from the Palestine-Israel area now living in UN-administered refugee camps in the Bethlehem and Ramallah areas. Most of our students receive financial aid to cover their tuition fees, but none is refused because of inability to pay. All the teachers and administrators except one are Palestinian.

Life here grows more difficult as each day passes. Since 2000 the area has experienced increased political restrictions and growing economic hardship. Explained briefly, the “prevailing conditions”, a euphemism Palestinians use to describe their stressful existence, include an increasing Israeli military presence, tighter restrictions on movement and residence, and lack of jobs because of difficulty receiving permits to cross into Jerusalem for work.

Israel plans to complete its construction of the Separation Wall within two year, which you see here in red. The towns that have ELCJHL ministries are marked. The black line marks the 1949 Armistice Line (known as the Green Line) which marks what was Palestinian land and has now been occupied since then. Most of the land between those two lines, then, has been confiscated for illegal settlements or to build the Separation Wall. This complex installation of twenty-foot concrete walls, electric fences, barriers, access-limited roads, and de facto borders, heavily guarded by the Israeli military, isolates West Bank towns and communities from each other and from Israel and Jerusalem. Ostensibly built in the name of Israeli national security, its eventual route will absorb 40 percent of Palestinian-controlled lands and isolate Palestinians not only from Jerusalem and Israel, but also from nearby communities in the West Bank itself. Trips that once took fifteen minutes can now take hours. New roads connecting the illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories are off-limits to Palestinians who cannot use them or even cross them to access their farms.

Consequently, many Palestinians are no longer able to work in Jerusalem and other areas of Israel. Many are cut off from their former farmlands and work places. Others are scrambling to find appropriate housing because of threatened zoning, road closures, changing boundaries, and encroaching illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory. Bethlehemites, for example, describe their town as a six- square mile wide prison. Unemployment and poverty levels are growing at alarming rates and in certain areas of the West Bank may soon reach 70 percent. The most recent socioeconomic crisis occurred after the Palestinian elections in January, 2006. International reactions to the democratically chosen Hamas Party majority in the Palestinian legislature have placed the economy in even greater jeopardy. Because of fund cut-offs, the government’s ability to pay salaries and health insurance is drastically restricted. Consequently, basic necessities for one million Palestinians no longer include assured access to health care, police or fire protection, or education.

These facts, distressing from a distance, become family nightmares lived out daily in the Lutheran Schools. Students and staff, whose permission to cross checkpoints is refused or delayed without explanation or advance notice, miss classes and school events. The schools’ director, delayed at a checkpoint for three hours, was unable to speak or distribute diplomas at a high school graduation last year. A deacon of a Lutheran congregation and his wife, both teachers in our schools, risk losing their home because it is too close to an illegal settlement built after their house was constructed in compliance with municipality permits. Some school administrators sadly note they are the single members of their extended family still living here after ten years of increasing emigration because of the “prevailing conditions.” Teenaged daughters of a Lutheran pastor in the West Bank have never seen the holy sites in Jerusalem, six miles away; their father is often denied travel permits to Jerusalem and outside the country, supposedly for security reasons. Congregations contain married couples who may no longer live together with their children because of permit restriction changes.

Episodes of violence are part of the group memories of local schools and congregations. Teachers and students in Ramallah and Bethlehem still remember the vandalism, thefts, and needless destruction of property that occurred in their classrooms and offices when Israeli soldiers shot their way into their school, “looking for terrorists,” during a curfew. They used the Lutheran pastors there as human shields during their armed searches of their churches. An American pastor residing in Jerusalem describes such incidents of stress and violence with which Palestinians live as “death by a thousand cuts” that slowly but repeatedly deplete their life blood and energy.

However, despite the grim reality of life for families in the West Bank, visitors to the Lutherans schools often express their surprise at the friendliness and joy they find among the students and staff. Hospitality is a hallmark of Palestinian culture, but the attitudes of the students and staff of the Schools of the ELCJHL indicate also the commitment to dialogue, peaceful coexistence, and bridge-building fostered by the church and its educational ministry.

In the face of social, political and financial challenges, the Schools and Educational programs of the ELCJHL struggle to provide quality education through various means. First, the Lutheran Schools offer an alternative to the traditional regional system of memorization and lecture. Modern educational concepts which emphasize participation and creative thinking are the heart of a holistic approach. Teachers and administrators see their pupils as individuals with needs and gifts, not simply academic performers valued only for grades and test scores. Through interactive class instruction, class research and study projects, the Lutheran Schools strive to prepare their students with the necessary tools to resolve conflicts and solve problems creatively, effectively, and peacefully.

Exposing students to the larger world is also essential in such a politically restrictive climate. The Schools encourage cooperation and communication with international groups and partner churches to expose students to a wider world view than isolation and military occupation allow. Pen pal correspondences and joint study projects with international schools, twinning programs, pupil and teacher exchanges and visits exemplify deliberate efforts to open windows within walls. Believing that lack of knowledge about the other creates mistrust, tension, and often violence, those charged with the educational ministry of the ELCJHL encourage communication with the outside world and view dialogue among people of different cultures and traditions as essential.

The staff and teachers respect the varied religious backgrounds of their students and do not aim to convert anyone; they do offer, however, an environment in which the Christian core values of non-violence and forgiveness are promoted and encouraged inside and outside the classroom. Children are taught to accept each other, regardless of religious, social, and ethnic differences. Extracurricular activities encourage students to channel their energy and emotions in positive outlets like sports, music, dance, and environmental awareness. Student councils at each school are learning responsibility and leadership. School counseling programs attempt to address the needs of a school population marked by life in a stressful and violent atmosphere; daily assemblies led by students, staff, and local pastors offer ethical and spiritual guidance.

“Teaching peace” occurs both indirectly through daily interaction among Christian and Muslim students and staff and also in specifically planned school activities and programs. Students and staff participate regularly in conflict resolution training that teaches nonviolent and constructive dialogue. Joint religion classes led by Christian and Muslim teachers meet twice a month to discuss common values and traditions. Lectures, summer camps, and workshops sponsored by the Arab Educational Institute (AEI) promote mutual respect for ethnic and religious differences.

The ELCJHL believes that peace and justice can prevail only through constructive dialogue and nonviolent action. We believe and teach that, as written in one of our schools, “Violence is the tool of incompetence.”

The vision for the Lutheran Schools in the Holy Land is to produce leaders who are open-minded and capable of engaging in constructive planning for the future of Palestinian society. As we promote the Lutheran value of education, we are shaping the Palestinian Christian identity of future generations in love and strength. We see education as a direct mission of this church, giving hope in a hopeless situation. The future is at present a fragile dream, but Palestinian Christians, like their beloved olive trees, have maintained their presence here for thousands of years, and it is hope which sustains them. Both the people and the olive trees of Palestine have suffered great pain and loss, but they also bear witness to the will to survive in hard living conditions. Salaam Bannoura in her graduation speech at Beit Sahour Evangelical Lutheran School in June, 2005, said it well.

We have tasted a harsh bitterness: the bitterness of occupation, of seeing our people being killed, homes destroyed, lands confiscated, and this apartheid wall being built on our own soil. But let us not give up hope. Justice will prevail, and freedom will come. All we have to do is to stand together, to keep the candle of hope burning, and to work and struggle for our freedom.

Bishop Younan Tells National Unity Conference Palestinians Must Use Wisdom not Weapons

Feb. 10, 2007 – Bishop Munib Younan urged Palestinians to “use brains, sanity, dialogue and non-violence and not arms to deal with differences” at a national conference Monday. The conference, called by independent groups, non-governmental organizations and other agencies, encouraged democratic, non-violent strategies as the only way to achieve Palestinian goals of an end to the 40-year military occupation and the creation of an independent, viable state living side by side with Israel. Banners and stickers at the conference said that Palestine is big enough for all of us and our differences.

The conference started off with Islamic Chief Judge Sheikh Tamimi and Bishop Younan speaking to the 200 people gathered. Bishop Younan told the group that recent infighting between Palestinians “is a sin and a shame on our people” and urged politicians and other leaders to listen to both those who agree with them, to the silent majority and to the voice of the opposition because this is the only way to develop a peaceful, nonviolent strategy for justice and to build a common vision of a modern, civil, democratic society. He urged the victims of the fighting to forgive and not to allow hatred and vengeance to overcome them.

The Bishop has been talking on radio and television and working with Muslim and Christian leaders behind the scenes to try to unite Palestinians toward non-violence and mutual respect in this crucial time of recent infighting, a new unity government and increased tension over recent excavations near the Al Aqsa Mosque.

Bishop Younan Calls for Palestinian Christians and the International Community to Seek Just Peace

Bishop Younan told a conference of 400 people on Saturday, November 3, that it is the responsibility of all Christians world-wide and the entire international community to help the Palestinians achieve some justice that will lead to peace He said the situation is getting very difficult for all Palestinians.

The Bishop spoke at Sabeel’s 6th International Conference entitled “The Forgotten Faithful,” a 7-day look at the life of Palestinian Christians today. Central to the conference was a survey of 1400 families in the West Bank and Israel (they were denied access to Gaza), which showed that a high percentage of young families are seeking to emigrate because of lack of jobs and to find a better life. The conference traveled to Jerusalem, to Bethlehem, Jericho, Ramallah and several villages around there, then ended in Nazareth and villages around there.

The Bishop outlined 5 things churches should do in their role in peacemaking. In our context as Palestinian Christians, living prophetically means that we are to:

  1. Condemn all forms of violence and sin
  2. Uphold a prophetic vision of just peace
  3. Uphold a prophetic vision of a modern, civil, democratic society
  4. Seek common values of mutual respect and human dignity with other faiths
  5. Work ecumenically and globally for the sake of humanity and justice

He ended his speech with these words: “It is time to liberate our world from the extremism and hate that seeks to dominate and distract us from promoting common values of love, justice, peace and human dignity. It is time to help make religion a driving force for reconciliation and healing that it should be rather than a part of the problem. It is time for us to realize that there has been enough hate, enough violence, enough occupation! How many more deaths, shattered cities, walls of concrete will it take before we refuse to further destroy one another? If ever there was a time to transform our swords into ploughshares, our hatred into love, occupation into liberation, it is now.

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.