Saturday, September 17, 2005

Christian Palestinians urge moderation and "genuine dialogue" at Bethlehem Conference

Palestinian Lutheran Bishop Challenges Religions to Work for Genuine Dialogue
Meeting in the Holy Land Is a Sign of Solidarity with Other Christians

LWF Council Meeting in Jerusalem/Bethlehem,

31 August - 6 September 2005

JERUSALEM/GENEVA, 31 August 2005 (LWI) Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan of theEvangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) has calledfor a self critical analysis of individual churches and other religions, inorder for dialogue among religions to contribute to peaceful co-existence inthe world.

"Extremists are vocal and can hijack justice. We should not allow them to dothis," Younan told journalists prior to the opening of this year's LWF Council meeting taking place in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, August 31-September 6.

The ELCJHL bishop addressed the media representatives jointly with LWFPresident, Bishop Mark S. Hanson and LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr IshmaelNoko.Around 170 participants are attending the meeting hosted by the ELCJHL underthe theme, "The Church: Called to a Ministry of Reconciliation."

This theme was first proposed for the 2001 meeting after the ELCJHL formally invitedthe LWF Council to hold its annual meeting in the Holy Land. Subsequentchange of venue to other places since was necessary in view of anon-conducive political situation in the region.Younan, also LWF Vice-President for the Asian region, stressed thesignificance of the Lutheran communion for the ELCJHL not just individuallyas an LWF member church but also for the Christian community and fordialogue with other religions, in a region in which Christians are aminority.

"Your coming here strengthens us and is important for[inter-religious] dialogue," he said in reference to the respectivedialogues with Muslims and Jews.

Call for Bridges of Peace Not WallsCommenting on the barrier separating Israel from Palestinian territory inorder protect Israel from Palestinian suicide bombers, the Lutheran bishopsaid this was not a solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

"We wantpeace not walls. Walls divide, peace builds bridges." He described thePalestinian community as a good example of religious co-existence to otherparts of the world saying, "our people Muslims and Christians have always lived side by side.

"The LWF Council host church ELCJHL has six congregations in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Ramallah and Amman the Jordanian capital. It is committed to ecumenical and inter-religious service and dialogue ascritical in helping to promote peace and reconciliation. The Lutheran church, like others churches in the region, faces many challenges especially the emigration of Palestinian Christians due to the harsh restrictions ofthe Israeli occupation.

Hanson described the theme of this year's Council meeting, "The ChurchCalled to a Ministry of Reconciliation," as befitting in view of the event'svenue and also important because the world's focus is so often on the MiddleEast. To stand in solidarity with Palestinian Christians, he noted isparticularly important during this time.

The theme, he said, challenged the LWF governing body at this meeting "tospeak the truth" concerning several issues among them occupation, violenceand the separation wall. "Yes, the wall protects some, but it separatesothers," Hanson said.

He noted that freedom and justice for the Palestinianpeople is dependent on a secure Israel, inasmuch as a secure Israel is alsodependent on these very principles.Affirmation of Roadmap for PeaceIn view of the Council's discussions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,and particularly the impact of the separation wall on the Palestinianpeople, Noko said the Roadmap peace process remained an important issue forthe LWF. He reiterated the LWF's position on Jerusalem as a city of twopeoples [Israelis and Palestinians] and the three monotheistic religions[Christianity, Islam and Judaism].

These issues will be addressed when theLWF leaders meet during this week with the President of Israel and thePresident of the Palestinian Authority.Noko said the Council will also be discussing the status of the LWF-runAugusta Victoria Hospital (AVH) on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem inview of a court case over a tax exemption agreement. The LWF is challengingthe intent to revoke a tax exemption agreement between the hospital and theState of Israel. If this tax exempt status were to be lifted, the AVH wouldbe required to remit some USD 400,000 annually, which would threaten theexistence of the hospital that cares mainly for refugees from Palestinianterritories.

There are around 170 participants in this year's Council meeting, includingrepresentatives from the LWF member churches on the 49-member governingbody. Also attending are officials from LWF partner organizations, invitedguests, stewards, interpreters and translators, and LWF staff. The Councilis the annual governing body meeting between Assemblies held every sixyears. The current Council was appointed at the July 2003 Tenth Assembly inWinnipeg, Canada. It comprises the President, Treasurer and 48 personselected by the Assembly. Other members include advisors, who are ordainedand lay persons representing the different LWF regions.

Pauline Mumia, Editor - EnglishThe Lutheran World FederationOffice for Communication Services150, route de FerneyP. O. Box 2100CH-1211 Geneva 2SWITZERLANDE-mail