We seek to keep you literally "updated" on movement in terms of truth and justice in the Middle East in general with a particular eye on Palestine. The links below will take you to various articles and websites that offer the perspective of leaders in the religious, NGO, and human rights communities. Additionally, Al-Bushra, ever vigilant, provides links to regular reporting as well as opinion pieces by journalists. The dates given here indicate when the link was posted; the most recent posting is at the top. Check the article itself for the date the information was released by the source.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Finding Jesus in Israel

Vicar of Hebrew-Speaking Catholics Tells His Story

ROME, FEB. 24, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Father David Neuhaus was born into a Jewish family and yet at an early age he converted to Christianity.

Mark Riedemann for Where God Weeps in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need spoke with the priest, who serves as the Patriarchal Vicar of the Hebrew-speaking Catholic vicariate in Israel.

Q: Father, you were raised in a Jewish family. Did you have a strong religious upbringing?

Father Neuhaus: I had what might be called a traditional Jewish upbringing. I was sent to a Jewish day school; a wonderful school. If I had children, I might send them there even now. And so we were schooled in the Jewish tradition at home. My parents were very open and not very religiously practicing.

Q: How did you perceive Christianity at that time?

Father Neuhaus: It was a very complex issue. My parents are refugees from Nazi Germany and so we grew up with a very strong awareness of history and of course history is one place where Jews and Christians met in rather traumatic interaction. But at the same time my parents are very open and are loving people and so that message of the traumas of history was balanced with an openness toward our neighbors.

Q: You converted to Christianity at an early age. What was it that inspired you to consider conversion to Christianity?

Father Neuhaus: It was at the age of 15 upon first arriving in Israel that I made the acquaintance of one of the great spiritual figures at that time in Jerusalem, a Russian Orthodox nun who was the abbess -- the mother abbess of a convent -- her name was Mother Barbara.

Q: I think she was even Russian nobility?

Father Neuhaus: A countess, a member of the Russian aristocracy and through her I met Jesus Christ. She was a woman who by the time I met her was already 89 years old, paralyzed, unable to move from her bed, but shinning with the joy of Christ and it is that which struck me. I did not go to see her because I was interested in Christianity but rather because I was interested in Russian history and meeting her was truly a meeting with Jesus Christ. I did not believe in too much at that time and religion did not interest me in the least but what attracted my attention was the great joy with which she spoke about anything and it was a joy that provoked me to ask her: "Why are you so joyful? You're 89 years old, you can't walk, you can't move, you are living in a tiny little dingy room. What makes you so happy?" And that provoked her in turn to give witness to her faith. That simply trapped me; caught me.

Q: You didn't choose the Orthodox faith. What inspired you to choose the Catholic faith?

Father Neuhaus: The intermediate step of course was going back home and telling my parents that I had met Mother Barbara and through her this man Jesus.

Q: What was their reaction?

Father Neuhaus: My parents were shocked. They had sent me to Israel. They didn't expect their Jewish son being sent to a Jewish school in Israel would come back speaking about Jesus -- and in the course of the conversation I made a promise to them that I would wait 10 years. I was only 15. I said: "I will wait until I'm 25. If this is still true when I'm 25 you will accept," and they immediately agreed. I think what they thought was: "He is going to grow up and grow out of this." And indeed they did accept and I have a very, very close relationship with my parents. What happened in the intermediate period was trying to come more and more to terms with what this implied; believing in Jesus and then slowly but surely searching to be integrated into his body in the Church.

Q: What did this imply?

Father Neuhaus: First and foremost, as a Jew it implied trying somehow to deal with the very hard and difficult themes of Jewish-Christian relations in history; being drawn to the Catholic Church because of the Church's attempt to deal with that history, a road of asking for pardon and a road looking for reconciliation. The Orthodox Church, particularly the Byzantine tradition, is one that attracts me enormously; aesthetically I love the liturgy, the chants, it's beautiful, but what I found in the Roman Catholic Church was a real attempt to take on our responsibility as a historical body in the history of the world. The person who opened the door was Pope John XXIII. Pope John XXIII's willingness to convoke the council and take on these very, very difficult themes of what is our responsibility for the history of the world made me able to think that I could be Catholic and I could be Jewish and I could go to my family and say, I am not betraying the people that I belong to. With my parents the dialogue lasted 10 years and as I say, by the time I was baptized at the age of 26 my parents were somewhat reconciled to having a son who was a real "black sheep" and as I say the relationship with them is very strong.

Q: At what point in this process did you sense an inkling of your vocation?

Father Neuhaus: It came almost immediately to be honest; at the age of 15, three months after meeting Mother Barbara, the kids in my school asked one another to write where we would be when we were 30, in other words, in 15 years after the time that we were together. I wrote, I will be a monk in a monastery. At that time I still thought in terms of the Orthodox Church, but I think that there was already a clear sense that my Christian life would be lived out in this kind of consecration to the people of God and the attempt to live a life dedicated to reconciliation.

Q: What would you say is the sacrament with which you have the greatest affinity?

Father Neuhaus: It was very clear right from the very beginning of my Christian life that I was very much drawn to the Eucharist; to be in contact with the Body of Christ in the Eucharist. And of course, I repeat again for 10 years I attended the Eucharist regularly without being able to participate.

Q: So the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist was never a question for you.

Father Neuhaus: Absolutely no question and not only that but I was regularly going to adoration long before I could even take Communion.

Q: What was it that drew you?

Father Neuhaus: The realization that Christ is keeping His promise in the Sacrament; the promise that He would be with us always, that we are not alone, that He is there until the end of time. I think that I was only really interiorly touched by the Sacrament of Confession when I studied here in Rome and took the classes to prepare future priests to hear Confession and then realizing that the presence of Christ in this Sacrament of Reconciliation; in this Sacrament of pardon, is a very, very powerful way to make God present in the world. I would say that all the Sacraments, of course are very, very strongly felt in the life of a priest but for me personally the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation are where I have a very strong personal sense of Jesus' real presence in the world.

Q: You are the Patriarchal Vicar of the Hebrew-speaking Catholic vicariate in Israel. Can you tell us what this vicariate is and what is the vision of this Catholic community?

Father Neuhaus: In 1955, a pious association called The Work of St. James was established in Israel in order to take care of the thousands of Catholics who had found their way to Israel -- usually part members of Jewish families because of the large waves of immigration that came particularly from Europe. Some Jewish men were married to Catholic women -- that was the general model. Some of their children were baptized and they felt need for a pastoral presence among these people. These people became very fast part and parcel of Jewish Hebrew-speaking Israeli society and therefore, by definition, did not find their place in the majority Arabic-speaking church. This community dwindled over the years -- it is an enormous challenge to be a Catholic in a Jewish Hebrew-speaking Israeli society. It dwindled primarily because of assimilation, primarily because we were not able to keep our young people, practicing Catholics, and they gradually disappeared assimilating into secular society. What happened though was that there were further enormous waves of immigration; Russian speakers, but not only them, also huge groups of foreign workers, refugees and even now, of Arab Christians who for economic reasons are moving to Jewish towns where their children -- all of the above children -- are integrated into Hebrew-speaking schools and thus speak Hebrew as their first language. It has become more and more necessary to develop this Hebrew-speaking presence. Although our sacramental communities are very small our catechetical challenge is enormous -- to guarantee the continuing Catholic identity and offer a faith experience to Catholic children who are part and parcel of Hebrew-speaking Jewish society.

Q: Hebrew is of course an identifying characteristic of the Jewish tradition. How do the Jews respond to your work? Do you not face animosity in this question?

Father Neuhaus: I think that, because of the peculiarity of a Catholic community or any kind of Christian community praying in Hebrew, the first response is not animosity but shock -- shock to hear the Mass celebrated in Hebrew, shock to hear Christians talking about their faith in Hebrew. We have an active Web site and there too the primary language of our communication with each other and our primary language of our communication with the larger society is Hebrew. So the first reaction is shock - this is our language and you are speaking it. Sometimes it can turn into animosity and we try to understand that from the place of a deep identification with the pain of the Jewish people in the light of the centuries of Christian-Jewish animosity and suffering through the centuries so that we try not to be reactive but rather to come from a place of understanding and patience and love for the Jewish people. So that we continue our life and we are very insistent that we are part and parcel of the society. We celebrate in Hebrew. We discuss in Hebrew. We are now publishing our catechism books in Hebrew and thanks be to God we have the freedom to do that.

Q: Do you have members who are Jews?

Father Neuhaus: Among the immigrants, also some are Jews. It needs to be stated that because we do not go out and proselytize, we do not have a large number of Jewish members who have come to Christ through our work. More often, it is Jewish people who might have met Christ somewhere else and find our community as their home. We have very, very few conversions and each one is a very particular one and an individual story in the life of our community, but we are very sensitive to trying to allow our Catholics, whether they are of Jewish origin or not, to find an expression of their faith that would inculturate them within the society in which we live, in other words, be sensitive to the language, to the traditions, to the feasts, to the cultural mores of the Jewish traditions that defines life in Hebrew-speaking Israeli society.

Q: Do the converted live in secrecy?

Father Neuhaus: We have religious freedom in Israel. We are a country where people can make religious choices. The problem of course is social and family pressure; conversion is not looked upon lightly or kindly within Jewish society as with most other societies, I would imagine and so much of the pressure that prospective converts might face does not come from state or from a legal situation but from families that would be shocked. Yes, we do have families or individuals who live to some degree in secrecy and others who live very openly.

Q: You have a particular charisma with your work. Would you say that your role has been somehow pre-ordained?

Father Neuhaus: I'm still struggling with that plan because for the first nine years of my priestly life, I was professor of Scripture in the seminary and I thought that was the plan. I love teaching Scripture and that is evident in the way I form the community. I'm not sure. I leave that up to God. What the future of this particular mission is, I leave it up to Him.

Q: What kind of institutional support do you have within the society to support your work?

Father Neuhaus: We do not have schools and to be perfectly honest we are still debating whether we should have schools because one of the challenges for us is not to live in a ghetto, not to set up too many institutions that would separate us from mainstream society. We are talking about a small number. We are talking about a society that is rich and that has very, very good institutions -- schools and hospitals, so that there is no need from that point of view to set up our own institutions. But the challenge of course is, and this is the greatest challenge that we have in our particular vicariate, how to transmit the faith from generation to generation? How can we do that integrated into society when the pull of secular society is very, very strong? We believe that we have to work very, very hard, in order once again to allow our children to experience our faith and probably the only way to really accomplish that is to create oases of joy, oases of peace. Of course it goes back to my own experience: I was attracted to the Church because it was a place of joy. Can we make our communities places of joy?

One of the expressions of community life that I'm very proud of is our children's summer camp where we have an incredible variety of children who come together, whether they come from Russian-speaking families, or Filipinos, or Africans or Arab-speaking families that live in Hebrew speaking areas; these children all come together and they discover that they have two very important things in common: they speak the same language -- Hebrew -- and they are Catholics. What we try to create there is a real experience of joy that might give them the stamina to continue in their search of a real faith life.

Q: How do you see your place within the larger Catholic community?

Father Neuhaus: We must be integrated into the local Church and of course, that is never simple because of the political conflict in the land. Hebrew-speakers and Arabic-speakers are often divided by politics. The Church is called to give a witness to the fact that in Christ there are no borders. The obstacles come down in Christ and we are one in His body. This is a very, very important subject for me personally. When I came to the land, I already knew Hebrew. I started to learn Arabic. I have been integrated into the life of the Arabic-speaking Church always and particularly since I became a priest -- I'm a professor in the seminary which is an Arabic-speaking seminary -- and so here again I think we are called to incarnate an alternative to the reality we that see outside where between Arabs and Jews there is an abyss between them. In the Church, I think we need to give expression to the possibility that we be indeed one in peace because He is our peace; if He is not our peace we are giving a poor witness.

Q: You've given account of your role within the Jewish environment. How are you within the Arab environment -- are you sitting between two chairs?

Father Neuhaus: I like to think that I am sitting on two chairs. We have to work at it. I'd like to make reference to what happened at the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East some time ago: I gave my testimony about our little community and many, many bishops came to me afterwards to say how pleased they were to know about this very small and unknown community. Again, our role is not politics. Our role is really to give witness to the fact that our little community is also giving witness to the risen Lord in the land that was His historically. We do this in full communion with our Arab brothers and sisters; again, though politics divide us, perhaps. I wouldn't say that that is true of all the members of the Hebrew-speaking members of the vicariate, some of whom are great workers for peace and justice in the land. I'd like to think of myself in those terms as well, really struggling that there would be justice for the Palestinian people but our primary aim is the one of saying: It is possible in Jesus Christ because He is our peace and because He is our Peace there is no more Jew or Arab in His body. We are one. One body of Christ.

Q: Over the last 20 years, tens of thousands of immigrants have arrived from the former Soviet Union. You did mention earlier that there were certainly many Jews but many Christians came as family members. How has this impacted your work?

Father Neuhaus: Well we have new members, of course. As you say quite rightly the vast majority of the tens of thousands of Christians within the wave of close to a million new immigrants to Israel are in fact Orthodox and that has led to the creation of small but vibrant Orthodox communities -- Byzantine rite communities all over Israel and they continue their life of faith, often again very discreetly and in some way hidden because many of these people have come to Israel as Jews and then give expression of their Christian faith once they are in Israel. At the same time, it is also true that many Russian speakers who were in fact Christian did not find their place in Israel when they realized that in Israel too, there are no institutions, no structures to support Christian life. Many of those who were in fact Christians either went back to the countries they came from or continued on their way to other Western countries. And so we've also lost a number of those families who have made the choice that Israel was not for them.

Q: What is your message to Christians and Jews?

Father Neuhaus: I think that the first message would be one of hope; let us hope that just as Jews and Catholics, after centuries of a very traumatic relationship, have entered into a new age, that this might also be the future of the Middle East. We need to work very hard -- both praying very hard and working very hard -- for reconciliation. And we need the support of the world. The world needs to both encourage us and also help us make it worthwhile for us to find the ways to open up a new age in the Middle East, an age where all peoples will find their home in Jerusalem and by extension all throughout the Middle East. The Middle East is passing through a very difficult time and that difficult time has been provoked by events that have taken place in the last 100 to 150 years, which has led to the forgetfulness of the richness of what Middle East society can be. When we think a hundred years ago there were Christians, Jews and Muslims of all kind living in a community that had a much deeper appreciation of the richness of pluralism than we do today. I think that we need to build a bridge between the past, which was much more pluralist, to a future that, hopefully, will be much more pluralist.

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Source: http://www.zenit.org/article-34365?l=english and http://www.zenit.org/article-34367?l=english

This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for "Where God Weeps," a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

On the Net:




Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Holy Land Custos Makes Appeal for Syria

Franciscans Are Supporting Local Population

JERUSALEM, FEB. 21, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of an appeal made by the custos of the Holy Land, Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, regarding the situation in Syria.

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After the great changes that have taken place in Egypt, the situation in which Syria now finds itself shows in an unequivocal manner how the Middle Eastern panorama is being rapidly transformed. A year ago such scenarios would have been impossible to envisage.

In these months of great tension, when Syria is being torn apart by internal clashes, and where the conflict seems to be assuming more and more the form of a civil war, the Franciscans, together with the few other members of the Latin [Roman Catholic] Church, are committed to supporting the local Christian population.

The Custody is present in various areas within the country: Damascus, Aleppo, Latakia, Orontes.

The medical dispensaries in the Franciscan monasteries, following the tradition of the Custody, have become places of refuge and hospitality for everyone, regardless of whether they are Alawite, Sunni, Christian, rebels or government-supporters.

At a time of total confusion and dismay, many businesses, especially exporters and importers, have closed their doors. Only bare traces remain of the thousands of tourists who until recently were the lifeblood of a modern and flourishing industry which had created hundreds of jobs in the transport, lodging and service sectors.

Agricultural production is also facing grave difficulties. The international embargo prevents any possibility of exporting and prices have collapsed. The weakest elements of the population have inevitably been the hardest hit, and are suffering in particular from energy and water shortages. In the major cities there are power outages at various times during the day, if not for the entire day, and gasoline is rationed. All of this has created enormous difficulties for the population, who are forced to face the harsh winter temperatures with no means of heating their homes.

To be with the people, to welcome and assist those in need, without regard for race, religion and nationality. To guarantee, through its confident presence, religious services to the faithful because they understand the importance of remaining in one’s own country. This remains the sense of the Franciscan mission. In times not dissimilar from those in which Francis addressed the friars, exhorting them to maintain firm the values of the Gospel. In his simple exhortations Francis reflected the grace received from the Lord, and through his daily life testified to the acceptance of faith as the most dear and precious thing to be cultivated and strengthened. We friars, who find ourselves enriched by his extraordinary example, inherited without any merit on our part, have the task of emulating and transmitting the teaching of our master to future generations, so that they will be able to continue along the path traced out by him with such immense love and humble dedication.

We ask all friends of ATS pro Terra Sancta to support, through a concrete gesture, the numerous Syrian Christians and the charitable works of the Custody of the Holy Land. The funds collected will be delivered rapidly to the resident friars in Syria, who will ensure they are used wisely and carefully.

We would be grateful if you could transmit this appeal widely, and we send our best wishes for Peace and Goodwill!

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For more information:


Out of Palestine: Solidarity with a displaced people

the cover of America, the Catholic magazine

Recently I asked Dominique Najjar, a Palestinian Christian who lives with his wife and children in Minneapolis, why so many Palestinians are leaving Palestine. He told me the story of how he and two of his three brothers, all aspiring professionals, immigrated to the United States from East Jerusalem out of “economic necessity,” starting in the early 1970s. “My parents needed support,” he said, explaining that economic advancement was impossible under Israeli control. This took place within the first decade of the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, which began after the 1967 war and is illegal under international law.

But there is more to Mr. Najjar’s story. He and one of his brothers did not intend to emigrate permanently from their homeland. After they had moved to the United States, however, Israel revoked their Jerusalem residency status. Now they are given 90-day tourist visas when they return to their hometown, where their 89-year-old mother lives alone. Since none of her seven adult children enjoys residency status in Jerusalem any longer, none can do more than visit her. She receives daily “compassion and attention” from her Muslim neighbors next door. Najjar remarked that the revocation of his residency status is “all part of the Israeli effort to minimize the number of non-Jews in Jerusalem.”

It is difficult for citizens of other countries to appreciate what the occupation means for Palestinians who are not citizens of the country that rules them (unlike Israeli Palestinians who live in the recognized State of Israel). A reading of the 30 articles of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) reveals that very few of these rights are applied to occupied Palestinians. Directly relevant to Mr. Najjar’s story, for example, Article 13 (2) states, “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” People of conscience are faced with the oppression of an indigenous population in their own homeland, and Christians worldwide must confront the truth that Palestinian Christians are walking down a long Via Dolorosa from which, without international intervention, the only exit is exile.

Indigenous Christians have lived in Palestine since the origins of Christianity about 2,000 years ago. Over the centuries other Christians immigrated to Palestine. Palestinian Christians comprised at least 15 percent of the Palestinian population in the late 19th century, under Ottoman Muslim rule, and about 7.5 percent by 1944, in the final years of the British Mandate. During the 1948 war, which resulted in the establishment of the State of Israel in much of historic Palestine, more than a third of Palestinian Christians were among the 750,000 to 800,000 refugees forced to flee their homes in Palestine. The Israeli historian Ilan Pappé has described Israel’s “war of independence,” which Palestinians call the nakba (catastrophe), as “the ethnic cleansing of Palestine” in his book by that title published in 2006.

The Lydda Death March

Audeh Rantisi, a Palestinian Christian, has written in The Link, a journal published by Americans for Middle East Understanding, about his family’s expulsion from Lydda, near Tel Aviv, in July 1948, along with that of thousands of other residents. An 11-year-old at the time, Rantisi witnessed: an infant being crushed to death by a cart after his mother lost hold of him, an Israeli soldier shooting to death a newly married young man who would not hand over his money, people dying of thirst and many more horrors. He reports that “scores of women miscarried, their babies left for jackals to eat.” On the fourth day of the “Lydda death march,” his 13-member family reached Ramallah, in the West Bank, “carrying nothing but the clothes we wore.” His father also took with him the key to their house. Generations of the Rantisi family had lived in Lydda for some 1,600 years.

Mr. Pappé is not alone among scholars who have identified a Zionist ideology of exclusion as the engine driving the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 or who have interpreted Israeli policy since then as a continuing campaign of ethnic cleansing. By 2011 the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip had reached its 44th year. In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the occupation has brought the construction of scores of “settlements” in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which currently house at least half a million Israeli settlers. Five years ago Israel had already expropriated 87 percent of East Jerusalem and 75 percent of the West Bank for settlements, parks and military areas. Thus less and less Palestinian land is available for Palestinian housing, agriculture or other uses. Human rights abuses of Palestinians abound under the occupation, which appears designed to make their lives so unbearable that they will “voluntarily” leave.

The emigration of Palestinian Christians from the occupied territories to the West since 1967 has also reduced their number to the point where Christians currently account for less than 2 percent of the Palestinian population under occupation. And the rate of population growth for Palestinian Christians in the West Bank amounts to just half of their emigration rate. Without a stabilization or reversal of the net decline, the extinction of Palestinian Christians in the territories is conceivable. Even in 2006 only about 50,000 Palestinian Christians were living in the West Bank and Gaza.

What explains the ongoing exodus of Christians from Palestine? Some attempts at an explanation are misleading. In line with the Islamophobia notable in Europe and in the United States, Israeli propaganda points to tension and conflict with Palestinian Muslims, who comprise more than 98 percent of the Palestinian population under occupation, as the key reason for Palestinian Christian emigration. Israel has long encouraged political and religious division among Palestinians. Yet when I interviewed the Christian Palestinian secretary general of the East Jerusalem Y.W.C.A. in June 2009, she said that relations between Palestinian Muslims and Christians have been and remain largely positive. In her view “religious extremism” has been fostered by the environment of stress, chaos and conflict produced by the Israeli occupation. Indeed, there is a long history of good relations between Palestinian Muslims and Christians. Palestinians of both faiths experienced the catastrophe of 1948 together, and since 1967 those in the West Bank and Gaza have experienced the catastrophe of the Israeli occupation together.

‘Pull’ and ‘Push’ Factors

Palestinian Christians have tended to be well educated, relatively advantaged economically and more likely than their Muslim counterparts to have contacts in the West. Those could be considered “pull” factors behind the Palestinian Christian exodus. The “push” factors are the economic, political and social consequences of the Israeli occupation, with its “apartheid wall,” checkpoints and segregated road system; its ever-expanding settlements, destruction of Palestinian agriculture and demolition of Palestinian homes; its lawless, weapon-toting settlers; and its incarceration, with systematic torture, of thousands of Palestinians.

A 2006 survey of Palestinian Christians conducted by the Palestinian Christian peace organization Sabeel confirms the decisive influence of these “push” factors. Romell Soudah, a faculty member in business administration at Bethlehem University, a Catholic institution, writes that “the continuous confiscation of land...coupled with restrictions on mobility and access, give the impression that people are living in a cage, dehumanized, with little hope for freedom and normal living. This situation...is the primary factor…forcing Christian Palestinians to leave.” These Israeli actions, plus water confiscation and economic strangulation, which drive unemployment and poverty levels upward, are seen as calculated means of emptying the land of Palestinians. Thus Christian Palestinian emigration is the most visible effect of Israel’s deliberate, if gradual, ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population.

Why Care?

Why should Americans care if Palestinian Christians in the West Bank are leaving their homeland twice as fast as their population there is growing? The erasure of native Christians from Palestine should be unthinkable. Palestine is where Christianity originated, and Palestinian Christians have a unique status in the worldwide Christian community. Americans should be outraged that U.S. policy, buttressed by generous funding from their tax dollars, makes possible the Israeli occupation and its discriminatory policies.

These policies include a campaign to revoke the time-honored tax-exempt status of Christian churches and other Christian institutions, like the Lutheran Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives, and prohibition of access to holy sites (for example, barring West Bank Christians from visiting the Holy Sepulcher, traditionally regarded as the burial place of Jesus, in Jerusalem’s Old City). Orthodox Jewish harassment of Christian clergy in the Old City is commonplace. Hanan Chehata, a journalist, reports that “numerous churches have been destroyed during Israeli military incursions, divided from their congregations by the wall, and exposed to dilapidation.” Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity suffered physical damage during the Israeli incursion and siege of 2002. The wall now encircles Bethlehem, separating it from nearby Jerusalem; residents of Bethlehem are prevented from entering Jerusalem and vice versa. A majority of Bethlehem’s Christians hold Israel responsible for the departure of record numbers of Palestinian Christians from their city.

Yet Western Christians often fail to recognize the imperiled existence of their Palestinian co-religionists. Moreover, there are millions of Christian Zionists whose interpretation of New Testament prophecies allies them with Israeli Zionism and against the Christians of Palestine. They imagine that there is serious division between Palestinian Muslims and Christians, whereas the far more prevalent tension is between Palestinian Christians and some Israeli Jews (settlers, military and government leaders or those who represent them). The continued presence of Palestinian Christians in Palestine offsets the misperception that the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” is really about religion—a conflict between Muslims and Jews, rather than one about land, human rights and international law.

A Palestinian Christian friend wrote to me recently regarding the typical pattern of Muslims and Christians working together cooperatively and harmoniously within Palestinian institutions and organizations. Among the examples she mentioned is the Rawdat El-Zuhur (Garden of Flowers) elementary school in East Jerusalem, which has a Christian principal, a Muslim accountant, a mixed teaching staff and a mixed student body. Rawdat El-Zuhur, she wrote, “serves the community irrespective of [the members’] faith.” Likewise at Birzeit University, north of Ramallah, the president is Muslim and the chairman of the board is Christian; the board members are mixed, as are the staff and the student body.

To their credit, Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, are prominent among church leaders who have advocated worldwide Christian solidarity with Palestinian Christians. Informed American Christians committed to peace with justice are called to stand up both to Christian Zionism and to U.S. government underwriting of the illegal Israeli military occupation that is driving Palestinians, and disproportionately Christian Palestinians, out of their native country. In the prophetic words of the Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

View a slideshow of Palestinian Christian life.

Elizabeth G. Burr, who teaches part-time at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minn, has been concerned with the Israel-Palestine issue for more than 40 years.

Source: http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=13275

Monday, February 13, 2012

Pontiff Calls for End to Syria Violence

Urges Authorities to Commit to Peace

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 13, 2012 (Zenit.org).- During his Angelus address on Sunday, Benedict XVI made an urgent appeal for an end to the bloodshed in Syria.

"In recent days there have been many victims, some of them children. I recall them all in my prayers, just as I do the wounded and those who are suffering the consequences of an increasingly worrying conflict," he said.

"I also renew my urgent appeal to put an end to the violence and bloodshed and, finally, invite everyone -- particularly the Syrian authorities -- to favor the paths of dialogue, reconciliation and commitment to peace," the Pope continued.

Today the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, addressed the United Nations' General Assembly and denounced the use of torture by the Syrian authorities. She also said that there were strong signs of crimes against humanity and recommended that the government led by President Bashar Assad be referred to the International Criminal Court.

Since Feb. 3, "the government has used tanks, mortars, rockets and artillery to pummel the city of Homs," Pillay said. "According to credible accounts, the Syrian army has shelled densely populated neighborhoods of Homs in what appears to be an indiscriminate attack on civilian areas."

A message regarding the situation in Syria by Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo expressed concern over what is happening.

Nobody knows what will happen in the coming weeks in Syria, he said. He warned that there could be foreign intervention, or that the entire country could end up in a state of civil war. Syria could end up like Lebanon in the 70s, he said.

"As you may see, the Arab spring did not bring democracy for our country," the metropolitan observed. He also noted that there is general unhappiness in the Arab world over how events turned out Libya, Egypt and Yemen.

He said that according to the Archbishop of Homs half of the city's Christian population have fled to other cities and villages in Syria. They have not been able to emigrate to other countries as many of the foreign embassies in Syria have closed.

"In the meantime," the message concluded, "let us all pray for better future and hope for peace."

Source: http://www.zenit.org/article-34290?l=english

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Patriarch Twal: “We want peace with and for everyone”


While Fatah and Hamas met yesterday, Monday February 6th, to entrust Mahmoud Abbas with the leadership of a unified Palestinian government, Msgr Fouad Twal recalls that he hopes for peace for all—as much between the Palestinian Authority and Israel as among Palestinians themselves.

Is the “Doha Declaration” a step towards Palestinian reconciliation? In any case, it is a step within a framework of negotiations with this goal that began last Sunday in Doha between Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority and head of Fatah, and Khaled Mechaal, head of Hamas. The two Palestinian parties have had tenuous relations since 2007 with Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip. The accord that was signed yesterday will reinforce the 2011 “reconciliation accord” that had been all but quashed.

The meeting in Doha took place in the presence of the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, following the initiative of King Abdullah of Jordan.

According to this agreement (which is scheduled to be ratified in Cairo on February 18th), the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas will direct a transitional unity government for the West Bank and Gaza. The two parties have agreed to “pursue the process of reconstructing the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO),” in order to integrate Hamas and Islamic Jihad within this authority that will represent all Palestinians. This government will also be charged with “supervising the reconstruction of Gaza” and of “conducting the elections” (tentatively set for May 4th 2012).

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem has commented that he sees “no obstacle to anything that all Palestinians begin to help Mahmoud Abbas to implement these two projects.” Moreover, the Patriarch recognizes Mahmoud Abbas as “a moderate, cooperative, and open man.”

With this accord, Mahmoud Abbas will henceforth take on the dual role of President and Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, assuming the responsibilities of the incumbent Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad—who has enjoyed good relations with western nations. Patriarch Fouad Twal expressed his regret that this move does not acknowledge “the great work successfully carried out by Salam Fayad, who has, with prudence and care, set up infrastructure for a future Palestinian State.

The Way of Peace

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the head of the Palestinian Authority for having signed a governmental accord with Hamas. “If Abou Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas: Editor's note ) enacts what was signed in Doha, he forfeits the way of peace in order to align himself with Hamas,” declared Mr. Netanyahu, in a communiqué from the executive office. He also ventured that “it is either peace with Hamas or peace with Israel; you cannot have it both ways.” “Precisely not,” responded Patriarch Fouad Twal, who disagreed with “this reaction.” For him, “this effective reconciliation is a response to the aspirations of Palestinians for unity, and in that we must rejoice.” To further insist on his hope for a global peace: “we want pace for all, a good agreement with Israel and among brother Palestinians, in all currents of political thought. Who does not experience, even in one’s own family, diverging or opposing points of view?” The Patriarch also noted in passing the “abnormal reciprocity” between the two camps whereby “there are those who do not want to recognize the State of Israel, and others who do not want to recognize the State of Palestine.”

Msgr Fouad Twal “hopes [that this reconciliation might] contribute to maintaining negotiations which have never directly or indirectly stopped. Thus the liberation of Shalit and more than 1000 Palestinians was foreseen. ‘Dialogue’ is made for men who do not understand. There is nothing to gain by wanting to stop it. We must combat the spirit of division. It is never the best way to operate when outlining a way to peace.” The Patriarch also called for prayer “with our institutions and our Churches; we pray for a final peace and justice here in the Holy Land and for the countries which surround it. All these changes in the Arab world must not be ignored. We are deeply troubled by the Syrian crisis.” He “understands” the fears of religious pastors in Syria who have been called to prudence, and are also witnesses to the harmful changes in Iraq. As neighbors, Syria and Jordan have had to contend with refugees, and today both Syrian and Iraqui refugees are knocking on Jordan’s door.

Christophe Lafontaine

Source: http://www.lpj.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1836%3Al-nous-voulons-la-paix-avec-et-pour-tout-le-monde-r-rappelle-le-patriarche-twal&catid=1%3Aactualite-locale&Itemid=124&lang=en

Patriarch Twal Visits Kehilla in Jerusalem

Profanation of Greek-Orthodox Monastery Decried

ROME, FEB. 9, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Last Saturday for the first time since he became Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal visited the Kehilla, namely, the Hebrew-speaking Catholic community of the Holy City.

The Patriarch celebrated Mass in the chapel of Saint Simeon and Saint Anna, where the Catholic Hebrew community gathers. He also consecrated the chapel's new altar, reported the Patriarchate's Web site on Monday.

Patriarch Twal, who had visited the community back in 2007, when he was still the coadjutor bishop of the Patriarchate, was invited to celebrate Mass for the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, which is also the feast of the parish. As the Patriarchate's site explains, Simeon and Anna were awaiting the Messiah and recognized him in the child brought to the Temple by Mary and Joseph.

The new altar, made by master carpenters Yona and Stas, was paid for by the Swiss Frick family. The Mass over which the Patriarch presided was celebrated in French and Arabic, while the faithful answered either in Arabic or Hebrew.

Among some 20 concelebrants were also the vicar of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem for Hebrew-speaking Catholics, Jesuit Father David Neuhaus, and the vice-chancellor of the Patriarchate, Father Marcelo Gallardo.

In his homily, delivered in French and translated into Hebrew, Patriarch Twal reflected on Simeon and Anna, as presented by the Evangelist Luke (2:25-38), and he also spoke of recent events in the life of the Church, including the 2010 Synod on the Middle East and the Synod on the New Evangelization, which will be held in Rome this October.

Meanwhile, from Jerusalem a communiqué from the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land condemned "the acts of profanation and the writings on the Greek-Orthodox monastery of Jerusalem," which occurred on the night of Feb. 6-7.

In its statement, available on the site of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the organization rejected all instrumentalization of the Holy Places. "The Council invites persons of all confessions, Christians, Jews and Muslims, to respect all the Holy Places and spaces of the three religions, and energetically deplores the conduct of extremists who exploit or involve sacred places in a political and territorial conflict."

The appeal was signed in the name of the Gran Rabbinate of Israel, the Ministry of the Waqf (Pious Foundations) and of Religious Affairs of the Palestinian Authority and the heads of the local Churches in the Holy Land.

Source: http://www.zenit.org/article-34273?l=english

World Council of Churches: Youth longing for peace in the Arab world

Source: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/news/news-management/eng/a/article/1634/religious-leaders-and-you.html


The key role played by young people during the transformations in the Arab world throughout the past year was a recurrent theme for the recent World Council of Churches (WCC) Christian-Muslim consultation on “Christian Presence and Witness in the Arab World”.

The consultation was organized by the WCC programmes for Churches in the Middle East and Inter-religious Dialogue and Cooperation in collaboration with the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) in Antelias, Lebanon.

The consultation took place from 24 to 28 January and brought together a number of religious leaders, scholars and young activists.

The participants' passion and longing for political and religious freedom, human dignity and rights, and social and economic justice for all people of the Arab world marked the event.

The importance of equal citizenship for all was reiterated frequently. The politics and relationships between the values of citizenship and its links to religious institutions were debated.

Short but vivid sketches highlighted recent events, problems and signs of hope in a wide range of countries. It was acknowledged that in some parts of the Arab world, Christians and Muslims were afraid of the uncertainties that the future might bring.

However, it was also noted that the people of God must not deal in the currency of fear. It was important that the religions themselves were willing to become part of the process of transformation.

As one participant put it, “We need religious leaders who are willing to play a prophetic role, and to be people of vision and wisdom.”

A number of specific proposals and suggestions were put forward in the final communiqué of the meeting.

This consultation was in one of a series of meetings being held in preparation of a major international ecumenical gathering on the Christian presence in the Middle East. This meeting is being planned by the WCC in partnership with the MECC, and is due to take place in December 2012.

Read the full text of the communiqué

Communiqué in Arabic (PDF)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

World Council of Churches: Welcome Speech at Antelias Consultation

Source: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/general-secretary/speeches/welcome-speech-at-antelias-consultation.html

24-27 January 2012

Your Holiness, Your excellencies and eminences, brothers and sisters, a warm welcome to all of you! Thank you for taking the time to be with us at this consultation here in Lebanon. It is, we believe, a significant meeting at a crucial time in the life of this region. I am, together with my colleagues, honoured and humbled to be with you as you discuss the way towards the future for the churches in the context of what happens now here with the significant changes of the Middle East.

The World Council of Churches is committed to do what it can to work towards peace with justice for all in the Middle East region. What leads to just peace was at the heart of our International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Jamaica last year; and, it is our perspective as we prepare for the 10th Assembly of the WCC next year in Korea, with the theme: God of life, lead us to justice and peace! We not only discuss, we work, together with you and all people of good will, to give our contribution to make just peace.

The WCC has a considerable number of our member churches based in this region. At our Central Committee meeting in February last year, the World Council of Churches made clear that since its beginning the WCC has viewed the Middle East as a region of special interest and concern. It is the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For Christians, this region is the place where our Lord was incarnated and born, preached, suffered crucifixion, and was resurrected. It is also the land from where the Good News was spread to the entire inhabited world. Our living faith has its roots in this region and is nourished and nurtured by the unbroken witness of the local churches who have their own roots from the apostolic times. Without this Christian presence, the conviviality among peoples from different faiths, cultures, and civilisations, which is a sign of God’s love for all humanity, will be endangered. The Central Committee also expressed the sober sentiment that if the Christian community were to become extinct in the Middle East, it would be a sign of failure of the ecumenical family to express the Gospel imperative for costly solidarity.

The Arab spring, not least through the contributions from young people like some of you present here, has been driven by a desire for justice and peace. Long before these changes, the WCC has addressed the negative consequences for Christians of war and occupation in Iraq. You know that our warnings against the war in Iraq have become a reality; Christians are suffering greatly from it; and, a substantial emigration has happened. The emigration of Christians as a consequence of the occupation of Palestinian territories and the very difficult political and financial situation for Palestinians has been a concern of the WCC for many years.

We know that the changes in the Arab world over the last year – and changes still to come – have also left many Christians, along with many Muslims, feeling uncertain and even afraid for their future. Whether they are right or wrong to fear is not the question. Information reaching us – perhaps not proven but still undoubtedly real – suggests that considerable numbers of Christians are planning to leave their homelands and either migrate within the region or further afield.

One of the key concerns that Christians face as the different countries of this region shift and change in a variety of ways is ‘what it will mean for us as Christians to be citizens in this new dispensation--this new world that is emerging’. The present and future models of citizenship are therefore the key question which lies at the heart of this consultation. We expect that this consultation will give an opportunity to discuss and develop a common vision together as Muslims and Christians for a common future, offering equal rights and opportunities to all. I also expect that we together can give a clear message that it is a responsibility for any constitution and government to provide that.

Returning again to last year’s Central Committee meeting, we do believe that Christians in the Middle East are both facing unprecedented challenges now but also are attempting to respond through new forms of witness. When they deliver a unified message, their voice is better heard and their presence and impact in their societies are more appreciated. In sponsoring this present conference that is one of our goals.

Of course the World Council of Churches is not the only organisation that is committed to working to support Christian presence in this region. But we do believe that as a global fellowship we have a distinctive and important contribution to make. For our role requires us also to ensure that our member churches in the world outside the Middle East gain an accurate picture of the dynamics and realities of the region, and the way that Christians and Muslims have lived alongside each other peacefully for centuries in the Arab world. We are all aware that a pernicious sort of Islamophobia can all too easily become part of the rhetoric particularly in among certain Western Christians – targeting Islam and Muslims in a way that is inaccurate, divisive and exacerbate the difficulties both Christians and Muslims in this region are facing. We see our role as the World Council of Churches as including the need to share a balanced picture about Islam with member churches throughout the world, and to correct any misapprehensions that may arise. So we are particularly grateful to the Muslim participants at this meeting, for their willingness to join with us in working positively for peace, justice, freedom and harmony. I am eager to hear how Muslim leaders are emphasising their commitment to strengthen the Christian presence in the Middle East. I also am interested in hearing how you as Muslims are addressing the fear we can sense in some Christian communities. We will certainly want to make clear to our wider constituency the WCC’s extensive experience over many years of how Christians and Muslims continue to work together constructively for the Common Good. So we are grateful also to those who have come here from outside the Arab world to listen and to share – because they too will be able to help us in this task.

In planning and organising this event the World Council of Churches has worked closely with the Middle East Council of Churches, and particularly with its newly appointed General Secretary Fr Paul Rouhana. We are glad that so near the beginning of his term of office we can make this public and practical statement of our desire to support the work of the Middle East Council of Churches and to work in partnership with this significant regional organisation. From the perspective of the World Council of Churches we believe that the Middle East Council of Churches exists to be the rallying point that can mobilize churches in the region and provide genuine perspectives on the relations between churches in the region and the rest of the world. The need to maintain and strengthen this ecumenical tool is essential in the face of both the increasing challenges and the signs of hope that are opening up throughout the region.

A few months ago, along with a number of other religious leaders, I had the privilege of being invited by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to participate in and speak at the gathering of religious leaders from many faith traditions, which was held in Assisi in October 2011. We came together as ‘Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace.’ I spoke then of the importance of the contribution to a just peace from young people. I also expressed my conviction that events in the Middle East impact profoundly on the peace and well-being of the rest of our world: that we need peace and justice for Jerusalem because it affects the destiny of the whole world. I would want to echo that thought still today. The results of the unsolved problems related to Jerusalem and the interplay between the different religious traditions of the Middle East do not simply affect the people of this region. I mentioned that Christians in Pakistan have reminded me of this very reality.

As I mentioned already in the letter inviting you to this meeting, our time together now is part of a process organised by the WCC, in collaboration with the MECC, which will culminate in a large scale international ecumenical gathering, to be held probably in late December. Planning for that event has already begun, but I invite you, as you meet over the next few days, to reflect on and share with us any particular ideas you may have to ensure that larger meeting is as effective as possible.

I conclude by offering my thanks to His Holiness Catholicos Aram I, and the clergy and staff of the Catholicossate for their welcome to us for this meeting. We are gathering in the Christian season of Epiphany which is one of the most solemn festivals of the Armenian Church. At this season, Christians remember particularly the baptism of Christ. Within Christian theology and tradition, the baptism carries many significances – but I want to mention just one. It is that in his baptism, Jesus chose to identify himself with the dark waters of our world--its messiness, its pain. He chose to be in solidarity with those who suffer, who are oppressed and weighted down by the world’s woe. In turn we too express our solidarity with suffering humanity – yet we know too that through such solidarity there can be the beginning of a new day and dawn, and that the dark waters can become a spring gushing forth to give abundant life to God’s new creation.

Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
WCC general secretary

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Holy See Meets With Palestinian, Israeli Representatives

Source: http://www.zenit.org/article-34209?l=english

Negotiations Continue

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 30, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican is continuing its diplomatic efforts with representatives both of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

On Friday, a Vatican communiqué reported on a meeting between Holy See and Israeli representatives. And today, a communiqué noted a meeting with Vatican officials and representatives of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

The Friday note reported that the Bilateral Permanent Working Commission between the Holy See and the State of Israel held its plenary session at the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs last Thursday, to carry on negotiations related to the Fundamental Agreement, article 10 paragraph 2, dealing with economic and fiscal matters.

Present at the meeting was Monsignor Ettore Balestrero, under-secretary for Relations with States, and Daniel Ayalon, Israeli deputy minister for foreign affairs. The statement said that "the negotiations took place in an open, friendly and constructive atmosphere. Substantive progress was made on issues of significance."

The parties agreed on the next steps toward the conclusion of the Agreement, and to hold their next plenary meeting June 11 in the Vatican.


Then, today, a joint communiqué following a bilateral meeting between the Holy See and the Palestine Liberation Organization was released. The Saturday encounter was co-chaired by Monsignor Balestrero and Minister Ziad Al-Bandak, the Palestinian President's advisor for Christian relations.

"The Palestinian side handed to the Holy See delegation the response to the draft agreement proposed by the Holy See in the previous meeting, and the talks took place in a positive atmosphere to strengthen further the special relations between the two sides," the statement said.

They also agreed to set up technical teams to follow up on the draft, in preparation of the plenary session in the Vatican in the near future.

The Holy See delegation was composed of Archbishop Antonio Franco, apostolic delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine; Monsignor Maurizio Malvestiti, under-secretary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches; Monsignor Alberto Ortega, official of the Vatican's Secretariat of the State, and Monsignor Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, counsellor of the apostolic delegation in Jerusalem.

For the Palestinians those present at the meeting were: Dr. Nabil Shaath, member of the Fatah Central Committee; Dr. Bernard Sabella, member of the Palestinian Legislative Council; Mr. Issa Kassissieh, deputy head of the PLO's Negotiations Affairs Department, and Mr. Wassim Khazmo, policy advisor at the PLO's Negotiations Support Unit.

In 2000 a "Basic Agreement" was formulated between the Holy See and the PLO. It covered matters such as freedom of religion, human rights, freedom of Church institutions and their legal, economic and fiscal status in Palestinian-ruled areas. The Agreement soon ran into difficulty because of the Intifada that followed soon after.