“For the peace of Jerusalem pray!” (Psalm 122, 6). That was the phrase that resonated most deeply within me as we sought as a group of bishops to fathom Jerusalem’s religious vocation. We had gathered from diverse nations to make up this year’s Holy Land Coordination.
That Jerusalem is a Jewish city, a Christian city, a Muslim city: that was the deepest truth we took away from our visit to this city, which is so sacred to all three faiths. We also took away the conviction that the Christian community in Jerusalem has a particular calling to articulate this conviction. Not only is the Christian community an essential part of Jerusalem’s identity. It also has a peculiar freedom to speak the truth of Jerusalem’s multiple identity.
Meanwhile the Holy Land Coordination feels duty bound to warn that the Christian community’s continued presence there is threatened by occupation and injustice. Many of those we encountered are facing violence and intimidation by settler groups, restrictions on their freedom of movement, or separation from their families because of the status they are assigned.
Issues of occupation, status, diverse cultures and faiths being forced to live alongside one another – every one of these modern realities was, of course, central to the Jerusalem into which walked the Holy Family two millennia ago. The Massacre of the Innocents, of “Rachel weeping for her children” (Jeremiah 31, 15), were made all the more real for us as we witnessed the pain being experienced by the family of Palestinian Catholic journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. She had been gunned down as she went about her work as a journalist reporting on the inequities she observed in Israeli society – only for her mourners to be fired upon as they laid her body to rest.
“I came into the world for this,” Jesus told Pilate, “to witness to the truth” (John 18). Because he witnessed to the truth, his life was taken from him. The life was taken from Shireen because she too witnessed to the truth.
Visiting Jerusalem at the time of her mourning brought home to us with greater force than ever the truth that Christians worldwide share a dual vocation with regard to Jerusalem: to denounce the persecution of the continuing Christian community there but, at the same time, call that community to have the courage to declare more loudly than ever that this sacred place is not only Christian but also Jewish and Muslim. For that is surely the only way to “the peace of Jerusalem”.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols has written to Prime Minister Liz Truss to express his ‘profound concern’ after it was announced that the PM told her Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid that she is reviewing the location of the British Embassy in Israel.
The suggestion is that the review will consider moving the embassy from Tel Aviv, where almost all other countries have their embassies, to Jerusalem, a move that the Cardinal says “would be seriously damaging to any possibility of lasting peace in the region and to the international reputation of the United Kingdom.”
The Cardinal also adds his voice to that of Pope Francis and Christian leaders in the Holy Land, saying: “Pope Francis and the leaders of churches in the Holy Land have long called for the international Status Quo on Jerusalem to be upheld, in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations. The city must be shared as a common patrimony, never becoming an exclusive monopoly of any party.”
Expressing his view that there is no valid reason to move the embassy, the Cardinal asks the Prime Minister “earnestly to reconsider the intention you have expressed and to focus all efforts on seeking a two-state solution, in which Jerusalem would have a guaranteed special status.”
Bishop Nicholas Hudson, auxiliary Bishop of Westminster and long-term bishop delegate of the Holy Land Coordination, has been named the new chair of the group.
The Holy Land Coordination, made up of bishops from across Europe, North America and South Africa, was set up at the end of the twentieth century at the invitation of the Holy See. The purpose was to visit and support the local Christian communities of the Holy Land.
The Coordination’s main remit is often expressed using four Ps: Prayer, Pilgrimage, Pressure and Presence.
The bishops are present every year, and by their presence they hope, above all else, to remind the ‘living stones’ – the Christians of the Holy Land – that they are not forgotten by their brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.
Bishop Hudson’s predecessor in the role, Bishop Declan Lang, stood down at the end of the May 2022 Coordination.
In an interview given from a rooftop overlooking the holy city of Jerusalem, Bishop Hudson talked about his previous visits to the Holy Land and why he’s so passionate about the region and its people.
Bishop Nicholas Hudson, standing here with me in this holy city, looking out across Jerusalem, and it’s a beautiful view, actually, in a city that means so much to us. You’re here as part of the Holy Land Coordination and you’ve been here half a dozen times or more now. Tell us where your passion comes from for this wonderful place…
Bishop Nicholas Hudson:
I think I’ll always remember the first pilgrimage I came on when we visited Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and I was deeply, deeply touched by it. It had more of an impact on me than I even expected, really, to be in the places that we don’t just associate with, but actually are the places of Jesus’s life, Passion, death and Resurrection. And it was deeply powerful.
I remember as well, part of the pilgrimage was going out to a refuge for elderly women where we were made truly welcome. It gave me a sense of something that I began to discover more through the Holy Land Coordination, just how much social outreach Palestinian Christians do – especially for those who are more on the margins of society. Then I was so pleased to be asked to be part of the Holy Land Coordination and began to get a deeper sense of what life is like for Palestinian Christians. When we talk about the Holy Land Coordination, we talk about the three Ps that describe the essence of what it is – prayer, presence and pressure.
Meetings with people making a really big difference in society, those on the margins, whether it’s migrants, asylum seekers, the undocumented, those have no status in this country – these are very important meetings. But it is actually those parish visits, isn’t it? Standing alongside people, learning from them and understanding them a little bit more, understanding the pressures on their lives… I found that the most moving aspect, despite the fact that both components are important.
That’s very well said. There’s something deeply touching, not least the fact that you’re aware in some places that the parish communities have become quite small. And when, with respect and gentleness, you talk to the parish priest about it, he’ll tell you, well, yes, a lot of families left because they felt they needed to plan for their children’s future. But one of the signs of hope that we’ve seen during this Holy Land Coordination is the number of people, especially young people, who are saying, “whatever happens, we’re going to stay”. Now, that’s a very significant statement for us to be hearing out of Palestine’s Christian community, and we’re going to have to see to what extent that remains a possibility for them.
The other thing that I find really touching, is when we actually go and pay visits to some of the communities who are being cared for by members of those parish communities. I think a real highlight was when, a few years ago, we were in Bethlehem and we went to visit L’Arche.
L’Arche means the Ark, Noah’s Ark, and is a community founded about 60 years ago to welcome people with learning disabilities. There’s a centre just behind the Nativity Grotto very, very close to where Jesus was born, in Bethlehem. What I find really impressive about it is that it’s a mixed Muslim and Christian community. There in the heart of Bethlehem, they’re welcoming Muslim and Christian people with disabilities and really giving them life. The name of this community in Arabic is Ma’an lil-Hayat, which means ‘together for life’ and that really is part of the essence of what L’Arche is. L’Arche says to someone with learning disabilities, you can stay with us forever.
On another occasion we visited one of the sites which is thought to be the place of the Emmaus story called Abu Ghosh. Emmaus may have actually been in one of three places, but Abu Ghosh is one of the places where the story is revered. And I was so touched that alongside the church was another home where women, many of whom have learning disabilities, are welcomed and, again, they’re being valued and given life. We had another experience of going to a refuge for children of migrant workers. So there’s a great deal of Christian social outreach taking place and it truly warms one’s heart.
It has been said, but it probably bears being said once more, that a lot of the Christian charity projects aren’t just for Christians, are they? This is a complicated region in many ways – a beautiful one, but a complicated one. You must be heartened, as a bishop, to see the Christian communities under pressure, providing for way more than just themselves.
I really am, and I think this is certainly a feature of those communities I’ve mentioned, but it’s writ large in the schools, the Christian schools under the care of the Latin Patriarchate, where they are truly open to having Muslims who want to send their children there. One hears from Muslims who do send their children to these schools something similar to what we hear from Muslims who want to send their children to our Catholic schools in England and Wales. That is “we like your values” and implicitly, therefore, “we want those values to communicate themselves and be communicated to our children.” So it’s writ large, particularly in the schools, yes.
Now, it would be remiss of me not to point out that this is a bustling, busy, chaotic city. We can hear the trams, we hear the noise, we hear the beautiful bells, and, to be honest, the muezzin, the Islamic call to prayer, the Jewish life and culture is imprinted all over the city as well. It is a lovely place, but many people in England and Wales may not be able to come here. It’s not easy to come here. What would you say to them in terms of bringing a little bit of these holy lands back to England and Wales?
Well, I’d want to say straight away, that Jerusalem belongs to all of us, and there are 13 Christian denominations in Jerusalem, and it belongs to all Christian men, women and children. But we have to be careful when we say that and how we say that. Because one of the lessons of this Coordination, which has been focusing on Jerusalem the city, as a sacred city, is that we’ve been sensitised to the fact that we’re not the only ones who say “this is our city”. The Jews say “this is our city”, the Muslims say “this is our city”. I think we’ve woken up as a group to the reality that this is a Jewish city, this is a Christian city, this is a Muslim city. And that calls for us to be deeply respectful, but it also calls us to witness as Christians in and around this city to our conviction about all that Jesus says in the Gospels about loving your neighbour as yourself, to be respectful to those of other faiths, but also to have a special care for the poor. Christians, both in Jerusalem and around Jerusalem, are exemplary in that regard.
The Balfour Project’s 20-minute film ‘Britain in Palestine 1917-48’ is being shown online from 5pm to 6.15pm on Monday 14 March, as part of the Oxford Human Rights Festival.
There will also be an opportunity to ask questions of historian and film-maker Dr Mary Embleton and Peter Riddell, founding trustee of the Balfour Project. Mary and Peter know their subject – Britain’s role in Palestine from the Balfour Declaration to the sorry end to the British Mandate to govern Palestine.
To reserve your free place for the film screening and Q and A, see:
I attended a second meeting of Kumi Now on 21.09.2021 because it is the World Week of Peace for Israel and Palestine this week, Saturday 18th September – 25th September, and I wanted to learn more.
The main speaker was Dr Bolos Swilem a 22 year old from Gaza who had just received his degree certificate in Dentistry on the day of the meeting. He told us there are many issues faced by the youth including persecution, injustice and violence which they are forced to engage with in daily life. The restrictions of the borders limits movement including medical supplies, access to educational opportunities and restricts knowledge from elsewhere such as the opportunities to attend conferences in other countries and learn skills from other medical professionals. There are issues of underground water sea pollution creating increased cancer and mortality rates. There is rising illiteracy, 50% unemployment with most youths terminating their studies at university and career shifting to find other work. There are a decreasing number of healthcare professionals who are often leaving to find work outside and send money back to families. What is needed is fixed term contracts rather than primary contracts to help people live. Men cannot afford to buy a house and get married.
Youth are graduating but without the possibility of getting a job. Many young people are trying to study Masters, however, this often involves travel abroad for better opportunities and it took up to a year for the administrative process including Visa’s, permission to leave the Gaza Strip, permission to go from Gaza to Jordan.
The lack of electricity to 12 hour or less a day affects many things including the mental health of children, the services hospitals can offer, the safe storage of drugs, the mortality rate with those on dialysis being badly affected by an irregular power supply.
There is rarely permission given to leave the Gaza Strip except at Christmas and Easter, however, even then permission is not given for the whole family so that they do not leave permanently and have a reason to return.
He said there are many things that can be done to support the youth of Gaza including first and foremost advocating the Palestinian cause, advanced course capacity building or encouraging experienced medical groups to come to Gaza to share their expertise to improve skills.
Dr Swilem did not want us to be saddened by the realities of Gaza because the youth are strong, used to these realities and have hope for the future.
I attended my first meeting of Kumi Now on 14.09.2021 because the World Week of Peace for Israel and Palestine is coming up on Saturday 18th September – 25th September and I wanted to learn more.
The main speaker was Zoughbi Alzoughbi, founder and director of Wi’am: The Palestinian Conflict Transformation Centre. The Wi’am Centre helps to resolve disputes within the Palestinian community providing services to women, youth, children and international diplomacy. They are involved in Sulha mediation, constructive reconciliation where their staff take on the role of mediators. After people are able to live without seeking revenge which is good for the people and the community. They are dealing with conflict around the clock and it is many kinds from issues which are financial, employment, land, domestic. There is a pressure cooker atmosphere making conflicts more likely. However, they try to solve these conflicts with a smile. With the youth they have exchange programmes, although with Covid these are now virtual. The Centre also welcomes visitors to the Holy Land giving a unique insight into the places and contemporary situations in the area. One issue is access to Rachel’s tomb which was visited by the Pope which has been annexed causing hardship to local business in the area and economic difficulties. The Palestinian community rely on family structures of support; however, The Wi’am Centre has a job creation program helping to support families suffering difficulties.
Other Points of Interest:
International indifference is a problem
There are more than 100,000 settlers living around Bethlehem.
There are less than 45,000 Christians in Bethlehem.
Unemployment in Bethlehem is more than 25%.
4,650 Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israeli Jails, 520 held without charge or trial.
Covid is high with over 11,000 cases in Israel and 2,000 in Palestine and 80 deaths every day across Israel and Palestine.
There are nightly raids next to the Refugee Camp near the centre because it is close to the wall, however tear gas containers and the bullets are collected to make into Christmas ornaments.
There are many reasons to hope and try to change the lens for the future away from violence to peace including our role considering how we can show our support for communities in need this Christmas.
The World Week of Peace for Israel and Palestine is an annual event which is taking place this year on Saturday 18th – Saturday 25th September 2021 promoted by the World Council of Churches (WCC). The aim of this week of peace is for a united focus on promoting and praying for peace for all people in the Holy Land.
Rev Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca, acting Secretary of WCC, reflected: “The annual world week for peace in Palestine and Israel offers an opportunity for all of us who share the hope of justice and peace in the Holy Land to unite around the globe in solidarity and peaceful action, and to create a common international public witness”.
We are invited to join with church, faith-based communities and civil society organisations around the world to pray, advocate and stand in solidarity for just peace for all in Israel and Palestine. This year there is a focus on the role of art and reconciliation. ‘I will also praise you with a harp, even your truth, O my God (Psalm 71:22).
Rt. Rev Nicholas Hudson, lead Bishop of Justice and Peace in the Diocese of Westminster, writes:
“My prayers are with all those I’ve met in the Holy Land who are not only living through the recurrence of devastating wars, but also the daily horrors of occupation, blockade, and dispossession. In particular we recall the confiscations of homes and violations of holy sites, that resulted in such catastrophic violence earlier this year and continue today.
No sustainable resolution can be imposed by military or political means; it will only be achieved by respecting human dignity without exception. Therefore as we come together in prayer for peace, let us also raise our voices for justice.”
There are a number of ways that you can support this week including keeping this intention for peace in your prayers. If you are creative perhaps you can pray using the medium of paintings, lyrics, music, dance and other artistic expressions. Perhaps you could promote this week of peace on social media sharing this intention with friends.
“Let us pray as though everything depended on God but work as though everything depended on us” (St Augustine)
EAPPI – The World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (WCC-EAPPI) was created in 2002 by the World Council of Churches based on a letter and an appeal from local church leaders to create an international presence in the country. There are 25-30 volunteers there on a three month rotation in accompanying, offering protective presence and witness. https://eappi.org/en/about. There are 25-30 volunteers there on a three month rotation in accompanying, offering protective presence and witness. https://eappi.org/en/about
If you would like to find out more you can sign up for EAPPI eye-witness blog. EAPPI work as witnesses helping to relay what is happening https://www.eyewitnessblogs.com/
Bishop Declan Lang, Chair of the Bishops’ International Affairs department has repeated calls for an end to “the occupation, discrimination and human rights violations that propagate violent attacks on civilians, standing in the way of a stable and peaceful future for Palestinians and Israelis.”
In a statement, Bishop Lang who is also Chair of the Holy Land Coordination of bishops which – before the pandemic usually visits the Christian community in Israel and Palestine once a year, says:
‘As people of peace, we pray for an end to the airstrikes, shooting, missile attacks, and communal violence engulfing the Holy Land.
Pope Francis reminds us that: “Every act of violence committed against a human being is a wound in humanity’s flesh; every violent death diminishes us as people.”
The local churches have clearly stated that peace requires justice. We echo their calls for an end to the occupation, discrimination and human rights violations that propagate violent attacks on civilians, standing in the way of a stable and peaceful future for Palestinians and Israelis.
We reaffirm our commitment to the internationally recognised status of Jerusalem, the Status Quo of its holy sites, and the equal rights of Jews, Christians and Muslims in the city.
At this critical time let us also offer our support to those humanitarian organisations working tirelessly to save lives and alleviate suffering.’
Open Letter from Dr David Toorawa, Lead Commission Member for Israel-Palestine
Some of you may have caught the interview today on BBC Radio 4 “Broadcasting House ” with Paddy O’Connell, where two friends from an Israeli village spoke about the madness which has overtaken two peoples yet again.
One was an Israeli Jew, the other an Israeli Palestinian. The village is Oasis of Peace ( Neve Shalom / Wahat al Salam).
I was privileged to visit and stay at Neve Shalom in 2013 in order to explore why a Catholic priest, Fr Bruno Hussar, should wish to found a community where Jews & Arabs could live in peace. He did so on land donated by the Trappist monastery of Latroun, a magical place. The story is likewise magical, but not accomplished without a great deal of prayer & hard work.
It was a revelation to sit in English classes for the children of both “communities” , where they were taught by a teacher moving with equal facility from Hebrew to Arabic to English.
The atmosphere at Neve Shalom needs replication throughout the Holy Land. Fr Bruno’s vision has yet to be tried beyond the original village….
Fr Bruno, who died in 1996, is buried in the village, overlooking the Ayalon valley . Also – see Joshua 10.v 12
Please take some time to visit the Oasis of Peace website and “Broadcasting House”….. the interview was circa 0930hrs
Those at the AGM of the National Justice and Peace Network, meeting on Saturday, were deeply shocked to hear of the attack by Israeli Police on Palestinians at prayer in the Al Aqsa Mosque on Friday evening. Palestinian worshippers have been denied access to the Al Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan and this, along with the police and military incursions into this holy place, the use of stun grenades, rubber coated steel bullets and water cannons on those at worship, all contravene international law.
All of this is made worse by that fact that this is one of the most important times of the Muslim Year. Saturday’s attacks took place at Laylat-al-Qadr, the most holy day in the Muslim month of Ramadan, a time when Palestinians from all over the West Bank would attempt to pray in their most Holy Place. It followed the aggressive violence of armed Israeli settlers invading the communal Iftar meal of families in Sheikh Jarrah, upturning their tables, invading their homes and attacking women, men and children.
This excessive violence has continued since then and several Palestinian children are among the hundreds wounded. The violence has been described by some of the worst seen in Jerusalem for many years.
Palestinians are suffering the daily loss of their fundamental human rights, are constantly under threat of forced removal from their homes as in the Sheikh Jarrah district of occupied East Jerusalem.
Many news outlets are describing these incidents as ‘clashes’ and so inferring that these are incidents between equally armed sides. This is, of course, not the case. Unarmed worshippers were attacked by heavily armed police and at other times by even more heavily armed military.
We urge you and the Bishops of England and Wales to answer the call of the Heads of Churches in Palestine who say:
‘We call upon the International Community, the Churches and all people of goodwill to intervene in order to put an end to these provocative actions, and to continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. We join in prayer with the intention of the Holy Father Pope Francis that “the multi-religious and multi-cultural identity of the Holy City might be respected and that fraternity might prevail.”
We further ask you to:
– Tell our Sisters and Brothers in Palestine, and all those who are working for peace in Palestine and Israel, that we stand in solidarity and prayer with them in this on-going Nakba;
– Call for a day of prayer, in England and Wales, on Saturday 15th May for peace and justice in Palestine, and in particular in Jerusalem, as Palestinians recall the Nakba (the Day of Catastrophe);
– Publicly denounce the violent attacks on worshippers that have taken place in Sheikh Jarrah, the Al Aqsa Mosque and Haram al Sharif;
– Call on the Israeli Government, through the Israeli Embassy in London: to halt all forced evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, which if they proceed, will violate Israel’s obligations under international law; and to end the violence against worshippers and enable full access to all places of worship in keeping with international law.