Archbishop launches appeal for Christians in the Holy Land
Tuesday 12th July 2011The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, launched an Appeal at General Synod's July 2011 Group of Sessions, for funds to help sustain Christian communities in the Holy Land.
"I returned from a visit to the Holy Land last year with a very, very strong sense that we had to do more to express our solidarity with the Christian communities there...We know our brothers and sisters there are suffering; and we don't always ask ourselves often enough what our response needs to be."
He hoped that Anglicans and others would give generously to help build a fund from which community projects could be supported – projects which would contribute to the sustainability of the most vulnerable Christian communities, especially on the West Bank.
"I want to appeal today to you, for your support in creating in the near future, a fund with which we might assist projects of community development and work creation, especially among Palestinian Christians."
The Archbishop's appeal comes ahead of a conference on Christians in the Holy land which he and the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols are jointly hosting at Lambeth Palace on 18/19 July. They explained the purpose behind holding the conference in a short video which was screened as part of the Archbishop's appeal to Synod. View the video here or read a transcript.
"The rate of emigration from Christian populations in the Holy Land has been growing steadily for a long time" said the Archbishop of Canterbury in the video. "People are leaving, Christians are leaving, and we want to say that the Christian presence in the Holy Land is important to its balance...not just its historical reality, but to its present and future viability" added Archbishop Vincent Nichols.
"I want to say to Christians in the Holy Land that we treasure enormously their presence and witness. A witness which has gone on throughout Christian history...often in conditions of great trial and stress...Christians in the West...need to be aware that the Christians of the Holy Land are an intrinsic part of our Christian family" (Archbishop Williams).
Dr Williams commended to Synod the work of the Friends of the Holy Land: "A small but growing ecumenical charity...made up of parish-based groups...dedicated to praying with and for Christians in the Holy Land, and supporting them in practical and personal ways." He hoped that more Anglicans would consider joining the Friends of the Holy Land, which had agreed to collect and hold in trust all funds donated in response to the Archbishop's Appeal. The Archbishop hoped that in the coming year a substantial fund would be established from which regular income could be derived for channeling into simple but effective projects with partners in the Holy Land.
The Archbishop was delighted that Anglicans and Roman Catholics, with the personal support of Pope Benedict - with whom the Archbishop had discussed the situation of the Christians in the Holy Land during his visit to Britain last September - were committed to collaborating closely to focus attention on the plight of Christians in the Holy Land and to find practical ways to make a difference.
"I hope that in the weeks ahead, fellow Anglicans will give generously to support this vision and consider ways of becoming better informed and more involved with the issues – not as part of any kind of political campaign but as part of what we owe to our brothers and sisters in Christ's Body, in supporting the continuance of the vital presence of Christian communities in the land where our Lord preached, lived and died the Gospel."
Click here for the full text of the Archbishop's Appeal, or listen to a recording by clicking the download on the right [7Mb]
Video: Christians in the Holy Land Conference 2011
The Archbishop's Appeal included a video, in which he and the Archbishop of Westminster spoke of their hopes for the Conference they were hosting the following week at Lambeth Palace.
View the video below, or read the transcript which follows.
Archbishop Rowan Williams:
The rate of emigration from Christian populations in the Holy Land has been growing steadily for a long time. It’s now really reaching a proportion where one can talk about a haemorrhage of populations from there.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols:
People are leaving, Christians are leaving, and we want to say the Christian presence in the Holy Land is important to its balance, to its – not just its historical reality but to its presence and future viability.
We want Christians in congregations in this country, the sort of Christians who are likely to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to have a better understanding of how critical the situation is for our brothers and sisters there.
A few years ago I was back in the Holy Land for the first time in many years. I went with 100 people on a pilgrimage, and every single one of us came back saying, “What can we do?” Now the nature of our pilgrimage was quite deliberate. We went not simply to the holy sites, but we went to see the Christian and Catholic communities living in and around those places. So our response was a very person to person response, it was “What can we do to help these, our brothers and sisters, with whom we’ve sat and ate and prayed.”
I’d want to say to Christians in the Holy Land that we treasure enormously their presence and their witness. A witness which has gone on throughout Christian history, literally throughout Christian history, often in conditions of great trial and great stress. We value that, we see it as part of what we celebrate when we visit the Holy Land. We don’t simply go to see the sites; we go to see ‘living stones’ as has often been said, to celebrate the witness that they offer. And we want them to know therefore that we give thanks to God for them, that we want their position to be strengthened, their presence to be supported.
This moment seems to be very opportune in which to hold a conference like this because there is such a tension on the issues around the Holy Land. And I think and awareness that the struggle to find peace, and at least a living pattern of cooperation there is really important for the stability of communities right round the world. There’s something quite neuralgic about this central bit of the Mediterranean. So there’s that wide public attention, but more importantly from the perspectives of this conference is the situation of the Christian communities there is very serious.
I hope that what will emerge from this is a much deepened awareness among Christians here of the situation of our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land. But not just awareness, also some possibilities of giving practical help and support. People need resources for education; they need the kind of resource that will allow them to invest for their future in the place where they are that will give them hope and possibilities on the ground in the Holy Land. So we’re hoping very much that there’ll be concrete steps that people can take as a result to this. There’ll be paths people can adopt to give that effective and practical support.
I hope that this conference will let the voices of the Holy Land be heard, and therefore in response to that achieve a number of things; greater understanding of the ordinary person’s experience on the ground in the Holy Land, and willingness to respond to that experience, and means by which that response can be challenged. So we will really be trying to give ourselves some priorities for the next few years in the practical ways in which we, the Christian communities here, can offer understanding and support to our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land.
Christians in the West I think need to be aware that the Christians of the Holy Land are an intrinsic part of our Christian family. That if they were not there, pursuing that witness with the courage and persistence that they always have, the whole body of Christ throughout the world would lose because of that. So it is important to stand with them, it is important to understand what they endure, and it is important to keep up our prayers, as well as our practical support for them.
The message I would like to offer to Christians in the Holy Land is to say we are with you in spirit and in prayer. We understand a little, and this conference will hope us to understand a little more the difficulties that you face but also the courage and the depth of faith that you have. So we give thanks to God for your courage and your faith and we want to say to you, that is an encouragement to us, and in response, we want you to know you are in our hearts and in our prayers today.
Archbishop of Canterbury's Appeal for Christians in the Holy Land
General Synod, July 2011
(Video "Christians in the Holy Land Conference 2011" plays).
I returned from a visit to the Holy Land last year with a very very strong sense that we had to do more to express our solidarity with the Christian Communities there, for reasons that are both obvious and perhaps a little less obvious.
We know our brothers and sisters there are suffering, and we don't always ask ourselves often enough what our response needs to be.
And as you've seen, Archbishop Vincent Nichols shares these concerns and we were able to exchange our views about what might be done, and also share this with Pope Benedict during his visit last year.
The Pope very much endorsed our sense that we needed to raise the profile in this country of Christians in the Holy Land and find ways of supporting and assisting, of fleshing out our theoretical understanding of the challenges which face them with a much clearer sense of why exactly people on the ground feel such pressure. Why some feel that they can no longer sustain themselves or their families in their ancestral places, why the future is so far from straight forward for them.
Next week's conference is a first step, a conference very much focused on the experience on the ground of Christians in the Holy Land. We'll be joined for this conference by our own Bishop in Jerusalem, Bishop Suheil, whose concerns have been very much in the prayers of many of us for a long time. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem will also be attending, a number of Anglican and Roman Catholic Bishops, people from other Christian communities, a representative of the Jewish Board of Deputies. We're hoping also for very senior representation from the Foreign Office, and from the European Commission. And all those we've spoken to in all those contexts have been entirely supportive.
We're convinced that the seriousness of the situation of Christians in Israel and Palestine is still not well enough understood by many opinion formers and decision makers in the UK and elsewhere in the west.
The overall decline in the Christian Population of the Holy Land has been very significant in recent decades and it is, as you've heard, accelerating in the West Bank and East Jerusalem very rapidly. The number of Christians in Israel itself remains steady, but we still face the not too distant prospect elsewhere, especially in East Jerusalem, of the disappearance of most of the historic Christian communities. Communities that have been there, in some cases, since the days of our Lord.
And it's that prospect, the prospect of the Christian presence in a good deal of the Holy Land being reduced just to the level of heritage; Churches as museums, rather than living communities of Faith and Witness - it's that prospect which concerns us so deeply.
So the conference will give us an opportunity to examine some of the reasons so many people are leaving, and also ask us the question: what we can do to help those Christians who so urgently want to stay in their Homeland, and to imagine a future there for themselves.
As I've said we'll be drawing in some highly placed figures from the UK Government and the European Commission, from a variety of diplomatic and religious backgrounds, but most importantly we want to hear from the people on the ground - Israeli and Palestinian.
It is with this in view that I want to appeal today to you for your support in creating in the near future a fund with which we might assist projects of community development and work creation, especially among Palestinian Christians. And in setting up this fund, we propose to work with the Friends of the Holy Land, a small but growing ecumenical charity – you may have visited their stall here at Synod. The distinctive thing about the Friends of the Holy Land is that it's made up of parish-based groups, who are dedicated to praying with and for Christians in the Holy Land and supporting them in practical and personal ways. The Friends of the Holy Land encourage pilgrimages, and involvement in local grass-roots projects to contribute to the sustainability of the most vulnerable communities and families.
So this group, the Friends of the Holy Land will act as the receiving agency for contributions from individuals and groups towards what we hope will become over time a substantial fund, generating income that will help sustain hope for a viable future for Christians in the Holy Land.
I am making this appeal to Synod in advance of the conference so that you may all have a chance to think about how you can best support this venture and also of course so that you may be able to hold us in prayer next week when we meet. I hope that in the weeks ahead, fellow-Anglicans will give generously to support this vision, and consider ways of becoming better informed and more involved with the issues – not as part of any kind of political campaign but as part of what we owe to our brothers and sisters in Christ's Body, in supporting the continuance of the vital presence of Christian communities in the land where our Lord preached, lived and died the Gospel.
The sensitivity of the subject matter – the political sensitivity – is high, as you will all know, and we shall need prayers that we be saved next week from just an exchange of familiar words, whether platitudes or blame or resentment, and be enabled to ask about the practical measures that will open doors of hope for our brothers and sisters. We have to remember that – as I suggested to you on Saturday – if Christians can hold on to hope in a situation of conflict and fear, that is good news for everyone. Without that, the chances of justice and reconciliation, in the Holy Land and elsewhere, are significantly reduced.
So, please, support the conference in prayer, support the appeal for funds that will, we hope, decisively increase the effectiveness of the work of the Friends of the Holy Land and others, and that support will be part of our service to what we all long for, the peace of Jerusalem and all that that peace might mean for our world. So please support this, as generously as you are able, in whatever way you feel appropriate. Thank you.