January 13, 2009
Dash to the finish
The final day of a trip to the Middle East by North American Lutheran bishops ended with a flurry of activity, with most clergy visiting West Bank schools while a smaller delegation made contact with political and government leaders.
ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada National Bishop Susan C. Johnson of the on Tuesday held visits with the Palestinian Authority's prime minister, president and Jerusalem mayor's offices, as well as the Islamic Supreme Court and the Russian Orthodox Church.
|ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson presents a gift to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayad. |
First, though, "justice must prevail. ... Violence must stop," Fayad said.
From there the ELCA and ELCIC leaders drove across the West Bank city of Ramallah to meet with representatives of the office of the president. Rafiq Husseini, chief of staff, said he believed Palestinian Christians were being targeted by Israel to leave the West Bank.
Once Christians — who at one time made up 22 percent of the population but now total no more 1.5 percent — are gone, Husseini said he fears the West will drop interest in the then-Muslim country.
|Hanson signs a book of condolences for the death of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II (depicted in the portrait in the background. Younan and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Theolphilos III watch.|
"Rarely do we find an international person like you" promoting the welfare of Palestinians, al-Tamimi said of Hanson, who is also president of the Lutheran World Federation.
The bishops were in the Middle East for a week in an effort to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace.
|ELCIC National Bishop Susan C. Johnson (left), Hanson and Younan lay a wreath at the grave of Yitzhak Rabin.|
The delegation also met with Russian Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III. They paid their respects for the Dec. 5, 2008 death of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II.
And as the day ended, leaders laid a wreath at the grave of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He was instrumental in the Oslo Accord that led to limited Palestinian rule in the West Bank and Israel. On Monday, the group had place a wreath at the tomb of the other signatory to the accord, Yasser Arafat.
January 12, 2009
Monday found Lutheran bishops from North America planting olive trees, praying for peace and understanding along a separation wall and listening to students at a West Bank school speak frankly about their future.
Leaders of the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada ventured to the village of Beddo, near the city of Ramallah and north of Jerusalem to plant the hardy trees in a wasteland of trash, construction debris and destroyed arbors.
[Blog continues below photo ... ]
|Bruce H. Burnside, bishop of the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin, digs a hole to plant an olive tree in Beddo.|
|Bishops from North America prepare to pray at a gate along the separation wall in Beddo. Israeli police keep an eye on them.|
They then gathered at a nearby gate along the separation wall to pray for peace. They did so under the watchful eye of an Israeli police crew.
The bishops are in the Middle East in an effort to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace.
|Two students on the playground at Lutheran School of Hope, Ramallah.|
In one group, five of eight students said they planned to emigrate when they're finished with school. They spoke frankly of their anger with Israel for what they said was an overly violent assault on the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
"We are not animals, we have feelings, we are human beings," said Majdi Habash.
The bishops conclude their visit Tuesday with tours of three other schools on the West Bank.
January 11, 2009
On the 7th day they rested
Sunday morning took North American bishops to worship at Lutheran congregations across Jerusalem and the West Bank and then into the homes or favorite restaurants of those congregations' members.
They've been in region since Jan. 6 to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace.
The official portion of the trip ends Jan. 13, although some bishops and their spouses will remain for two additional days to see the Israeli area of Galilee.
At the end of Sunday, the bishops gathered at the Shepherd Hotel in Bethlehem for a reception hosted by the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Tourism.
According to Palestinian officials, the Israeli-occupied West Bank accounts for 70 percent of the religious pilgrimage sites yet visitors to the region spend 95 percent of their tourism money in Israel. (More information is available at http://www.travelpalestine.ps.)
"Many come to the Church of the Nativity" in Bethlehem to see the church and then get back on the bus to leave and "don't buy even a bottle of water," one official said.
On Monday the group heads for Ramallah, the de facto capital of the West Bank.
January 11, 2009
Global connections through campus ministryA reflection at the end of the day
January 9, 2009
I had the privilege of sitting with the Mitri Raheb during dinner at the International Center of Bethlehem. Raheb is the pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and is the visionary behind the center.
As we chatted he asked about the pastor at the State University of New York at Buffalo and the small neighboring congregation (Pastor Gail Riina, now serving at Syracuse University Campus Ministry and St. James, Amherst). Then he introduced me to Naim Odeh, the administrator of the center's Guest House. He and his two sisters studied in Buffalo and worshipped at St. James with Riina.
Raheb thanked me for the ministry of Riina that he said had helped these three young people become church leaders. All three are now active congregational leaders back at Christmas Lutheran.
When we ask whether our campus ministries make a difference, you should know that they are part of God's work changing lives all around the world.
January 10, 2009
Tough streets of the city
Lutheran bishops walked the crowded, littered and graffiti strewn streets of the West Bank city of Hebron Saturday, seeing first hand the impact of an Israeli settlement in the heart of a Palestinian city.
The modern, sleek mid-rise building in the heart of the old city of Hebron stands ringed by Israeli Defense Forces personnel and lookout posts.
In the ancient streets below, shops become sparse the closer they are to the settlement of some 500 people.
Camped in the middle of 170,000 Palestinians, the complex highlights one of the biggest problems confronting the two sides: the expanding presence of Israelis in the occupied territory of the West Bank.
The trip by bishops of the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada is to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace. It runs through Jan. 13.
On Saturday, shoppers jammed the streets just a few blocks for the heart of the old city. In the older section, the few shopkeepers open for business leaped from their chairs to offer scarves, jewelry, Palestinian memorabilia and handicrafts to the conspicuous out-of-towners, some of the few pedestrians on the narrow streets.
The visit to Hebron was arranged by the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel. A unit of the World Council of Churches, the group keeps track of how Israel deals with Palestinians in territories it controls.
Just past the shops the bishops toured the Abraham Mosque, also known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs. It houses the purported remains of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and other Old Testament figures.
On Sunday, the group was to split up to attend worship in the various churches of the ELCJHL and spend time with members afterward.
January 9, 2009
A reflection at the end of Day 2
Written Jan. 7, 2009
I walked the Via Dolorosa (road of sorrows) twice today. The first was a traditional walking tour in the Old City of Jerusalem. Our guide, Said, is a 3rd generation member of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem. He was a powerful witness to the light of Christ as he led us on the road of sorrows — following the traditional path that Jesus might have followed as he stumbled his way through and beyond Jerusalem to Galgatha and crucifixion. It is a way of pain and suffering. We remembered his being taunted, beaten and whipped. But we know it also as the way of hope.
It is a physically demanding journey even today. The rough paving stones are hard on the feet. Much of it is an uphill climb — a test for legs more accustomed to sitting at desks and in cars. John Kapanke and the Board of Pensions will rejoice at the number of steps we took.
The second Via Dolorosa walk was not quite so strenuous. We were tired from a long day and still feeling the effects of jet lag, but the demands were on my emotional system.
Two men spoke to us. They told a heart-wrenching story of painful loss when a loved one's life was claimed by violence born of hatred. One told us about his 14-year-old daughter killed by a suicide bomber. The other described the day his father was shot. One is an Israeli Jew and the other a Palestinian forced from his home in childhood and still living in a refugee camp. They are members of a group called Parents Circle Family Forum.
They spoke eloquently and emotionally about the choices they have made to speak for peace in the Middle East. They could call each other enemies, oppressor and oppressed, but they choose to call each other brother.
They don't agree on everything, but they agree on the importance of creating a future based on their shared humanity instead of hatred. They are men of great courage. They appear together in schools and use their common pain to remind the world of our common humanity. Their goal is to create cracks of light and hope in the walls of hatred. They are transforming their own Via Dolorosa in to a way of hope by walking it together.
January 9, 2009
All quiet â€” sort of â€” in the churchThe sometime raucous Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was, well, quite a church Friday morning except for the spirited singing as Lutheran bishops from the U.S. and Canada held a communion service in a small chapel.
Thanks to the Roman Catholic Franciscans, leaders from the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada filled a chapel the religious order controls a few steps from what some considered to be the tomb of Jesus.
The closed door to the main part of the church might have helped.
|Worship in a chapel at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson is on the left.|
The 8 a.m. service found the normally bustling church virtually empty and the service went off without a hitch. Celebrants kept their vestments inconspicuous as they entered and left the chapel, so as not to draw attention from the other Christian sects.
A young Franciscan priest did come in through a back door to observe a portion of the eucharist, joining the bishops, spouses and staff singing "Dona nobis pacem."
|Lutheran bishops from the U.S. and Canada visit the Mount of Olives.|
The group left immediately afterward for Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives. The Lutheran World Federation-owned facility sits atop the mount from where bishops could see a police observation balloon and helicopters scan the Old City of Jerusalem.
Security was tight on Friday as some Muslim leaders called for demonstrations following Friday prayers in opposition to the Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip. The group encountered no trouble reaching the hospital, or later when it was taken by bus to Bethlehem, which sits in the West Bank territory and on the opposite side of Israeli's controversial separation wall.
At the Mount of Olives, bishops were updated on the hospital's evolution into a specialties facility, particularly oncology. The 46-acre site will also be home to an $8.4 million housing project for Palestinian Christians once zoning approval is received from the Israeli government. Funding has been all but secured.
In Bethlehem, some bishops crossed back into the Israeli portion of Jerusalem and participated in Shabbat services at two synagogues and meals with member families.
The trip is to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace. It runs through Jan. 13.
January 8, 2009
Rockets fired into northern Israel Thursday wrecked plans by ELCA bishops and others to meet with some Israeli officials in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Still, bishops of the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada pressed on with their visit, laying a wreath at the Israeli memorial to Holocaust victims and conferring with the Jewish state's two chief rabbis.
The rocket attack in the early hours of Thursday threw the day off course. Several high-ranking Israeli leaders, including the president and foreign minister, canceled their time with the bishop.
|Outside the memorial to the dead at the Yad Vashem, ELCIC National Bishop Susan Johnson, Floyd M. Schoenhals, bishop of the ELCA Arkansas-Oklahoma Synod, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson and Robert Smith of ELCA Global Mission , discuss what to do in light of rocket fire that canceled meetings with Israeli leaders.|
After being given a special tour of the Yad Vashem memorial, Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson of the ELCA, National Bishop Susan C. Johnson of the ELCIC and Bishop Munib A. Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and Holy Land placed the flowers at the memorial for the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis in World War II.
From there they held an abbreviated meeting with Israel's top rabbis, Yona Metzger of the Ashkenazi and Schlomo Amar of the Sephardi branches of Judaism.
Both rabbis devoted much of their address to explaining Israel's incursion into the Gaza strip as necessary to stop rocket attacks on civilians in the southern portion of the country.
|ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson meets with rabbis Yona Metzger of the Ashkenazi and Schlomo Amar of the Sephardi branches of Judaism.|
They mourned civilian deaths in Gaza, but said military leaders showed them evidence Hamas fighters were positioned in schools and other public institutions.
Hanson stressed the two North American church's "rejection of violence." He said the current conduct of the campaign by Israel raised just war theory questions, especially "proportionality and killing of innocents."
"If we can't have this kind of exchange," Hanson said, "... then fanatics will win."
Johnson urged the rabbis to "stay at the table" in discussions with other faiths over moral and ethical issues arising from the violence. She promised "our prayers for you at this very difficult time and our pledge of accompaniment."
Neither rabbi responded. They left immediately for another meeting.
The trip is to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace. It runs through Jan. 13.
January 7, 2009
A day in Jerusalem
Visiting bishops learned firsthand the ups and downs of life in Jerusalem Wednesday.
Acoustics in the 1898 sanctuary built by the German kaiser are exceptional. The bishops and staff did not hold back in their singing as part of their second day of a seven-day meeting in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The obvious joy from the service would soon dissipate as the group walked through the narrow, covered streets of the Old City for a rare tour by Christians of the El Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam's most revered worship sites that rest atop the Temple Mount. The visit was arranged by Grand Mufti Muhammad Ahmad Hussein.
The group was turned away at the mosque by Israeli authorities after a short and frank verbal exchange. Israeli officials contacted group leaders to say the visit could occur later in the day. The deed was done, however, and the bishops moved on with their day.
Clerical leaders of the two North American churches are on a mission of accompaniment, awareness and advocacy for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians.
After lunch in Redeemer's courtyard — parts of which date from the 12th century — the bishops divided into groups for walking tours of the Old City. They visited churches and former mosques and synagogues of various kinds, witnessing the street life where Israelis, Palestinians and tourists mingle on streets some 2,000-plus years old.
The life in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza confronted them again in the evening during a presentation by a United Nations official on the walls surrounding the Palestinian areas and the Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
Then came testimony for peace and mutual understanding — not revenge — between the two sides from an Israeli whose 14-year-old daughter was killed by two Palestinian suicide bombers and a Palestinian whose 62-year-old father was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers. The bishops supported the pair with a long ovation and prayer with the laying on of hands.
January 6, 2009
Gather at the riverBishops from North America joined members of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church of Amman at the banks of the Jordan River to celebrate with a eucharist the blessing of a parcel overlooking the river given the church for a retreat center and worship facility.
The significance of the day was not lost on those gathered at one of the sites believed to be the spot where Jesus was baptized. It was Epiphany, which marks both the visit of the wise men to Jesus as a child as well as his baptism.
The crowd worshipped at a recently constructed covered grand stand at the very foot of the river. The Jordan River is reported to be remnant of river Jesus would have seen, having been greatly reduced in recent years by the siphoning of its water for irrigation and other uses. The shallow, narrow river is brownish green in color and exceedingly murky.
That didn't stop those gathered from celebrating the recent gift of Jordan's King Abdullah II of a sizable nearby plot of land for the buildings. A number of churches and centers of various faith traditions are under construction or planned in the area, once a military security zone between Jordan and Israel.
The moon-like surface of the site is the result of sediments deposited there eons ago when the adjacent Dead Sea covered a much larger area. It overlooks the river, the Israel-Jordan border and the city of Jericho.
Later in the day the small group of bishops from the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada were joined by a majority of their fellow bishops in Jerusalem for a seven-day visit of the city and the West Bank through January 13.
The trip is to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land , raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace.
Presiding Bishops Mark S. Hanson of the ELCA and Susan C. Johnson of the ELCIC joined Bishop Munib A. Younan of ELCJHL in a private session with the king Tuesday morning. Details of their conversation were not released.
Leaders of the ELCA and ELCIC plan to meet with Israeli officials later this week to discuss the current fighting in the Gaza Strip, efforts to stop it and what can be done to reach a long-term peace accord between the Israelis and Palestinians.
January 5, 2009
Meetings, mountains, delays
Monday was a day of official meetings, historic and breathtaking scenery and the end of an epic journey for ELCA bishops visiting the Middle East.
|Mount Nebo, Jordan|
A delegation from the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada met with the speaker of the Jordanian legislative body as well as leaders of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center.
The bishops are an advance party of a larger gathering of American and Canadian bishops Jan. 6-13 in Israel and the West Bank. They are on a mission of accompaniment, awareness and advocacy for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians.
Tuesday promises an even more significant talk. Jordanian King Abdullah II is scheduled to meet with Presiding Bishops Mark S. Hanson and Susan C. Johnson of the ELCA and ELCIC, respectively, and Bishop Munib A. Younan of ELCJHL in a private session.
|Munib A. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land; Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Susan Johnson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada; Nabil B. Haddad, Melchite priest; and Ahd al Fatah Salah, Jordanian Minister of Islamic Affairs|
In talks with the religious leaders, Hanson, Johnson and the other bishops signed on to a 2008 document between Christians and Muslims in Jordan that urges respect for each others beliefs, prophets and holy books, as well as free access to all holy sites.
At a news conference in the evening, Hanson called for a more active role by the U.S. to end the fighting between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Earlier in the day a small group of bishops went to Mount Nebo, from where the Bible says Moses viewed the promised land-today's Israel, Jordan and the West Bank — just before his death.
And at days end, Bishops Harold L. Usgaard of Southeastern Minnesota Synod and Duane C. Pederson of Northwest Synod of Wisconsin Synod arrived in Amman after two full days of travel. Their plane was delayed three hours leaving Minneapolis. They missed their connecting flight in New York to Jordan, so they spent the night in the airport. Once finally in Istanbul, they missed another connecting flight, delaying their eventual landing in Jordan by several hours. They showered, changed clothes, joined an evening reception and made the best of their adventure.
January 4, 2009
Confirmation dayWith fighting in the Gaza Strip hovering ominously in the background, a small group of bishops from the ELCA turned to the more pleasant church business Sunday evening of witnessing the confirmation of five youths at a Lutheran church in Amman, Jordan.
The six bishops and spouses helped fill Good Shepherd Lutheran Church on the edge of city's downtown, easily spotted by with its lighted cross atop the church belltower.
The reception that followed in the church basement was as celebratory as they come: dance music and a lighted, spinning disco ball greeted the youth as they entered in line and were followed by a sheet cake featuring two lit roman candles. The smoke released for added atmosphere probably wasn't need since nearly every parishioners smoked cigarettes.
During the worship service, Bishop Munib A. Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land thanked the bishops for coming to the Middle East "not only in times of joy" but also during periods of sorrow, and in the current situation, fighting between Israelis and Palestinians.
ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson pledged the denomination's support for the ELCJHL and said he hoped the change of presidential administrations in the United States would help bring "the conflicting sides to a lasting, two-state solution" of peace.
Hanson and the other bishops were to be joined by Presiding Bishop Susan C. Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada for a two-plus day visit to Jordan before hooking up with a majority of the bishops from both nations in Jerusalem and the West Bank Jan. 6-13. The bishops hope the trip will stress accompaniment with the ELCJHL, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace.
The day wasn't all serious. Using a sunny day to overcome jet lag following Saturday's flight, the bishops took in Petra, the ancient Roman ruin in southern Jordan. The sight of the delegation atop trotting donkeys lugging them up and out of the valley for more than a mile wasn't captured on film as the media travelling with the bishops struggled to stay upright on their own beasts of burden.
January 3, 2009
The group has landed
What happened to Saturday? A small group of ELCA bishops, spouses and churchwide organization staffers boarded a jet in Chicago in the dark evening hours of Friday only to deplane some 12 hours later in the gathering black of Saturday night in Amman, Jordan.
The group was to link up later with a few other bishops as well as Presiding Bishops Mark S. Hanson of the ELCA and Susan C. Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada for a two-plus day visit to Jordan before hooking up with a majority of the bishops from both nations in Jerusalem.
The trip is part of a long planned journey to Jordan, Israel and the West Bank as part of the 2005 ELCA "Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine." Its goal is to build relationships with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land , foster awareness of the issues there and increase advocacy for a just peace in the region.
The group that flew direct from Chicago was greeted at the entrance of Hotel Jerusalem in downtown Amman by ELCJHL Bishop Munib A. Younan, his wife, daughter and a welcomed cold glass of sweet and unusually thick orange juice.
Fighting at the Gaza Strip along the Mediterranean Sea cast an air of uncertainty over the visit. Bishops decided earlier this week to proceed, as the trip had been delayed in the past. With reports of Israeli ground troops entering the Gaza Strip late Saturday, it is unknown what other security measures may be put in place that could change the agenda of the visit later in the week to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Ramallah, the largest city on the West Bank.
But first, sleep. Because at 6 a.m. Sunday, suffering from jet lag or not, the bishops and others get on the bus for a quick visit to the spectacular Roman ruins of Petra before worship and a reception in Amman later in the day.