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January 7, 2009

Presiding bishop addresses Gaza situation at Amman news conference

Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said the United States government needs to take a more active role in stopping the conflict in Gaza. Stopping the conflict needs to be a top priority, and it must be accomplished as soon as possible, he said.

Hanson, who also serves as president of the Lutheran World Federation, said Israeli troops must withdraw from Gaza, Hamas must stop rocket attacks on civilians in Israel, and negotiations must be restarted for "a permanent peace with justice and a two-state solution." The LWF is a global communion of 141 churches in 79 countries, representing 68.3 million of the world's Lutherans.

Humanitarian conditions for the people of Gaza must be improved immediately, Hanson said. "We are deeply concerned that food, medicine and other basic necessities are not getting to the people in Gaza. We ask that borders be opened for humanitarian aid to reach Gaza. This must be a long-term, sustained effort," he said.

Hanson, Susan C. Johnson, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and Munib A. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, addressed a news conference in Amman, Jordan, Jan. 5.

In response to a reporter's question, Hanson said he was disappointed that the Bush administration vetoed a cease-fire resolution in the U.N. Security Council and hoped that new proposals would succeed. Israel needs to comply with U.N. actions, he added.

Hanson, Johnson and Younan are leading more than 40 bishops from the ELCA and ELCIC who arrived Jan. 6 in Jerusalem for a week-long series of meetings with religious, political and community leaders in Israel and the West Bank. A smaller group of bishops from both churches arrived here Jan. 3 for similar meetings in Jordan.

The Canadian government is deeply concerned about the violence and loss of life in Gaza, and it wants humanitarian aid to be available to people living there, Johnson said. "The Canadian churches have stated that all attacks on civilians, whether in pursuit of political ends or as a part of military operations are unacceptable and must be deplored," she said.

Months ago the North American bishops made plans to travel together to Israel, Jordan and the West Bank to demonstrate support and encouragement for the ELCJHL, to learn about the political and social situation in the region, and to advocate for peace. The visit is the 2009 Bishops' Academy, an annual event for study and reflection.

It is significant that the bishops are arriving at a time of serious conflict in Gaza, Younan said. "It makes their visit more significant and more important as they ... dare to come to stand with the peoples of this (region), to stand with Arab Christianity, and to tell the world that the voice of the manger in Bethlehem is much stronger than the voices of cannons and F-16s and bombs wherever they are in the world," he said.

Lutheran bishops met Jan. 5 with Zeid Al Rifai, president of the Jordanian Senate, who said Israel's incursion into Gaza is "mind boggling" and "inexcusable." He said "indiscriminate killing ... will achieve absolutely nothing." The Gaza conflict must serve as an incentive to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Al Rifai added.

The bishops also met with leaders of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center, and Jordan's Minister of Islamic Affairs, Abdul Fatah Salah. The Lutheran bishops added their signatures to a document addressing "Islamic-Christian Interfaith Coexistence," which calls on both faith traditions to cooperate, continue dialogue, and promote peace and justice in the world. The bishops concluded activities Jan. 5 with an evening reception for religious, political and community leaders.

Hanson, Johnson and Younan said they would meet Jan. 6 with Jordan's King Abdullah II to talk about Gaza and other concerns before traveling to Jerusalem.

More: The Lutheran's editor Daniel J. Lehmann is traveling with the bishops. Follow his blog...

More: 2009 Conference of Bishop's Academy

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