January 13, 2009
Lutherans worship at Church of the Holy Sepulchre, visit hospital
For the first time North American Lutheran bishops, spouses and staff worshipped Jan. 9 at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a historic religious site built on the place of Jesus' crucifixion and burial.
The Franciscans permitted the Lutherans to use the Franciscan Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, said the Rev. Munib A. Younan, bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and Holy Land. Fergus Clarke welcomed the Lutherans on behalf of the Franciscans.
Forty-four bishops representing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada are participating in a series of meetings Jan. 6-13 with religious, political and community leaders in Israel and the West Bank, and visiting religious sites. Their visit also focuses on support and encouragement for the ELCJHL.
Following worship, the group traveled to East Jerusalem, visited Augusta Victoria Hospital, a medical facility of the Lutheran World Federation on the Mount of Olives, and learned about the LWF's Middle East programs.
Augusta Victoria Hosptial has been serving the needs of Palestinian refugees since 1948, said Mark B. Brown, an ELCA pastor and the LWF's regional representative.
In recent years the hospital has focused on specialty care services such as kidney dialysis, ear-nose-and-throat care, acute care, diabetes care and cancer treatments, including radiation oncology and cancer surgery, said Dr. Tawfiq Nasser, Augusta Victoria Hospital's chief executive officer. The hospital also provides services at community health clinics, he said.
Nasser said the services of the hospital are designed to meet the needs of the community and not to duplicate the services of other hospitals. "All of these strategies together made us move from a very high-risk institution ... to becoming a growth institution because we are focusing on services that the community really needs," he said.
In addition, Brown said, the LWF programs here provide vocational training for more than 300 students a year at training centers here and in Ramallah.
The housing project is an attempt to respond to the dwindling number of Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem, down from more than 31,000 in 1946 to less than 15,000 in 2000, Brown said. The housing project also attempts to preserve the concept of a "shared Jerusalem" for Christians, Jews and Muslims, he said.
"The lack of affordable housing has caused Christians to leave East Jerusalem and move to the West Bank or somewhere else," Brown said.
Following their visit to Augusta Victoria Hospital, some Lutheran bishops attended traditional Shabbat services and meals at two synagogues in Jerusalem. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, Susan C. Johnson, ELCIC national bishop and Younan made a courtesy visit to Theofilos III, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem.
More: The Lutheran's editor Daniel J. Lehmann is accompanying the bishops. Follow his blog ...