Solidarity visit to Israel, Palestine

WCC delegation to Israel and Palestine

United Methodist Bishop Mary Ann Swenson (second row, middle) was a member of a World Council of Churches delegation that met with church leaders hosted at the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem by Patriarch Fouad Twal. (WCC photo by Marianne Ejdersten)

To express solidarity with churches and people in Israel and Palestine, leaders of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee visited Israel and Palestine March 7-12.

United Methodist Bishop Mary Ann Swenson was a member of the delegation that included Dr Agnes Abuom, moderator of the WCC Central Committee; Metropolitan Dr. Gennadios of Sassima, vice-moderator of the Central Committee; and the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC general secretary. Swenson is also a vice-moderator of the Central Committee.

The visit has been an expression of the pilgrimage of justice and peace.

The visit has been an expression of the pilgrimage of justice and peace, affirming the WCC's commitment to support the peace process in the Holy Land and in the Middle East, and to reflect on the on-going and clear wish for a just peace.

The delegation met with representatives of WCC member churches, including Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem and Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan & the Holy Land. Other church leaders in Jerusalem were hosted by Patriarch Fouad Twal in a gathering at the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem.

Met with Jewish, Muslim leaders

The WCC delegation also met with Jewish and Muslim leaders, human rights groups (both Palestinian and Israelis), at the Peres Peace Centre with Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Al Hamdallah and the Presidential Committee for Church Affairs in Ramallah and representatives of ecumenical organizations.

The delegation was also exposed to conditions of life under occupation.

The delegation was also exposed to conditions of life under occupation, and to successful community projects in the area.

The Jerusalem Inter-Church Center, an initiative of the Jerusalem churches in association with the Middle East Council of Churches and the WCC, hosted the delegation. The center is a coordination point for ecumenical action in and for Jerusalem and its churches.

Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine & Israel

The delegation learned about the role of churches in the region, including the work of the WCC’s Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine & Israel. The program aims to work alongside Palestinians and Israelis in nonviolent actions for peace, and to carry out concerted advocacy to end the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories.

“Since 2002, over 1,500 volunteers have come for three months to be the Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs),” said Abuom. “That has been one concrete initiative for the WCC to show solidarity and support to local and international efforts to bring a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a just peace based on international law and relevant United Nations resolutions.”

Despite being a religious minority in Israel and Palestine, Christians are strongly active and visible in public life, according to Tveit.

“Our role is to give Christian witness to the world and work for justice and peace,” said Tveit as he explained how the WCC accompanies peace and reconciliation initiatives in the Middle East and beyond.

“We believe peace can be achieved only together with the other.,” Tveit said. “We are called as the fellowship of churches to take action in support of peaceful solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

Other members of the WCC delegation were Georges Lemopoulos, deputy general secretary; Dr. Isabel Phiri, associate general secretary for Public Witness & Diakonia; Marianne Ejdersten, the WCC’s director of Communication; and the Rev. Garland Pierce, senior assistant to the WCC general secretary.

Editor's note: The World Council of Churches (WCC) brings together churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world, representing over 500 million Christians, including most of the world's Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed churches, as well as many United and Independent churches. At the end of 2013, there were 345 member churches.

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