Bethlehem will not be forgotten, says Archbishop of Canterbury

By staff writers
23 Dec 2006

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has told the people of Bethlehem that neither they, nor the pressures that they live under are forgotten in the West. During a pilgrimage to Bethlehem where he has joined three other senior English church leaders, Dr Williams addressed the city’s civic representatives, stressing that problems had to be solved by people working together.

One-sided solutions would not deliver justice, he declared: “[I]n this so troubled, complex land … justice and security is never something which one person claims at the expense of another or one community at the expense of another. We are here to say that security for one is security for all. For one to live under threat, whether of occupation, or of terror, is a problem for all, and a pain for all.”

The Archbishop, spiritual leader of the 77 million strong Anglican Communion, added that the pilgrimage was intended as a sign of hope: “We are not here to visit an ancient and interesting site. We are not here to visit a museum and we are not here to visit a theme park. We are here to visit a place and people whose very existence speaks of the freedom of God to set human beings free.”

The Pilgrimage is being undertaken by Catholic Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the moderator of the Free Churches, the Rev David Coffey, and the Armenian patriarch of Great Britain, Bishop Nathan Hovhannisian as well as Dr Williams. It ends today (Saturday 23 December 2006).

The full text of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s remarks is as follows:

Your excellencies, dear brothers and sisters, we are I think a little overwhelmed by the welcome that we have received here. And although we are used, we have visited here before to be welcomed with this generosity today has been exceptional.

We are indeed here to say to the people of Bethlehem they are not forgotten. We are here to say that what affects you affects us. We are here to say that your suffering is ours also - in prayer and in thought and in hope. We are here to say, in this so troubled, complex land, that justice and security is never something which one person claims at the expense of another or one community at the expense of another. We are here to say that security for one is security for all.

For one to live under threat, whether of occupation, or of terror, is a problem for all, and a pain for all. The wall which we walked through a little while ago is a sign not simply of a sign of a passing problem in the politics of one region; it is sign of some of the things that are most deeply wrong in the human heart itself. That terrible fear of the other and the stranger which keeps all of us in one another kind of prison.

In one of the hymns which we sing in English during the Advent season we sing about Jesus Christ as the One who comes the prison bars to break. And it is our prayer and our hope for all of you that the prison of poverty and disadvantage, and the prison of fear and anxiety will alike be broken. We are here on pilgrimage because we trust that 2000 years ago an event took place here which assured us that these prisons could be broken, broken by the act of a God in whose sight all are equally precious: Palestinian, Israeli, Jewish, Christian and Moslem. A God for whom all lives are so equally precious that the death of any one is an affront to all. That is why we are here.

We are not here to visit an ancient and interesting site. We are not here to visit a museum and we are not here to visit a theme park. We are here to visit a place and people whose very existence speaks of the freedom of God to set human beings free That is a truth which remains day after day, year after year, millennium after millennium. It is that good news that has driven us here. It is that good news which has teaches us not to despair even in the terrible circumstances in which so many of you now live.

Thank you once again for what you have done to make us feel at home here. We who are now fellow citizens with you here in this place. Pray for us in the western world, for us in England, that our faith may be strengthened by yours. That you are a gift – remember – to us. Unlike the wise men who came from the East 2000 years ago, we not very wise men from the West have not come to pour out our gifts. We have come to receive the witness of your faith, your endurance and your hope. To receive the gifts of God from you.

So pray for us. Pray that we may be strong. Pray that we may be loyal friends to you and to all the peoples of this land and we shall pray for you also.

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