Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has launched an ecumenical appeal for funds to help sustain Christian communities in Israel-Palestine.
The spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans told the Church of England's General Synod (its governing body): "I returned from a visit to the Holy Land last year with a very, very strong sense that we had to do more to express our solidarity with the Christian communities there...We know our brothers and sisters there are suffering; and we don't always ask ourselves often enough what our response needs to be."
He hoped Christians from different traditions would give generously to help build a fund from which community projects could be supported – projects which would contribute to the sustainability of the most vulnerable Christian communities, especially on the West Bank.
"I want to appeal today to you, for your support in creating in the near future, a fund with which we might assist projects of community development and work creation, especially among Palestinian Christians," said Dr Williams.
The appeal comes ahead of a conference on Christians in the Holy land which he and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, are jointly hosting at Lambeth Palace on 18-19 July 2011.
The two church leaders explained the purpose behind holding the conference in a short video which was screened as part of the Archbishop's appeal to Synod.
"The rate of emigration from Christian populations in the Holy Land has been growing steadily for a long time" said Dr Williams in the video. "People are leaving, Christians are leaving, and we want to say that the Christian presence in the Holy Land is important to its balance...not just its historical reality, but to its present and future viability" added Archbishop Vincent Nichols.
"I want to say to Christians in the Holy Land that we treasure enormously their presence and witness. A witness which has gone on throughout Christian history...often in conditions of great trial and stress... Christians in the West...need to be aware that the Christians of the Holy Land are an intrinsic part of our Christian family," said Archbishop Williams.
Dr Williams commended to Synod the work of the Friends of the Holy Land, "[a] small but growing ecumenical charity...made up of parish-based groups...dedicated to praying with and for Christians in the Holy Land, and supporting them in practical and personal ways."
The group, which will draw support from Anglican and Catholic parishes, and some other churches, has agreed to collect and hold in trust all funds donated in response to the Appeal.
The Archbishop said he hoped that in the coming year a substantial fund would be established from which regular income could be derived for channeling into simple but effective projects with partners in the Israel-Palestine area.
Dr Williams said he was delighted that Anglicans and Roman Catholics, with the personal support of Pope Benedict - with whom the Archbishop had discussed the situation of the Christians in the Holy Land during his visit to Britain last September - were committed to collaborating closely to focus attention on the plight of Christians in the Holy Land and to find practical ways to make a difference.
"I hope that in the weeks ahead, fellow Anglicans will give generously to support this vision and consider ways of becoming better informed and more involved with the issues – not as part of any kind of political campaign but as part of what we owe to our brothers and sisters in Christ's Body, in supporting the continuance of the vital presence of Christian communities in the land where our Lord preached, lived and died the Gospel," he declared.
* 'Issues facing Christians in the Holy Land' - regional expert and Ekklesia assocaite Dr Harry Hagopian reflects on the upcoming Lambeth conference on his latest podcast for CBCEW. http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/15105