Heads of churches in Jerusalem have welcomed the Palestine-Israel Ecumenical Forum launched in Jordan last week. They voiced satisfaction with the new advocacy initiative at meetings with World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev Dr Samuel Kobia during his 21-26 June visit to the Holy Land.
The need for mutual understanding between the peoples in the region was highlighted by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem and All Palestine Theophilos III on the first day of Dr Kobia’s visit.
Although primarily interested in religious issues, church leaders are also concerned about political developments, Theophilos said. They aim to play a positive role and contribute to the wellbeing of the peoples in the region.
He also stressed the crucial role of dialogue among Christians as well as with people of other faiths, something particularly important in a city like Jerusalem, which holds a particular significance for all three monotheistic religions.
Theophilos voiced deep appreciation for the work and contribution of the WCC. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, he said, is fully committed to the Council’s purpose of promoting not just a "rapprochement" between Christian denominations, but full and complete unity.
Theophilos bestowed the title of Bearer of the Cross of the Order of Orthodox Cross-Bearers of the Holy Sepulchre on the WCC general secretary, and expressed appreciation for Dr Kobia’s understanding and support of the Patriarchate.
The issue of inter-religious dialogue and collaboration was raised again at a meeting with the Maronite Archbishop Paul Sayah. He pointed out that inter-religious dialogue has to go down to the grassroots level and involve young people. In Palestine/Israel, Sayah said, nine out of ten hours spent on inter-religious dialogue and cooperation should be dedicated to young people.
Armenian Apostolic Patriarch Torkom Manoogian said he had followed the creation of the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum with great interest. "Peace and justice are necessary," he said, "yet they are not the final goal. If they prevail, there is hope for both Israelis and Palestinians to live together side by side as children of God."
The lack of land and housing for Christians among the Palestinian people was discussed at a meeting with the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad. He and some members of the church gave a detailed account of the current difficulties in these fields.
The Anglican Bishop Suheil Dawani affirmed the importance of building peace from the bottom up. In particular, he highlighted the need to include education for peace in schools for all the people in the region.
For Lutheran Bishop of Jordan and the Holy Land Dr Munib Younan, the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum shows that churches worldwide are taking seriously the issue of a just peace in the region. "We, as a suffering church of Arab Christians, need churches of the world to help us to keep the hope," he stated.
On Sunday, 24 June 2007, the WCC general secretary preached at St George’s Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem. Jerusalem and Palestine are in need of transformation, he said. The desired change will be brought about not by the powerful and the mighty but by ordinary people. It is the power of the powerless that causes change to occur, Dr Kobia affirmed.