Jerusalem Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan has appealed to leaders of churches in Europe to stand by Christians in the Middle East in their struggle for justice and peace by remembering how injustice was fought in South Africa.
"I ask you as our brothers and sisters in Christ, do not leave us alone, do not leave us alone in the struggle," Younan told the once-every-six years assembly of the Conference of European Churches meeting in Lyon, France.
"Do you know how the apartheid system collapsed? It is because the churches in the world accompanied the churches in South Africa," said Younan, who heads the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. "As long as you accompany us as churches in Europe, there is hope that peace and justice will come to the Middle East."
About 300 delegates from CEC's 120 member churches - principally Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant - and 500 other participants are attending the 15-21 July assembly. The theme for the gathering is, "Called to One Hope in Christ".
Receiving a standing ovation from delegates, Younan said in his 16 July address that he would never lose hope for peace and justice in the Middle East despite circumstances such as the region's declining Christian population.
"The longer the conflict goes on, the more the people will emigrate," he warned.
As a sign of hope, Younan pointed to the formation of a council of religious institutions in the Holy Land which includes local Islamic and Christian leaders and Israel's two chief rabbis and meets every two months.
"Even when there is bombing, shelling, suicide attacks, we could as religious leaders meet together and speak of justice," said Younan, a vice-president of the Lutheran World Federation. "We do not come to each other with smiling faces; we carry the suffering of our people under our skin."
One project of the inter-religious council has been to carry out a review of textbooks used in schools, which instead of promoting justice and reconciliation, Younan said, "are teaching hatred against the other".
Another project has been to commission Palestinian and Israeli communication bodies to monitor the public utterances of religious leaders. "What we see is shameful," said the Lutheran leader, speaking of the results of the monitoring. "We all have to repent, even as Christians."
Younan said that as a Palestinian Christian, "I call also my people the Palestinians to see God in the Israelis, and have told also Israelis to see God in us Palestinians."
He said, "If we accept each other's humanity, then I would say very clearly than we will recognise each other's human, civil, religious and political rights."
To applause, Younan concluded, "The day is coming, the day of transformation of Palestinians and Israelis, the day is coming as long as there is the risen Lord. That is my faith."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]