A Palestinian community organization is offering a way for many more countries to join World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel, 4-10 June 2009 – by sending peace prayers to Bethlehem. The Week is intended to generate joint church action for a just peace.
Churches in 20 countries have already sent news of their plans to the convenors, the World Council of Churches (WCC).
"When the children of Shufa [in the West Bank] play too close to the settlement, the Israeli settlers feel their security is threatened. Children have been held and questioned for hours," an Ecumenical Accompanier in Occupied Palestinian Territory writes in a blog on the World Week website (http://tinyurl.com/c2tgr ).
"Ask everyone to bring a small stone to build a cairn in your place of worship. Use the stone to remember those who have had their houses demolished. Let the stone be a reminder of the 'Living Stones'," is one of many suggestions circulating in the UK among 12 participating churches and specialized ministries.
Norway's plans include a civil society debate with politicians on ethical investment and settlements, report seven church-related organizations there. Norway has elections in October 2009.
"Prayers and letters [will be] sent to Palestine from child refugees in Mindanao displaced by the intensifying war between government and Muslim insurgent forces," an organizer in the Philippines writes to the World Council of Churches.
"We decided to organize a chain of storytelling events, starting at the beach and then into the country, every day in another place," says a World Week planner in the Netherlands. "We will coach our respective constituencies to do the same in their own town or village." The idea was inspired by Dutch parish events during the Gaza war.
People and parishes around the world are invited to send peace prayers to Bethlehem. A church-related community organization there will share the prayers online for worldwide use during World Week. They will also be read aloud locally at the Wall, near settlements, and in Palestinian parishes and schools, including those in Gaza.
The WCC-led week of action is in its fourth year. Participants are invited to pray, educate and advocate, inspired by the theme "It's time for Palestine". A prayer offered by the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem has been sent to more than 120 countries, along with invitations to join World Week.
In 2008, evidence reached WCC that people, parishes and organizations in 40 countries took part. Each year so far, the numbers of participants and the scope of their activities has increased. From the beginning, there has been strong international and national participation by members of the Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi.
For 2009, participants are encouraged to focus on Israeli settlements in occupied territory. Links to the topic as well as a message, prayers and liturgies for the week are available on the WCC website.
In Canada, a joint Canadian-Palestinian church delegation will lobby parliament in May.
Two recent violent incidents in Northern Ireland are motivating Irish church members to do more to end the violent occupation in Palestine, reports Susan Hood, a Church of Ireland librarian and action week participant.
Inspired by a visit to Israel-Palestine made by Irish church leaders in connection with the week last year, Hood has led the preparation of a liturgy this year which shares testimonies from young Palestinians and Israelis. It may be broadcast on Irish national television and has already been sent to churches in dozens of countries.
In France, the focus is on candidates in European elections on 7 June 2009. An NGO forum, which includes five Catholic and Protestant organizations, is campaigning for Palestinian rights.
"We should be satisfied if pastors put the message 'It's time for Palestine' and/or the prayer from church leaders in Jerusalem into their Sunday service," writes Gerhilde Merz, an Austrian parish organizer. Such an initiative is still new to many parishes, she says.
The action week starts on 4 June each year to mark the last day – 4 June 1967 – of internationally recognized borders between Israel and a future Palestine. The action week is part of the WCC's Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum. It was initially called International Church Action for Peace in Palestine and Israel.