LISTEN, LEARN, SUPPORT, PRAY -LESSONS FROM THE MIDDLE EAST

Archbishop Justin is a busy boy.  He recently spent 3 days in Egypt, followed by a short visit to Israel/Palestine (where he’s been many times before he became ABC).  Some of the press complained that he hadn’t spent enough time with Palestinians, but as usual some of the press is relying on lazy journalism.  The comments from those actually present are that in fact, he ended up spending most of his time with Palestinians.  This is not a political statement.  It’s about the fact that many Palestinians are Christians and the church  there is under enormous pressure.

IMG_3200Archbishop Justin and Bishop Mouneer, President-Bishop of the Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East, in conversation with the former Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, at All Saints Cathedral, Cairo, Egypt, Monday 24 June 2013. (Lambeth Palace photo by Chris Cox) – See more at: http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/5099/listen-to-their-voices-of-pain-archbishop-justin-on-his-middle-east-visit#sthash.vEWTvKXu.dpuf

In Cairo he met with the Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East, and also the Grand Mufti (isn’t that an amazing title?  Without meaning any disrespect, it puts me in mind of people going around in disguise – in this case, trying to ease the tensions in that area). Muslims and Christians alike in Egypt are trying – and in some cases succeeding – in tackling the needs together.  I shall remember this next time the media bangs on about unmitigated Muslim-Christian tensions there.  Of course they exist – only a fool would deny it.  But it is not the whole story, and the bit of the story that is ignored by the press, often turns out to be the best bit.

Talking about the dioceses of Jerusalem and Cairo, Justin was obviously thoroughly impressed with all that they’re doing.    They both  ‘have more institutions (including a full-size, full-range hospital in Egypt) than churches – institutions through which the love of Christ pours unconditionally to all who come. There are schools, clinics, advice centres, and all manner of general care. Both dioceses have effective relationships with governments, other Churches, and with the Muslim majorities. Both maintain a passionate and profound spirituality’

I really like what he said about the attitudes of western Christians to the problems of the Middle East:  he thinks we should go  “as servants, not coming with some grand idea of solution.” He urged the Church to take inspiration from the dioceses in Cairo and Jerusalem which “punch far above their weight, and do it by love expressed in action.”

Injustices across the region, and the fears felt by many communities, must be confronted, but “in keeping with these wonderful dioceses, confronted with love, humility, and service,” he said.

This makes far more sense to me than the idea that we mighty westerners can charge around the world telling people what to do.  We’ve only got to look at Iraq and Afghanistan to realise where that sort of thinking gets us  So going to the troubled Middle East in order to learn, and to assist in ways which they consider appropriate, is a far more Christian attitude than ones we’ve been guilty of in the past … and to a certain extent, still are 

In Israel/Palestine he spent time meeting people in Jerusalem and also in Ramallah (which is Palestinian) in order to dedicate a new diabetes clinic set up by the Anglican church.  Thankfully he has the good sense not to make grandiose statements about the incredibly complex problems there, commenting  ‘In the Holy Land, it is impossible to say anything without treading on toes, or to go anywhere without some people feeling that you should not have, or that somewhere else was more important.

Let me echo here what many others have said: Israel is a state that has the same rights and obligations as every other state in the world, including the right to security and peace within internationally recognised boundaries. The people of the region, without exception, whether Palestinian, Jewish, Druze, or any other, have the right to peace, security, and justice, especially over land, and increasingly over water. But how can these things be achieved?

In a region where a civil war is raging to the north in Syria, and insecurity is pervasive, it is absurd to imagine that there are simple solutions to the total absence of trust that prevents progress towards peace. As one person said to me: “Mistrust means that every action is seen as part of a zero-sum game, and I can only gain by making someone else lose.”

As far as I can see, Justin thinks our job in the west is to support, encourage and pray for those who are doing everything they can, and then some, to meet the overwhelming needs in a spirit of love and mercy.

There are some good things, after all, about my Anglican Church 

(For more details see http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2013/5-july/comment/opinion/listen-to-their-voices-of-pain and also http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/5099/listen-to-their-voices-of-pain-archbishop-justin-on-his-middle-east-visit )

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