Priest dressed in white clothes presiding over a church service inside a stone church.

Morning prayer and mass with the White Fathers (Missionaries of Africa) in the Church of Saint Anne, Old City of Jerusalem, November 2022. 


The world order is breaking down,” he says, lamenting that the United Nations seems to be on the sidelines issuing statements that powerful countries wont support. 

But over the past 55 years he has seen churches in Jerusalem reach a new level of unity. The Heads of Churches have been coming together regularly, giving statements, and having some common initiatives,” he says. I think they have come a long way and Im happy about that.” 

Bouwen believes it’s the work of the Holy Spirit. Its as if they discovered how deeply down they are united,” he says. Today, in the present situation, we are in very close contact with each other.”

Its an extremely difficult path in the present situation, he adds. Among the churches in the communities, the sensitivities are sometimes there,” he says. In some of our communities—Catholic and also Lutheran—we have members on both sides of the conflict.”

Yet they belong to one Christian community in Jerusalem—one that has lasted through the centuries. It has its ups and downs, and we can do better, but its a deep conviction in that the relationship exists at the level of the faithful, in all levels of the church,” says Bouwen. Jerusalem brings them together despite their differences. 

Celebrating Easter

As Easter approaches, Bouwen and others in Jerusalem simply dont know how it will be. Usually the pilgrims fill the streets,” he says. This year, no pilgrims will be able to come before Easter. Palestinians cannot come to Jerusalem to celebrate.”

But he is convinced that Christians will celebrate Easter regardless. They will be renewed by this in their lives, renewed by their faith and hope for the future,” he says. 

What can the ecumenical world do better in Jerusalem? Bouwen believes they can share more resources—both human and material ones. I think that type of sharing is one of the criteria of the authenticity of our real ecumenical resolve to work together—then our churches will be stronger to face the future.”

He also believes its vital to work with the continuation of the Christian presence. Without a Christian presence, Jerusalem would just be a museum—theological stones,” he says. Christians belong here and their very presence, in my view, is essential.”

He reflects that, as a small minority, Christians are no threat to anyone. We are there to serve. Our religious disposition calls upon us to serve and with humility,” he says.

But where are the seeds of hope? When we speak truth to power—but not from high—from the ground up,” says Bouwen. We have to be in the world to be the salt of the earth. We have to be living with the others.”

This often means feeling the pain of everyone, Bouwen says. Jerusalem is in danger of losing its multicultural and multi-religious dimensions,” he says. Jerusalem was to be a place of meeting and encounter where everybody feels at home.”

Its a city too precious to be controlled by one authority or one faction, he reflects. The extremists, the occupiers would like Jerusalem to be one color—but Jerusalem must be multi-colored,” he says. Are there enough people ready to live together—to recognize each other?”

Such mutual acceptance in Jerusalem requires good leadership, Bouwen says. Its a call to go back to our roots and start again. In spite of everything—we start again. Jerusalem is to start again.”

Learn more: Easter Initiative 2024

This material was produced as part of the 2024 Easter Initiative of the World Council of Churches - Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (WCC-EAPPI). As we witness violence and injustice in the Holy Land and the struggle of its peoples to find peace, the 2024 WCC-EAPPI Easter initiative lifts up the call to roll away the heavy stone of violence, war and occupation, pain and suffering, and to remind the world of what is needed to bring about peace, to transform swords into ploughshares.