Leaders from churches in the Holy Land met with the heads of faith-based organizations and churches in Atlanta, Georgia (USA) on 19-20 April for a summit that explored the role of US churches in peacemaking in the Middle East.
World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit helped to open the summit with words about a pilgrimage of justice and peace, saying that churches have a new opportunity to look into the future together with hope. “With a change of heart in the US, there will be a drive to change in the Holy Land,” he said.
Participants discussed topics such as the role of pilgrimages in peace-building and investing in Palestine. They then compiled “The Atlanta Church Summit Document,” which outlined recommendations made by subcommittees that met during the two-day event.
Former US President Jimmy Carter offered recommendations and a closing address. Carter emphasized that his personal commitment to justice and peace for Israel and Palestine has steadfastly remained for many years. The summit, Carter and other participants agreed, was a unique gathering because church leaders from the US and the Holy Land met to share their commitment to peace in the Holy Land.
Patriarch Theofilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, offered insights into churches’ roots in the Holy Land. “The church that was revealed in Jerusalem has maintained a Christian presence and responsibility,” he said. “The Holy Land is the center of encounter between people and God. We long for a civilization of inclusivity.”
Patriarch Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, spoke about the pole of churches and church-related organizations in the Holy Land. “The role of the church in the Holy Land is the continuation of Jesus Christ’s work,” he said. “One of our duties is to find the end of the struggle and to speak out about the obstacles of peace.”
He believes churches have the power to break down walls to create a mentality for a new society. “We are determined despite all challenges,” he said.
In speaking about the prophetic role of the church in the search for peace and justice in the Holy Land, Bishop Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, urged Christians to pressure their governments to support international resolutions to end the occupation. “Churches are not the only source of prophetic voice,” he said. “Sometimes they should also be receiving prophetic voices by civil society.”
Part of the challenge is informing US churches about the issues in the Holy Land, said Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. “Our people in America do not know the situation on the ground,” she said.
Most Rev. Oscar Cantú, bishop of Las Cruces and chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke of Palestinians “suffering without hope,” thus for many of them, he said, the only possibility is to leave.
“It makes me mad that my tax money only adds to their suffering,” he concluded.