By Albin Hillert*
“Lead us from despair to hope, from fear to love, and may peace be in our hearts,” said Rev. Gabrielle Zander from the Augusta Victoria Church in an opening word of prayer, as participants in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (WCC-EAPPI) gathered in Saint Anne’s Basilica in Jerusalem in mid-April.
Since 2002, groups of Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) have been providing protective international presence to local communities, documenting human rights violations, and gathering eyewitness stories of life under occupation – stories that they can bring back to share in their home contexts.
At Saint Anne’s, the mid-April ceremony saw one group of EAs pass on the challenges of their ministry to another.
Some of the EAs have now spent three months in the Holy Land, others have just arrived. But they all share the same ministry – of witness, of accompaniment, of service.
“As humans, God created us with many differences, and these differences have created tension, conflict and misunderstandings” reflected Rev. Fr Dave Sullivan on behalf of the Missionaries of Africa of St Anne’s Monastery and Basilica. “But God’s dream is for us to all live in harmony. Different, but in harmony.”
“Jesus taught us that ‘blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons and daughters of God’ – those who make peace, those who foster dialogue,” Sullivan continued. “Each of you is blessed, as you have given up your time, your energy, and your resources, to make your contribution towards peace.”
“During your time here, you will not resolve all the problems. But you are here, to make your contribution to God’s dream of peace,” he said.
Through a symbolic candlelight ceremony, the group of outgoing EAs then passed on the light of peace, as the responsibility of the EAs’ witness now falls onto new shoulders.
“May you walk with kindness, hope, patience and love so that you are blessed and are a blessing to all,” the group of outgoing EAs said.
“We accept the challenge to live and witness as EAs,” the new group responded.
And while one group now moves back to their respective home contexts to share what they have seen, heard and experienced, the new EAs have already begun their service in the field.
Thousands of Christians from Jerusalem and beyond marched on 14 April from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem’s Old City, following in the footsteps of Jesus on Palm Sunday.
EAs were onsite throughout the day, accompanying the procession as it marched through the city.
“Passing on the candles, passing on the responsibility to work for peace, and to communicate with the people here, was a very emotional experience,” said one of the outgoing EAs, from Argentina, “I think we have being doing great work, and we try to leave everything now in a way that they can help strengthen the work more and more.”
Outgoing EAs light candles before stepping out of the Saint Anne’s Basilica, ready to head home.
“I appreciated what was said,” an incoming EA from Finland added. “And even though I am not really a very religious person, I still felt during the handover ceremony that it was real. It was real for me.”
Since 2002, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine in Israel provides a continuous presence of 25-30 Ecumenical Accompaniers, with a vision of just peace for all people in the Holy Land.
For three months, EAs accompany local communities, offering protective presence, collecting documentation, and witnessing daily struggles and hopes – be it for shepherds in the Jordan Valley, school children at risk of settler harassment, people passing through checkpoints in the separation barrier, or communities under threat of demolition.
‘Not a page in a book’ – accompaniers hear Palestinians’ testimonies from Ma’alul village (WCC press release of 27 March 2019)
Shabbat dinner ‘helps humanize two sides of the story’ (WCC press release of 27 March 2019)
Morning life and resilience under occupation – EAs witness checkpoints in Jerusalem and the West Bank (WCC feature of 9 October 2018)
Early morning business: EAs accompany Bedouin shepherds in Jordan Valley (WCC feature of 7 October 2018)
*Albin Hillert is communication officer for the World Council of Churches