First published in The Church of England Newspaper.
An Israeli court has banned the former Bishop in Jerusalem from trespassing on diocesan property and has rejected his claims of ownership of a church school in Nazareth.
The three year legal battle over Christ Church School in Nazareth has pitted retired Bishop Riah Abu al-Assal against the current diocesan Bishop Suheil Dawani and has spawned charges and counter charges of fraud and violence.
In its pleadings the Diocese in Jerusalem said that shortly before his retirement in March 2007, Bishop Riah established a charitable trust staffed by members of his family and sought to transfer the assets and administration of the diocese’s Christ Church School over to the “Bishop Riah Educational Campus.”
The diocese said Bishop Riah had collected tuition fees from the students while the school’s expenses, including staff salaries, were being paid by the diocese, and had also asked the CMS to give him a power of attorney over the school property. In his court filings Bishop Riah countered that he had provided the funds for building the school, which employed his son as headmaster, and that he had raised funds for the school in his personal rather than episcopal capacity.
Following attempts at mediation, the diocese brought suit against Bishop Riah and his family trust for possession of the school and the tuition fees, and on Jan 22, 2008 a magistrate court granted the diocese control of the assets pending final adjudication. Last month a final decision was handed down by the Israeli courts on the real estate which denied Bishop Riah all rights and access “without express written permission of the diocesan Bishop Suheil Dawani,” or involvement “at all in any matter, without exception, in the matters of church and the school.”
Earlier this year the primate of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East released a public letter asking Bishop Riah to return to the diocese the £1 million in school fees he had collected, or explain why he was entitled to keep the money.
In a letter dated March 20, Bishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt said he had been “informed by the Diocese of Jerusalem that Bishop Riah has collected five and a half million NIS shekels (£1 million) in tuition fees from the parents while his son continued as the Principal of the school. I was also informed by the Diocese of Jerusalem that Bishop Suheil, as the newly consecrated Diocesan Bishop, was prevented from entering the school with the members of the Board.”
“If Bishop Riah does not think that the claims of the Diocese of Jerusalem in regards to these funds are true, he should present the evidence of this,” he said.
The battle between the two bishops was a scandal for the Anglican Church in Jerusalem, Dr. Anis said, urging a speedy resolution to the dispute as it was “breaking the heart of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East” and casting the diocese in disrepute.
Former Bishop told to return £1 million: The Church of England Newspaper, April 1, 2010 p 7. April 14, 2010Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Corruption, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East.
First published in The Church of England Newspaper.
The Primate of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East has asked the former Bishop in Jerusalem to return £1 million to the diocese, or explain why he is entitled to keep the money.
In a letter dated March 20, the President Bishop of the Middle East, Dr Mouneer Anis of Egypt explained he was entering the fray between retired Bishop Riah Abu al-Assal and his successor, the Rt Rev Suheil Dawani of Jerusalem in order to “clarify the situation” in light of “disturbing news” being disseminated about the dispute.
He also asked supporters of the diocese to “pray that this dispute would come to an end” as it was a cause of embarrassment and scandal for the church in Jerusalem.
Over the past three years, accusations of fraud and violence have been traded between the two bishops and their supporters over the control of a school in Nazareth.
In his letter, Dr Mouneer stated that shortly before his retirement, Bishop Riah authorized a review of the school’s finances. However, when the report was completed, Bishop Riah threatened to take the committee members to court, and accused them of slander.
The dispute was brought to the 2007 meeting of the Middle East’s House of Bishops which agreed to maintain a “dignified silence” over the matter, with the “assurance that no legal actions would be taken, and no further actions will be continued either in public or in private, and that assurance be given that [Bishop Riah's] family would not be unjustly targeted in any way.”
However, the accord broke down after Bishop Riah claimed ownership of the Nazareth school.
“I was also informed by the Diocese of Jerusalem that Bishop Riah has collected five and a half million NIS shekels (£1 million) in tuition fees from the parents while his son continued as the Principal of the school. I was also informed by the Diocese of Jerusalem that Bishop Suheil, as the newly consecrated Diocesan Bishop, was prevented from entering the school with the members of the Board.”
Dr Mouneer stated the dispute between the two bishops was brought before a civil court which awarded ownership of the school to the diocese. The ownership of the £1 million collected by Bishop Riah is currently the subject of a second lawsuit.
The dispute was brought before the October 2009 meeting of the Provincial Synod. The Diocese stated it would settle all outstanding lawsuits against Bishop Riah if he would return the £1 million. However, Bishop Riah responded on Oct 20 stating he was “dismayed at the biased decision of the Provincial Synod. Endorsing hearsay rather than valid evidence is neither just nor acceptable.”
The battle between the two bishops was a scandal for the Anglican Church in Jerusalem, Dr Mouneer said, and was “breaking the heart of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East.”
At this stage, the matter must either proceed through the Israeli courts, unless settlement can be reached, Dr Mouneer said. “I understand that the Diocese of Jerusalem’s Standing Committee is insisting that Bishop Riah has the obligation to return Funds kept in his possession that rightly belong to the Diocese and the return of such funds is a condition to settling this most unfortunate matter. If Bishop Riah does not think that the claims of the Diocese of Jerusalem in regards to these funds are true, he should present the evidence of this.”
First published in The Church of England Newspaper.
Claims the Church of England has been desecrating Greek Orthodox tombs to bury British ex-pats are patently untrue, the Anglican Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf, the Rt. Rev. Michael Lewis declared last week.
While the claims of British colonizing of graveyards in Cyprus are false, concerns that British ex-pats are buying up property illegally confiscated from Greek Cypriots by the Turkish government following the 1974 invasion of the island appear well founded. Cypriot government leaders claim British buyers comprise over 90 per cent of the foreign buyers of property in the Turkish occupied North.
Buying land confiscated from Greek Cypriots by the Turks is a criminal offence in Cyprus and the Foreign Office has warned that British ex-pats buyers in Northern Cyprus may lose their investments once the island’s political divisions are resolved.
On March 23 the English-language Cyprus Mail reported that Dr. Charalambous Chotzakoglou, Professor of Byzantine Art and Archeology at the Hellenic Open University and director of the Kykkos Monastery Museum in Cyprus had accused the Anglican Church of desecrating Orthodox graves in a cemetery in the Turkish occupied zone.
The British had exhumed Greek bodies from the cemetery in the popular holiday resort of Kyrenia, smashing tombstones and religious monuments to bury British ex-pats “who no longer fit in the nearby British cemetery.”
“This is an unacceptable insult to the memory of the dead and an intolerable act of the Anglican Church in Cyprus, which in the free areas enjoys the full freedom and benefit of the Church of Cyprus and the Cyprus Republic,” Prof. Chotzakoglou said.
Bishop Lewis responded that “at no time, past or present, has there been any act of the Anglican Church in Cyprus that has affected the graves or bodies of faithful departed Orthodox in Kyrenia or anywhere else, by moving existing graves to bury British residents.”
“As Anglican Bishop of the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf, I am absolutely committed to promoting respect for the remains and memorials of the dead. They are of utmost sanctity,” he said in a written statement.
An aide to the bishop stated that in 1979 the Greek Orthodox Bishop of Kyrenia had given permission to the Church of England to bury British ex-pats in an unused portion of the cemetery. The destroyed funeral monuments cited by the professor, the aide said, were victims of the Turkish invasion of 1974. In 2005, the rubble of broken headstones was picked up and piled in a corner of the graveyard.
The aide noted that the British Cemeteries Commission, not the Anglican Church, is responsible for burying British dead in the Kyrenia cemetery.
In 2007 Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis told British MPs that 95 per cent of the sales of property illegally confiscated from Greek Cypriots in the North were to British buyers. The Foreign Office has subsequently warned British buyers to take care when investing in land in North Cyprus.
Purchase of confiscated properties “could have serious financial and legal implications,” the Foreign Office warned as the European Court of Human Rights has ruled in a number of cases that owners of property in northern Cyprus before 1974 continue to be regarded as the legal owners of that property.
The Foreign Office noted that a 2006 Cypriot law made the “buying, selling, renting, promoting or mortgaging a property without the permission of the owner,” including property confiscated from Greek Cypriots, a criminal offence.
Suicide bomb damages Iraq church: CEN 10.30.09 p 6. November 3, 2009Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Iraq, Terrorism.
|First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.
The suicide bombing of Iraq’s Justice Ministry has badly damaged St George’s Memorial Church, the “Vicar of Baghdad” Canon Andrew White reports.
On Oct 25 two car bombs exploded outside the Justice Ministry and a provincial government building at 10:30 am local time in Baghdad. Initial estimates report 147 people were killed in the blast and 721 wounded.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, which analysts believe are designed to destabilise the country in the run up to the January general elections.
US President Barack Obama said the attackers showed a “hateful and destructive agenda,” while Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the attacks were a “terrible reminder of the threat from violent extremism. Such acts of terrorism can have no justification, and must be condemned without reservation.” In an email sent to supporters, Canon White wrote that the attacks had “done serious damage to the church compound, the clinic, the bookshop, the school rooms and the mothers’ union buildings. “
An Aug 19 bombing had blown out the church’s windows, he said, but Sunday’s attack “hit the church much more powerfully. Even the window frames and the doors were blown out. All of the cars in the compound and the Danish Memorial were destroyed.”
“Destroyed fragments” of those killed in the blast were “thrown through windows of the church, making the clean-up operation yet more unpleasant. Many of our staff and church members remain unaccounted for,” he said. Canon White stated the “carnage was terrible, but it could have been even worse. At 10.30am this morning, when the bombs exploded, there was no one in the church. If the bomb had been just a few hours later, the glass from the windows would have ripped through the congregation causing terrible human damage.
He added that “yesterday an enormous tree fell down outside the church, which prevented the suicide bomber from detonating his explosives where they would have caused maximum damage.”
“It is days like today that reminds us why our work in Iraq is absolutely essential,” Canon White said.
“We must continue to provide a place of worship for Iraqi Christians. We must continue to treat the medical needs of Iraqi civilians. And we must continue to engage with the senior religious leaders from across the sectarian divides, working with them to challenge the belief systems that lie behind this terrible slaughter,” he said, urging supporters to help him rebuild the shattered church and restore its outreach to the community.
A member of the Interfaith Group for Morally Responsible Investment (IMRI) has come under sharp criticism from the Charity Commissioners and has been ordered to break off relations with an organization headed by radical Muslim cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradwi.
The trustees of Interpal—which has been banned in the US, Canada and Australia for its links to the terrorist group Hamas—had “not taken sufficiently rigorous steps to investigate allegations about some of their partner organizations”; had not “put in place adequate due diligence and monitoring procedures to be satisfied that these organisations were not promoting terrorist ideologies or activities”; and had “not adequately managed” its relationship with Al-Qaradwi’s “the Union for Good.”
The Charity Commissioners “concluded that the charity’s continued membership of the Union for Good was not appropriate.” However the commission said there was insufficient evidence presented to its investigators to substantiate claims that beneficiaries were promoting terrorism.
Interpal and the IMRI have been at the forefront of lobbying efforts before the Church of England’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group and General Synod calling for divestment from Israel.
A London-based charity set up in the early 1990′s to provide healthcare to refugees in the West Bank, Interpal was investigated by the Charity Commission in 1996 and in 2003 after allegations that it its funds were sent to Hamas, and the current investigation was prompted by a 2006 Panorama programme which reported that some of its funds had gone to Hamas supporters. No evidence however has been unearthed by the Charity Commissioners in support of these charges.
However in 2003 the US and Australian governments banned Interpal followed by the Canadian government in 2006, stating they believed it to be a front organization for Hamas and terrorist financing.
While it could not substantiate these charges, the Charity Commission said Interpal “must disassociate itself” from the Union for Good led by Al-Qaradawi. Its association with Al-Qaradwi, who “promoted violence as a legitimate form of resistance in support of the Palestinian cause” was questionable the commission said.
The Rev. Stephen Sizer, vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water told The Church of England Newspaper, that although he could not speak for IMRI, “for the third time the Charity Commissioners have vindicated Interpal and I am delighted to be associated with their charitable and humanitarian work. “
The inquiry found that “there has been nothing brought to the inquiry’s attention that suggests that the charity’s funding has been siphoned off for inappropriate or non-charitable purposes,” he said. “Please can we leave these folk to get on with their vital humanitarian work?”
Israel Chides US Presiding Bishop: CEN 3.13.09 March 13, 2009Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Israel.
Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper’s ReligiousIntelligence.com section.
Claims that the Israel discriminated against Jerusalem’s Anglican and Lutheran bishops by blocking their attempt to entre Gaza last month are unfounded, the Israeli government has declared.
On March 10, the Israeli Embassy in Washington released a statement chiding US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Lutheran Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson for erroneously concluding the two bishops had been singled out
The two church leaders wrote Ambassador Sallai Meridor on Feb 6 to express their “grave concerns” and to seek an explanation for “the denial of entry to Gaza” on Feb 4 of the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani, and the Lutheran Bishop of Jordan and the Holy Land, the Rt. Rev. Munib Younan.
“Although they had received assurances from the Israeli government that they would be allowed to enter, and while the other three members of the delegation were allowed to proceed” the two bishops were prevented from carrying out their “pastoral” visit to Gaza.
“We are concerned that they were not allowed freedom of movement into Gaza to carry out their pastoral responsibilities,” the two presiding bishops wrote, and “we hope that, having discovered the cause of their denial, you will assure that they will be permitted to enter as soon as possible.”
The Israeli government responded that on March 10 “Israel facilitated a pastoral visit to the Gaza Strip,” granting them a “special pastoral exemption” to “fulfill their religious duties.”
Minister Counselor at the Israeli Embassy Martin Peled stated that the two bishops Feb 5 letter “strongly implied that Israel was somehow discriminating against Bishops Younan and Dawani as Palestinians. However, quite to the contrary, as you would have discovered had an inquiry been made in an appropriate manner, the Bishops were denied entry because they were being treated as any Israeli citizen or legal resident would be treated.”
It was “unfortunate” that the two bishops had “seized” upon the incident to “to imply that Israel was denying Palestinian clergymen the ability to perform their pastoral duties.”
“It is truly a shame that both of the American church bodies chose to turn what was a resolvable issue into an excuse for disseminating a baseless and slanted account of the incident,” Mr. Peled-Flax noted.
The Anglican Communion has been caught up short in recent years, accepting assertions made by Anglican leaders in the region that have not been borne out. In 2005 a harsh report on Israel presented to the Anglican Consultative Council provoked controversy while in 2002 claims by Anglican Bishop Riah Abu al-Assal that Israel had perpetrated a massacre in Jenin and that its “army regularly seized male civilians of all ages from their homes and used them as human shields,” were distributed by the Anglican Communion News Service. Subsequent investigations proved this to be baseless.
Scenes from Alexandria: Egypt February 20, 2009Posted by geoconger in Anglican Album (Photos), Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Primates Meeting 2009.
Jerusalem appeals for hospital aid: CEN 1.16.09 p 6. January 16, 2009Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East.
The Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem’ Al Ahli Arab Hospital has issued an appeal for assistance to aid the civilian casualties in the battle for Gaza.
On Jan 10, the hospital reported it was receiving upwards of 40 casualties per day from the fighting. “This increased surgical load places strains on related hospital departments – anesthetics, suture material, operating room linens and equipment, bandages, and surgeons themselves,” a spokesman for the diocese reported.
Further strains on the hospital’s resources have come from casualties transferred from Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, which also doubles as a command post for Hamas’ military commanders. Speaking on Israel’s Army Radio, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter on Jan 12 said Hamas leaders had taken refuge in the Shifa Hospital, and have been using it as a safe haven during the fighting.
Because of its neutral noncombatant status, the Al Ahli Hospital has not come under direct assault, but the Diocese reports that nearby missile strikes against Hamas military units have shattered the glass doors and windows in the hospital. A shortage of plastic sheeting has led to the use of plastic garbage bags to cover the windows, the hospital reported.
“Food is in increasingly desperate need,” as is diesel fuel and cash. “Without the fuel for the generator the hospital would have no electricity, which would greatly impact its ability to operate,” it reported.
On Jan 7, Bishop Suheil Dawani, the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem issued an appeal for aid for “our Hospital and our heroic staff.”
“While several among our Staff have suffered loss and injuries within their own families, they are representing all of us as a witness of God’s love to all people,” the bishop said, urging Christians to “pray for communal Palestinian and Israeli peace” and to “remember these dedicated individuals who cannot leave, but most importantly do not want to leave, but continue to do all they can to help.”
First published by The Church of England Newspaper’s ReligiousIntelligence.com section.
The bishops of Winchester, Exeter and Bath and Wells have lent their support to a campaign to punish Israel for its military offensive against Hamas in Gaza. On Jan 5 the Rt. Rev. Michael Scott-Joynt, the Rt. Rev. Michael Langrish and the Rt. Rev. Peter Price joined over 200 public figures in calling upon Prime Minister Gordon Brown to block plans to lower trade barriers between the EU and Israel for being in what they claim is the Jewish state’s breach of international law.
The Jan 5 petition published in the Guardian comes amidst growing unease from Anglican leaders over the battle for Gaza. Church leaders have criticized Israel’s “disproportionate” response of invading Gaza to put an end to rocket attacks launched by the extremist group Hamas.
Rocket attacks against civilian targets in Israel began in 2001 from territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority. The pace quickened in 2005 following Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza with the number of launches rising from 50 per month before the withdrawal to 50 per day by early 2008, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs reported. By December the number of attacks had increased to 80 per day, prompting Israel to move into Gaza to put an end to the violence.
Following the invasion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams released a statement on Dec 31 condemning the escalating violence. He called upon “all those who have the power to halt this spiral of violence to do so.”
Dr. Williams urged world leaders to bring a “new initiative” to that would bring a ceasefire to the region. “Without such a sign of hope, the future for the Holy Land and the whole region is one of more fear, innocent suffering and destruction,” he said.
The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church echoed the call for peace. The Bishop of Glasgow & Galloway, Dr. Idris Jones said the “escalation of violent reaction to the situation in the Gaza strip by both communities involved is to be greatly deplored,” for military means alone would not bring a “peaceful and just settlement.”
The Anglican and Roman Catholic Primates of Ireland, Archbishop Alan Harper and Cardinal Seán Brady also issued a joint statement calling upon the “authorities in both Israel and Gaza immediately to disengage and cease all hostilities to enable a permanent ceasefire to be negotiated. Only when violence has ceased will it be possible to begin to negotiate a peace that will last,” they said.
The Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani declined to blame either side for the latest outbreak of fighting, but lamented the loss of life. “The heavy loss of Palestinian lives and the serious wounds and injuries to many hundreds of innocent bystanders require the immediate cessation of hostilities for the well being and safety of both the Palestinian and Israeli communities, and especially for Gaza and the nearby Israeli population centers,” he said.
American Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori however called upon Israel to pull back as the incursion into Gaza could spark a regional war. “Israel’s disproportionate response to the rockets being fired into its cities may well encourage violence beyond Gaza and Israel,” she warned, calling for “all parties [to] unite behind an immediate ceasefire.”
The petition endorsed by the three bishops called for immediate action in light of the “horrific events of the past days.” It demanded the British government “revoke its support” for new trade agreements and for the European Parliament to “to refuse to endorse any extension of existing agreements and to use its influence to prevent any upgrades of EU benefits to Israel until it abides by its international legal and humanitarian obligations.”
Church supporters of Israel however called the unilateral ceasefire demand naïve. Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East said that while many church leaders were calling for a ceasefire, “we challenge them to acknowledge not only the human suffering, but the political realities in the region.”
“In November 2001, Hamas, which openly declares its commitment to the destruction of the State of Israel, began a terror campaign launching rockets from Gaza into civilian targets within Israel,” stated the Rev. Bruce Chilton, Professor of Religion at Bard College in New York.
“It was Hamas that chose not to extend the existing cease-fire on Dec 18, resuming hundreds of attacks on the civilian population in Southern Israel. It is Hamas that chooses, with the Israeli army sitting right outside Gaza, to continue to target civilian areas in towns behind the army,” he said.
Jerusalem row–charges filed: CEN 12.19.08 p 5. December 21, 2008Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East.
The saga of the battling bishops of Jerusalem opened a new chapter on Dec 13, with new accusations of misconduct exchanged between the former Bishop, the Rt. Rev Riah Abu al-Assal and the current Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani.
Last week The Church of England Newspaper reported that an altercation between Bishop al-Assal’s wife and staffers at the diocesan headquarters prompted police intervention. Mrs. al-Assal charged that she had been assaulted and distributed photographs purporting to document her injuries. The diocese hotly denied the assault allegations, and claimed it had been Mrs. al-Assal who had instigated the violence.
Following publication of news of the melee in the church press, on Dec 13 the diocese and Bishop Riah issued further statements. The former bishop reported that his wife was under doctors’ care as a result of the fracas. “I am sorry to inform you that she was advised to consult with a psychiatrist because of the trauma she is going through these days,” he said.
He thanked supporters for their prayers and encouragement as their “gracious words served like ointment on the bruises she had on her cheeks and neck.”
However, these bruises were self-inflicted, the diocese charged in separate press statement that same day. On Dec 13 the Diocese in Jerusalem said the incident had been sparked by Mrs. al-Assal’s request that her husband receive an advance payment on his pension. Informed that a second pension check would require two signatures and would be prepared within the week, the diocese said Mrs. al-Assal reacted badly.
Perturbed by news of the delay, Mrs. al-Assal “overturned the Christmas tree, pulled the painting of Bishop Dawani off the wall adjacent to the decorated tree, threw vases and glassware against the walls and floor, and disrupted the furnishings of the Bishop’s House reception hall.”
Police were called and order restored, the diocesan statement said, noting that Bishop Riah spent several hours in conversation with the diocesan staff after the police left, seeking to resolve the confrontation. During this interval, the diocese said its staffers observed Mrs. Abu al-Assal “scratch and slap herself on the face,” inflicting the wounds that she would later claim were caused by Bishop Dawani’s aides.
Charges have been filed with the police by both parties, and the saga continues.
Fisticuffs as bishop’s wife claims she was victim of brawl: CEN 12.14.08 December 14, 2008Posted by geoconger in Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East.
|Fists and accusations of misconduct flew in the headquarters of the diocese of Jerusalem last week, as the opera buffa war between the current and former bishops escalated into a brawl that required police intervention.
On Dec 4 the wife of former Bishop Riah Abu al-Assal, Mrs Suad Abu al-Assal visited the diocesan office to collect her husband’s pension. Accounts diverge sharply as to what happened next, however relations between the two bishops have been poor since Bishop Dawani’s (pictured) election in 2006.
Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.
Concerns are expressed over Indaba group manipulation: CEN 11.14.08 p 7. November 14, 2008Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Lambeth 2008, Primates Meeting 2009.
The Archbishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East has welcomed Dr. Rowan Williams’ decision to hold the 2009 Primates Meeting in Alexandria, Egypt, telling The Church of England Newspaper the witness of Egypt’s embattled Christians in the face of persecution can serve to strengthen the Anglican Communion.
While the agenda and locale remain to be settled, the Bishop of Egypt, Dr. Mouneer Anis said he was proud to be able to host the conference. However, suggestions by the Archbishop of Canterbury that he would use the Indaba process to manage the Primates’ Meeting has prompted private scorn from the primates contacted by CEN, and public criticism from Evangelical and Anglo-Catholics unhappy with the manipulation and management of the Indaba process at Lambeth.
“I want [the primates] to see, to feel the history of the Church as they walk through Alexandria,” Dr. Anis said on Nov 11. For in Alexandria one “steps in the blood of the saints shed in obedience to the faith, a faith that has been watered by the blood of the martyrs,” he said.
At least 35 of the Communion’s 38 Primates, along with the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu are expected to be present for the Jan 31 to Feb 5 meeting. The Archbishops of the West Indies and Melanesia, the Most Rev. Drexel Gomez and the Most Rev. Ellison Pogo retire in December, and their successors have not yet been named, while a successor to Archbishop Bernard Malango of Central Africa has yet to be appointed. Archbishops Peter Akinola of Nigeria, Henry Orombi of Uganda, Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda, and Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya who boycotted the 2008 Lambeth Conference are expected to attend the Alexandria meeting.
Dr. Anis told CEN a detailed agenda for the meeting had not been shared with the primates. However, he hoped time would be set aside for the archbishops to meet with Egyptian Christians, including the Coptic Patriarch, Pope Shenouda III. He would be “happy to meet the primates” Dr. Anis noted, as “I know [Shenouda] loves the Anglican Church.”
“He speaks to me always that we need to keep our orthodoxy” in the Anglican Communion, Dr. Anis said, noting that “a man like that deserves to be listened to as the successor of St. Mark.”
Egypt’s Christians, numbering some 8 million are the largest Christian minority in the Middle East and have been under considerable pressure from Islamic fundamentalists in recent years. Egypt’s Christians had “survived many challenges,” Dr. Anis said, yet had been “schooled to faithfulness” through persecution and oppression.
While details of the meeting have yet to be disclosed the primates, in his Aug 26 letter to the Anglican bishops after Lambeth, Dr. Williams said he might apply the Indaba process, of guided small group discussions, at the Primates Meeting.
“Many participants [at Lambeth] believed that the Indaba method, while not designed to achieve final decisions, was such a necessary aspect of understanding what the questions might be that they expressed the desire to see the method used more widely — and to continue among themselves the conversations begun in Canterbury,” Dr. Williams said.
“This is an important steer for the meetings of the Primates and the ACC which will be taking place in the first half of next year, and I shall be seeking to identify the resources we shall need in order to take forward some of the proposals about our structures and methods.”
However, traditionalist leaders have balked at Dr. Williams’ suggestion that the Indaba process be used in the more intimate surroundings of the primates’ meetings, as their experience with the Indaba process at Lambeth was not as rosy as Dr. Williams had painted it.
A number of evangelical bishops at Lambeth questioned the integrity of the Indaba process. At Lambeth the bishops were divided into groups of 8 for morning Bible studies. These groups were then reformed into mid morning Indaba groups of 40, where a set series of questions was presented to the bishops for discussion and each bishops allotted two minutes to respond. The bishops’ observations were then gathered by “listeners”—appointed by the Lambeth Conference organizing committee from among nominees submitted by the Indaba groups—who were tasked with recording the perspectives offered.
The process was open to manipulation, the Bishop of Tasmania, the Rt. Rev. John Harrower noted. Writing to his diocese after Lambeth, he stated “one of the saddest moments of the Conference for me personally occurred in our Indaba when a bishop spoke earnestly of his views on same sex issues with a brief and solemn conclusion.”
“Some minutes after I saw him surreptitiously pass a sheaf of the [Episcopal Church] briefing notes to the [Episcopal] bishop seated in front of him.” Before leaving for Lambeth, each of the American bishops had been given a set of “talking points” by the national church in New York.
Bishop Harrower’s American colleague “had parroted one of the ‘sample narratives’. I wanted to shout and to cry. Any idea of transparency and trust through Indaba had been tragically thrown in our face. Set piece parroting surreptitiously orchestrated was poisoning our communion. God have mercy on us! Although I spoke to our Indaba facilitator of this privately we, as an Indaba group and Conference, had neither the wit nor the will to address our hiddenness,” he said.
Anglo-Catholic Bishop Jack Iker of Fort Worth told CEN his experience of the Indaba groups was equally problematic. In his group, Bishop Iker reported that the bishops became frustrated at the regimentation of the conference and its avoidance of discussion of the presenting issues before the Communion.
Members of his Indaba group asked Bishop Iker to speak to the estrangement of his diocese from the national Episcopal Church’s leadership. After Bishop Iker spoke, the Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania, the Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe, rose and told the Indaba group that Bishop Iker had exaggerated the divisions within the Episcopal Church.
In reading the summary of the Indaba discussions the next day, Bishop Iker found his portion of the exchange did not appear in the conference record. Bishop Iker asked the head of his Indaba group how he could ensure that his remarks could make be included in the daily report. He was told to either put his remarks in writing or to speak during the plenary session of the conference.
Rebuffed in his first attempt to address the Conference due to the number of bishops wanting to speak, Bishop Iker was successful in his second try, and told the bishops at Lambeth of the difficulties his diocese faced. He then handed a copy of the remarks to a member of the Indaba editing team, the Rt. Rev. Geralyn Wolf, Bishop of Rhode Island, for submission into the conference record.
“The next day nothing I said from the floor” had been included in the daily report. “I waited another day,” Bishop Iker noted, and when my concerns failed to appear” he stated he approached Bishop Wolf to ask for an explanation.
Bishop Iker said he was told by Bishop Wolf “we decided that your comments should be given to the Windsor Continuation Group.” No further action was taken by the conference in reporting Bishop Iker’s Indaba remarks.
“I tried to get my concerns recorded [at Lambeth] in the three ways” dictated by the Indaba process. “I think [the Lambeth Conference organizers] controlled what went to the group” through their management of the conference bureaucracy, Bishop Iker charged—apparently stifling dissent in order to achieve a predetermined end.
Following an Indaba process where “no decisions are made” and “all viewpoints have the same merit” at the primates meeting would not serve the Communion well, he charged. Using Indaba in Alexandria would be “catastrophic” Bishop Iker said.
Doha to get its second church: CEN 10.03.08 p 6. October 5, 2008Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East.
The ground breaking for Qatar’s second Christian Church in 1300 years took place on Sept 28 in Doha. The Rt. Rev. Michael Lewis, Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf, accompanied by the British Ambassador, presided at the blessing service for the Church of the Epiphany and the Anglican Centre of Doha. The buildings will serve as a church home for the Protestant and Orthodox congregations in the Gulf State.
The Church of the Epiphany, when completed, will join the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in serving the emirate’s Christian expatriate population. The vicar of Epiphany, the Rev. William Schwartz thanked the Emir of Qatar for donating the land for the church and stated he hoped the building “will offer a place of prayer for the many Christians who worship in small groups in different places all around Doha.”
Upon completion the church will have 18 different worship spaces, allowing simultaneous services for the disparate denominations found in the emirate. In its outward design, the building will have no Christian marks or symbols, and will resemble an office building/conference center.
Like Saudi Arabia, Qatar follows the strict Wahabbist interpretation of Sunni Islam. The grant of land to the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches by the Emir, Shiek Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, marks an opening to the West and a significant liberalization of the traditionally closed society, analysts note. Since the rise of Islam in the seventh century, no Christian churches had been permitted in Qatar until this year.
Rowan and the Rabbis September 25, 2008Posted by geoconger in Anglican Album (Photos), Archbishop of Canterbury, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Judaism.
The Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop in Jerusalem with the Chief Rabbis of Israel in the garden of Lambeth Palace on Sept 9, 2008.
Archbishop denounces Iranian president as threat to peace: CEN 9.26.08 p 6. September 25, 2008Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Iran, Judaism.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has joined the Chief Rabbis of Israel in denouncing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israel rhetoric, saying the Iranian leader’s calls for the destruction of the Jewish state were serious threat to world peace.
On Sept 10, Dr. Williams released a joint statement with Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yonah Metzger of Israel following a meeting at Lambeth Palace saying they were “distressed to note that the President of Iran continues to use threatening and derogatory language towards Israel.”
The Anglican and Jewish leaders called upon political, social and religious leaders to combat “religious or racial hatred.” Religious leaders had a “particular burden” to teach the “faithful to show respect and understanding towards other Faiths and their holy sites.”
The joint statement came at the close of the third meeting of the Anglican-Jewish Commission, an inter-faith dialogue organized by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Joining Dr. Williams were the Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani and the Bishop of Clogher, the Rt. Rev. Michael Jackson—the Anglican co-chairman of the commission.
“Holy sites” must be “universally recognised as places that are free from violence, whether this is from external threats to security and access or from the use within them of language which incites violence,” Dr. Williams and the rabbis said.
President Ahmadinejad’s calls to “wipe Israel off the face of the earth” and for the destruction of the Jewish state, were an unbecoming example of sectarian hatred, they said.
Last week, the Iranian leader added to his repertoire of anti-Semitic comments, accusing Jews of secretly controlling international finance. Some 2000 Zionist atheists dominated the world’s financial centres and sought to suck dry the wealth of the world for their own nefarious purposes.
The Anglican-Jewish statement arose from the commission’s talks on “holy places”, and it was
“in this context” the critique of the Iranian leader was levelled.
Following the meetings at Lambeth Palace, the Bishop in Jerusalem met with representatives from the Board of Deputies of British Jews on Sept 11. Bisihop Dawani spoke to the good relations the Anglican Church in Jerusalem has with the other churches and faiths in Israel, noting that this interfaith work “creates special foundations for the peace process”.
Bishop Suheil stated he was optimistic about the prospects for peace in the Middle East, and endorsed British Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks’ idea of a “new covenant of trust and friendship” that could bring a society together.
Jon Benjamin, the Board of Deputies chief executive, said that “it is important that these peace initiatives should be better publicised as they are so valuable and worthwhile. They provide hope and are a practical means of fostering reconciliation which all of those who genuinely want peace should want to support.”
Iran makes it a capital offence to change faith:CEN 9.19.08 p 8 September 20, 2008Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Iran, Persecution.
|The Iranian parliament has passed the first reading of a bill that imposes the death penalty on Muslims who convert to another faith. By a vote of 196 to seven, with two abstentions, the Majlis passed the “Islamic Penal Law” bill on Sept 9.
The law, which will now be referred to committee for final drafting and possible amendment, mandates the death penalty for male adult Muslims who convert to another faith. Women converts are to be jailed for life. Those who practice witchcraft will also be condemned to death.
The law’s reach extends beyond the borders of Iran, and gives the government the authority to enforce the death penalty on any Muslim anywhere in the world who leaves the faith. While Iranian Islamic law, or Sharia law, provides for the execution of converts, the “Islamic Penal Law” would see these sanctions added to the country’s civil laws.
Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.
Andrew White in major breakthrough on violence: CEN 8.29.08 p 7. August 31, 2008Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Iraq, Islam, Politics.
|A meeting of Shia and Sunni leaders moderated by the church-led Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East held this week in Beirut has released a fatwa condemning sectarian violence.
Canon Andrew White (pictured), the vicar of Baghdad and President of FRRME joined by Robert “Bud” McFarlane, national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan from 1983 to 1985, facilitated the Aug 22-24 meeting of Iraq’s senior Sunni and Shia leaders. At its start, Canon White said the meeting “will be one of our most important meetings yet, as we aim to try and definitively reduce violence by working with the leaders to get the Fatwa against violence released.”
Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.
The Very Rev Alistair Macdonald-Radcliffe and the Most Rev. Mouneer Anis on Aug 2 at the 2008 Lambeth Conference.
Chairman of the Windsor Continuation Group August 1, 2008Posted by geoconger in Anglican Album (Photos), Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Lambeth 2008.
The Most Rev Clive Handford, former Presiding Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East and Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf, chairman of the Windsor Continuation Group addressing the media at the Lambeth Conference on July 28.
New appeal for Iraq hostages: CEN 6.27.08 p 6. June 28, 2008Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Iraq.
The Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf has appealed to the captors of five Britons for their release. On June 20, the Rt. Rev. Michael Lewis asked the captors, believed to be Shiite militants to “consider messages that are being passed to them from many sources asking for mercy and compassion.”
On his first pastoral visit to St. George’s Memorial Church in Baghdad last week, Bishop Lewis met with senior Iraqi government and religious leaders and raised the issue of the five kidnapped Britons. Following his meeting with the bishop, national security advisor Mowaffak al-Rubai’e told the BBC the government had “very good, strong intelligence telling us [the hostages] are alive and we roughly know the area where they are.”
However, the government does not “want to be aggressive in our approach, not to risk their lives.” The vicar of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White, who has spearheaded attempts to free the hostages stated he hoped the hostages would be released soon.
The bishop’s visitation at St. George’s was a memorable event, Canon White reported. “There we were rejoicing in war torn Iraq and our Bishop was finally with us.”
“He had come all the way to see us at great risk to himself. The Bishop is so important in Oriental society and for weeks our people had been looking forward to this wonderful day,” he said.
Bishop Lewis also opened a medical and dental clinic built in the former parish hall, and led a joint Episcopal/Lutheran service for coalition forces within Baghdad’s Green Zone.
Iraq hostage hope remains: CEN 6.20.08 p 6. June 24, 2008Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Iraq, Terrorism.
The vicar of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White reports that though a year has passed since Shiite militants kidnapped five Britons in Baghdad, hope remains that they will be released unharmed.
On May 29, the Foreign Office released a statement from the British Ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Prentice, who observed it had been a “long and extremely difficult year for these men’s families, who only wish to have their loved ones back home, safe from their ordeal.
He said the government “remains committed to working for the release of all those held and I appeal again to those responsible, to release these men, in order that they may return home.”
Family members of the five men spoke to the BBC on anniversary of the kidnapping, sharing their hopes and concerns. Canon White told The Church of England Newspaper it was “very important that the families are heard for their own sake”
It was also “important that the work on the spiritual track is not seen in any way as being linked to the UK Government. Our work has been endless on this issue in the past year. We feel that our present contacts are very important as were the recent words of Lord Carey. We firmly believe that we will eventually have all of our people back,” he said.
“When, we cannot say,” Canon White added.
Reports published in the Sunday Times that the kidnappers no longer trusted him or would work with him, were false, Canon White said. “The kidnappers have strongly denied this, but are very angry that this was even discussed” he said, noting it was difficult to translate into Western terms the “complexities of Iraq.”
Future of Anglicanism: ‘not in the West’: CEN 6.22.08 June 23, 2008Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of the Province of Uganda, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East.
|Uganda: The future of Anglicanism lies with Africa, the Presiding Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East told graduates of Uganda Christian University last week.
In a June 6 commencement address to the Anglican-affiliated university, the Most Rev. Mouneer Anis, Bishop of Egypt said Africa was once known as “the black continent. This term was used to describe not only the colour of our skin but also our difficult and painful context.”
Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.
Bishop Riah loses latest court battle: CEN 6.06.08 p 8. June 11, 2008Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Property Litigation.
The former Bishop in Jerusalem has lost the second round of his court battle with the diocese over the ownership of a church school in Nazareth. Last month an Israeli court upheld a magistrate’s ruling ordering Bishop Riah Abu al-Assal and his family to turn custody of the “Bishop Riah Educational Campus” in Nazareth over to the Diocese pending a final court decision.
In a statement filed on its website, the Diocese in Jerusalem said that shortly before his retirement in March 2007, Bishop Riah established a charitable trust staffed by members of his family and sought to transfer the assets and administration of the diocese’s Christ Church School in Nazareth over to the new “Bishop Riah Educational Campus.”
The diocese said Bishop Riah had collected tuition fees from the students while the school’s expenses, including staff salaries were being paid by the diocese, and had asked the Church Mission Society (CMS) to give him a power of attorney over the school property. In his court filings Bishop Riah countered that he had provided the funds for building the school, which employs his son as headmaster, and that he had raised funds for the school in his personal rather than episcopal capacity.
Following attempts at mediation, the diocese brought suit against Bishop Riah and his family trust for possession of the school and the tuition fees, and on Jan 22, 2008 a magistrate court granted the diocese control of the assets pending final adjudication. Bishop Riah appealed the magistrate’s ruling and the Israeli district court rejected this plea last month. However, a final decision on the ownership of the school and the rights to the fees is not expected until after a civil trial, which may take up to four years to be resolved.
Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper
Iraqi Shiite and Sunni leaders are close to signing a fatwah condemning suicide bombings and sectarian violence in Iraq, the vicar of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White reports.
The proposed text calls upon Muslims to “reject and forsake all violence, forsake all killing and provocation” Canon White said during a trip to Washington earlier this month. The “spilling of blood, Muslim against Muslim, and thus suicide bombings are totally prohibited,” he said.
The product of years of inter-faith and peacemaking efforts by Canon White and other religious leaders, the proposed fatwah will be the first joint edict from Shiite and Sunni clerics on the Iraqi violence. “It’s not going to solve all of our problems, but it’s the beginning of the process towards the reduction of violence,” Canon White observed.
Talks have been under way over the past few months in Cairo and Denmark, White said, and the fatwah is expected to be released shortly. A Pentagon spokesman told USA Today that Canon White “believes he is very close to getting Sunni and (Shiite) religious leaders to sign on to this fatwa. It has the potential to be very positive.”
Jerry Jones, a special assistant to US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, called the draft fatwa a “tour de force” and the result of four years hard labor by Canon White and Iraqi Muslim leaders.
A Southwark vicar has been appointed Area Bishop in North Africa by the Presiding Bishop of the Middle East and Jerusalem, the Most Rev. Mouneer Anis of Egypt.
The Rev. Dr. Bill Musk, vicar of Holy Trinity & St Matthias, Tulse Hill, London in the Diocese of Southwark will oversee the Anglican Churches of North Africa outside Egypt and will serve as rector of St. George’s Church, Tunis.
“With the growth of the Church in this area and increasing demands for discipleship, community service and interfaith dialogue, we felt that the time has come to create this new Episcopal Area. We are sure that Canon Bill Musk has a lot to contribute to the churches in this area,” Dr. Anis said.
A noted scholar of Islam, Dr. Musk has served as a CMS missionary in the Middle East and was on the staff of All Saints Cathedral in Cairo from 1981-1986. He has written several books on Christian-Muslim relations and evangelism to Muslims including The Unseen Face of Islam, Touching the Soul of Islam, Holy War, Kissing Cousins? and The Certainty Trap. He will take up his appointment this summer.
The Presiding Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East will not attend the Global Anglican Futures Conference (Gafcon).
In a May 8 letter posted on his diocesan website, Dr. Mouneer Anis said he supported the aims of the gathering and joined the participants in their disquiet over the recent innovations of doctrine and discipline taken by the North American churches.
However, local and regional issues have weighed against Dr. Anis’ participation in Gafcon. His colleague in Jerusalem, Bishop Dawani had urged the organizers to relocate the conference away from Jerusalem so as not to inflame political tensions in the region.
The stance of the leader of the Coptic Church in Egypt, Pope Shenouda III had also made Dr. Anis’ participation difficult. In 2006 Shenouda issued an anathema, forbidding Copts from visiting the Christian holy places in Jerusalem under pain of excommunication, until the Arab-Israeli question is solved. By publicly attending Gafcon, Dr. Anis would divide the Christian churches in Egypt, during a period of heightening persecution.
In his letter explaining his reasons for declining the Gafcon invitation, Dr. Anis said that he agreed that action must be taken and hoped the Lambeth Conference, the “most important Anglican council” would address the divisions within the Communion. “It is wrong to sweep all these problems under the carpet,” he said.
While sharing the strategic aims of American, British and Australian conservatives, he parted company on the proper tactics to be used in resolving the Anglican crisis. The best “strategy for safeguarding orthodox faith and unhindered mission is to have parallel processes for building unity among those loyal to the biblical historic faith and ethics in both the South and the North,” he argued.
There was a danger of Western orthodox leaders crowding out the voices from the Global South, he said, and the concerns and work of the churches in the developing world should not be “driven by an exclusively Northern agenda or Northern personalities.”
Sources within the Gafcon leadership team said they were not surprised by Dr. Anis’ announcement. The Egyptian Anglican leader has taken the lead in pressing the conservative case within the joint primates-ACC standing committee and has agreed to serve as an Episcopal visitor in the proposed Anglican Communion partners plan for North American conservatives, but has not supported calls to boycott or downgrade the Lambeth Conference.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey has issued a plea to the captors of five Britons held hostage in Iraq to let the men go.
“May I appeal to you as honourable people to release these men who have been away from their families for over one year—you know what that means,” Lord Carey said in a video recorded at the House of Lords on May 16.
Joined by the vicar of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White, (pictured) Lord Carey said “I greet you as honourable men. I greet you as men of faith. I believe, as you do, that faith is important in this broken world.”
Noting Islam’s call to be compassionate and merciful, Lord Carey appealed to the kidnappers as “as good people, to release these men who long to be back home once more.”
Canon White said the five men held hostage had been engaged in the reconstruction of Iraq, and spoke of his love for the country and its people. Closing the appeal with words of prayer in Arabic, the vicar of Baghdad repeated Lord Carey’s plea for mercy and forbearance.
The appeal by Lord Carey and Canon White marks a new chapter in the negotiations for the release of the five men, abducted by Shia militants on May 29, 2007 from Baghdad’s foreign ministry. The Foreign Office and the employer of the five contractors, GardaWorld, have so far resisted attempts by the families of the captives to publicize their case. However, Lord Carey’s latest appeal is understood to have received the tacit approval of the government.
Before Christmas, Lord Carey taped a video on behalf of the families of the hostages, speaking to the captives he urged the men to holdfast, and to know that they were “never out of our thoughts.”
Canon White, who was involved in the resolution of the 2002 siege of the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem, were Palestinian militants barricaded themselves inside the church for 38 days, has spearheaded the negotiations with the hostage takers. He told the media in London that the video appeal was “separate from everything the Foreign Office, the government of Iraq and the embassy is trying to do. We are working as religious leaders.”
On May 25 ITV will broadcast a one hour documentary by filmmaker Rageh Omar on the church’s mission in Iraq, entitled the “Vicar of Baghdad”, which highlights the work of reconciliation and reconstruction being undertaken by St. George’s Memorial Church and Canon White.
|In a rare sign of inter-faith friendship, the Sheik of Qatar has hosted a conference of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders in Doha.
The May 13-14 Doha inter-faith conference brought together 155 rabbis, mullahs, imams, Christian clergy and theologians under the theme of “Religious Values Between Peace and Life Respect”. The Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf, the Rt Rev Michael Lewis attended as a representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury, while the former Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt Rev Riah Abu al-Assal also attended the gathering.
Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.
The Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem and the Church of Scotland have executed an ecumenical partnership agreement to foster Christian minister in Israel and Palestine. Representatives of the Church of Scotland’s World Mission Council led by the Rev. Colin Renwick met with the Rt. Rev. Suhaeil Dawani from April 4-6 at St. George’s Cathedral in East Jerusalem and St. Andrew’s Scots Memorial Church in West Jerusalem to resurrect the partnership which in recent years had been left fallow.
The agreement committed the Anglican and Presbyterian churches in the Holy Land to “revive and reactivate our partnership in the faith, witness and service of our churches and institutions in the region” and to develop joint congregations in Jaffa and Tiberias as well as promoting the twining of Scottish and Palestinian congregations and pulpit exchanges.
The two churches will also create a “joint institution in Tiberias for interfaith dialogue, peace and reconciliation,” as well as merge the operations of their “pilgrimage tours”.
Bishop Suheil challenged the Presbyterian Church to focus its work in the region on “peace, justice, healing and reconciliation” and called it “to teach and educate all people to accept each other, urging the practice of interfaith fellowship and dialogue.”
“We have created a small joint working group to take our partnership plans forward,” the communiqué said, and are “greatly encouraged by our fellowship together, and delighted to pursue together our shared faith and partnership in Christ’s work and the building up of his Church.”
Baghdad church hit by rocket fire: CEN 4.25.08 p 7. April 25, 2008Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Iraq.
St. George’s Memorial Church in Baghdad came under rocket fire on Thursday evening, the vicar of Baghdad Canon Andrew White reports.
All of the church’s windows were blown out by the blast and the church, built in the 1930′s to commemorate British war dead in the Mesopotamian Campaign of the First World War, sustained some structural damage in the April 17 attack.
However, Canon White reports there were no injuries from the attack.
“This in itself is a miracle- the church was full at the time, with people attending our Thursday prayer meeting. It is indeed a miracle. It will cost us to get the damage repaired, but we are so grateful that nobody was injured, or worse,” he said in an email from Iraq.
Qatar unveils plans to build second church: CEN 4.18.08 p 6. April 20, 2008Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Persecution.
Groundbreaking for Qatar’s second purpose built Christian Church will take place next month, the Anglican chaplain of Doha, the Rev Canon Bill Schwartz reports.
Built on land donated Emir Amir Hamad bin Al Thani, the Church of the Epiphany, will house all of Qatar’s Protestant Christians. On March 15 over 15,000 people attended the first mass at Qatar’s first Roman Catholic Church, Our Lady of the Rosary. Christians account for approximately 10 percent of Qatar’s 800,000 residents—almost all foreign workers from the Philippines and India.
While public Christian worship has been held in the Persian Gulf country for almost 80 years, the two new buildings are the first purpose built Christian Churches in the emirate in the modern era. The Church of the Epiphany, whose construction is being coordinated by the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf will cost of £5 million, has been designed as a “complex” of worshipping spaces rather than as a “single room,” Canon Schwartz explained.
“We do have the main building, but off to the side of that will be a number of other meeting rooms, where different groups will be able to worship simultaneously, without disturbing each other,” he told the Gulf Times.
“The building work has been divided into three stages, with the first set to be completed by summer of next year,” he said. First to be built will be two worship spaces that can accommodate up to 250 people, classrooms, office space and an apartment. When complete the complex will have facilities to allow nine separate worship services to be held at the same time.
Permitting the construction of Christian churches “is a very significant step for Qatar, and a very encouraging one,” Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells said last month in Doha, and is a sign that “Qatar is opening its doors to everyone.”
“It is a very brave decision by the Qatari authorities, and one we are very pleased about,” Dr. Howells told a March 29 press conference while visiting the emirate. Last week the Vatican delivered a diplomatic note from Pope Benedict XVI to the emir, thanking him for his support and for the his work in enhancing Christian – Muslim dialogue.
|THE ARCHBISHOP of Canterbury’s Anglican Covenant is not scheduled to be implemented until 2015, the Presiding Bishop of the Middle East and Jerusalem reports.
In a statement released following the Feb 29 to March 4 meeting of the joint standing committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates, Bishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt stated he had “lost many of the hopes” he had had for preserving the Anglican Communion from collapse due to delay, obfuscation and mendacity.
Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.
“Most of the kidnapping of Christians are economic rather than political,” Canon White said in a March 1 email from Baghdad. The kidnapping of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho is “distressing,” but has only made headlines in the West because he is an Archbishop.
“The fact that he is a Chaldean Archbishop also makes things worse as it is known that they are linked to the Roman Catholic Church so it is perceived that they should have plenty of money,” he said.
While the security situation has improved in recent months, “the fact is that this is still the most dangerous place in the world.” However, “the kidnapping of the Archbishop is not in any way a sign that things are getting worse but the continuation of the same saga,” Canon White said.
Gunmen seized the Chaldean Archbishop following a service at the Church of the Holy Spirit the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Friday, killing his driver and two guards.
Pope Benedict XVI called the crime “despicable” and urged the gunmen to free the archbishop.
“The Holy Father asks the universal Church to join in his fervent prayer so that reason and humanity prevails in the kidnappers and Monsignor Rahho is returned to his flock soon,” the Vatican statement said.
Speaking to the congregation following a midday Angelus held at St. Peter’s Square in Rome on March 2, Benedict repeated his call for the “immediate” release of the Archbishop—”who is also in very poor health.”
“May the efforts of those who control the fate of the Iraqi people be multiplied so that, thanks to the commitment and wisdom of all, this people may again find peace and security, and the future to which it has a right not be destroyed,” the Pope said.
“For the moment,” Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, the Chaldean patriarch told L’Osservatore Romano, “we have no news and no claims of responsibility from the captors. We only have a lot of fear. The people leave and go elsewhere. Prayer is our only consolation.”
“Things are still more than desperate for all Iraqis,” Canon White said. “From our own Anglican congregation we have had 58 people killed or kidnapped in the past year. There are still bombs, rockets and countless shootings.”
“We need the Anglican world not to forget us and to know that we have one of the largest if not the largest Churches in Iraq. We have to support our people totally with food, medicine healthcare and education,” he said.
The retired Bishop in Jerusalem February 16, 2008Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East.
The Rt. Rev. Riah Abu al-Assal, Bishop in Jerusalem, retired. Photo taken Feb 16, 2006 in Porto Allegre, Brazil at the World Council of Churches Assembly.
Jerusalem Bishops trade charges over fraud claims: CEN 2.15.08 p 6. February 16, 2008Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Corruption, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East.
The former Bishop in Jerusalem has denied accusations of fraud and theft brought by his successor. In a Feb 6 statement the Rt. Rev. Riah Abu al-Assal disputed the financial misconduct charges leveled by the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani, hitting back with his own charges of conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy.
In a Jan 29 statement given to The Church of England Newspaper Bishop Dawani alleged that shortly before Bishop Riah’s retirement in 2007, Bishop Riah transfered the assets of the diocesan school to a charitable trust.
“Members of the charity include Bishop Riah’s wife and nephew. Through this charity, Bishop Riah, is collecting the tuition from the students and is not depositing the monies in the school’s official bank account, whilst, all the employees at the school are official Diocesan institution employees and receive their salaries from the Diocese,” he said.
The issue was brought to a head, Bishop Suheil said, when Bishop Riah refused to vacate the diocese’s Nazareth offices, claiming they were his own property.
Bishop Suhiel brought suit and on Jan 22 a Nazareth court issued an injunction against Bishop Riah and his family, ordering them to give an accounting and banning them from the property.
Bishop Riah has denied the charges and told CEN there never was a diocesan office in Nazareth. He further stated the school’s finances were separate from the diocese.
“Supported by the parents of the students and the many friends through out the world, by the grace of God, I managed to raise the necessary funds to build the Campus. I – personally, and not as a Bishop or a priest, often guaranteed the school account when it went in the red by hundreds of thousands of shekels,” he said.
The decision to form the charity was taken at the request of the Israeli Ministry of Education, he said, noting that all funds collected by the charity were under the “direct supervision” of the registrar “as well as the State Comptroller. Not a single penny was used to benefit any except the school children and their teachers.”
“To build takes years. To destroy takes minutes. That is how Bishop Suheil starts his ministry” Bishop Riah charged. “The Court case is still in the beginning. This negative energy will serve neither the Diocese nor our Palestinian people and certainly not the family of the Campus,” he said.
Bishop Suheil was not being entirely straight forward in his account, Bishop Riah said. In Feb 2007 the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams “having become aware of difficulties in relationships, named Bishop Michael Langrish of Exeter as an Honest Broker to bridge the gap” between the two factions”
“I thankfully accepted and made the necessary booking to fly to England while bishop Suheil bluntly declined,” he said. Bishop Suheil’s office declined comment on the latest round of charges.
Bishop’s plea over action for Gaza: CEN 2.01.08 p 6. January 31, 2008Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Israel.
The former Bishop in Jerusalem has called upon the Anglican Churches of the West not to turn a deaf ear toward the people of Gaza, caught between the government of Israel and the militant group Hamas.
The people of Gaza “continue to be strangled.” They are “being caught in a situation that requires wisdom rather than might; that requires moral courage rather than the power of the gun,” the Rt. Rev. Riah Abu al-Assal wrote in an email to supporters.
The government of Israel has halted fuel shipments to Gaza in retaliation to a campaign of rocket attacks by Hamas upon towns in southern Israel. Egypt also has blockaded its border with Gaza due to the collapse of civil authority under Hamas. However, refugees overwhelmed the border crossing with Egypt at Rafah last week and have streamed into the Sinai to purchase provisions. Israel has responded by reinforcing its border with Egypt as Hamas terrorist cells are reported to have redeployed along the frontier for strikes into the Jewish state.
Bishop Riah, who last week addressed a rally at Damascus’ largest mosque, the Al-Jame’a Al-Akbar, in support of Gaza, implored the West to act. “Must those children of Gaza continue to feel the hunger in their empty bellies, the cold and darkness of their black nights, while we continue to enjoy the fruits of the earth and the warmth of our home? Must the words of Jesus Christ become true of us when he said “They have eyes but do not see, and have ears but do not hear?”
“The situation in Gaza has moved from being difficult to being tragic; and from being tragic to becoming catastrophic,” he said on Jan 23. “It is time for action.”
The charity Christian Aid has also denounced Israel’s response to the Hamas rocket attacks, condemning “in the strongest possible terms Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, which did not begin last week as commonly thought, but has been going on since June 2007″.
“Since Hamas took power last June, Gaza has been subjected to severe restrictions on movement that have allowed in only a drip-feed of aid, preventing a full-scale humanitarian emergency but keeping the population in a perpetual state of economic crisis,” said Janet Symes, Christian Aid’s Head of Middle East Programme.
Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.
Jerusalem Bishops trade charges: CEN 1.29.08 January 29, 2008Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Corruption, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East.
| Charges of fraud and misconduct are being traded between the current and former Anglican Bishops in Jerusalem.
Already internally conflicted over its relationship with the diocese of Los Angeles, and the political implications of the June GAFCON conference, the civil war between current Bishop Suheil Dawani and former Bishop Riah Abu Al-Assal (pictured) adds a further burden to the weakened Anglican presence in the Holy Land.
On Jan 20, Bishop Riah’s office released an “urgent” petition calling for Bishop Suheil to “step down” after he allegedly colluded in the beatings of two Nazareth Anglicans.
Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.
Israel eases visa rules for Catholic clergy: CEN 1.24.08 January 24, 2008Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Israel, Politics.
|Israel has extended an olive branch to the Vatican by relaxing visa rules for Catholic clergy entering that country. The concession comes in the wake of Foreign Office and US pressure on the Jewish State to restart stalled talks between Jerusalem and Rome on the legal rights of the Roman Catholic Church in Israel.
On Jan 14 Israel’s embassy to the Holy See released a statement saying Minister of Interior Affairs Meir Shitrit (pictured) had “proposed some easing up in the issue of visas for church personnel in Israel.”
Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper’s Religious Intelligence section.
Arab Anglican leaders have called for the cancellation of a June gathering of Anglicans in Jerusalem, claiming it could exacerbate Christian-Muslim tensions in the Palestinian territories.
On Wednesday, the Anglican bishop in Jerusalem, Suheil Darwani, released a statement saying the presence of hundreds of conservative Anglican bishops in the Holy Land would inject the Anglican Communion’s political disputes into the diocese of Jerusalem, and could also have “serious consequences for our ongoing ministry of reconciliation in this divided land.”
Read it all in The Jerusalem Post.
Warning over Anglican conference: CEN 1.02.08 January 2, 2008Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, GAFCON, Israel.
|THE BISHOP in Jerusalem has urged organizers of the Jun 15-22 Jerusalem conference of conservative Anglican bishops to move the meeting outside the Holy Land, saying the gathering would inflame sectarian tensions.
The Rt Rev Suheil Dawani stated the GAFCON conference could inject the Anglican Communion’s political disputes into the diocese, and could have ‘serious consequences for our on-going ministry of reconciliation in this divided land.’
Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.
Anglicans choose Jerusalem for key June conference: JP 12.30.07 December 31, 2007Posted by geoconger in Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, GAFCON, Israel, Jerusalem Post, Lambeth 2008.
The battle over homosexuality that has threatened to split the Anglican Communion could be decided at a June meeting in Jerusalem. On December 26, a conservative coalition led by the archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, announced a June 15-22 conference in the Holy Land to chart the church’s future course.
Divided into liberal and conservative factions, the 80-million member Anglican Communion is on the verge of breaking up over the consecration in 2003 of a gay priest as bishop of New Hampshire.
However, Anglicans are as divided over Israel as they over homosexuality. While the meeting will focus on the current crisis facing the church, some Anglican and Jewish supporters of the gathering hope the presence in Jerusalem this June of conservative Anglican bishops from every continent will present an opportunity to broaden Israel’s support in the developing world.
Read it all in The Jerusalem Post.
Bishop’s Unity Plea:CEN 12.14.07 p 7. December 14, 2007Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey.
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, Bishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt led the Anglican delegation to last week’s meeting of the 9th General Assembly of the Middle East Council of Churches. (MECC)
Gathered in Paphos, Cyprus from Nov 26-30, church leaders from the Coptic, Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Evangelical traditions released a statement affirming Christian unity amidst continued political and social upheaval. The MECC is a fellowship of churches in Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq and Cyprus that seeks to foster cooperation among the disparate Christian minorities of the region.
Dr. Anis reported that the plight of Iraq’s Christians was a topic of concern for the Assembly, which “expressed its deep sorrow for the oppression and injustice with which the region’s population is afflicted, of wars and occupation, of destruction and death, of capacity and suppression.”
The delegates expressed their hope that the recently concluded Annapolis summit would break the cycle of violence in the region and urged Western Christians to stand in solidarity with their fellow believers in the Muslim world.
The final communiqué “looked forward to the day when people in the Middle East are liberated from the occupation and the injustice in Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan and Cyprus.”
They also called upon the people of Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon “to be united and to cease being apart and killing each other” such that “the unity that accepts the other with all its differences is strengthened through the honest and free dialogue.”
While united in their opposition to the political and ideological forces facing Middle Eastern Christians, concerns over the “sheep stealing” underlay the deliberations. Evangelical Christian groups have made in roads amongst the younger members of the Orthodox and Coptic communities, creating friction between the regions traditional churches and its newer arrivals.
Dr. Mouneer Anis of Jerusalem & the Middle East December 1, 2007Posted by geoconger in Anglican Album (Photos), Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Primates Meeting 2007.
The Presiding Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East, Dr. Mouneer Anis of Egypt.
Taken Feb 18, 2007 in Zanzibar.
Mixed Reaction to Iran Meeting: CEN 10.26.07 p 5. October 27, 2007Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Iran, Washington.
The Bishop of Washington and the former secretary general of the Anglican Consultative Council traveled to Iran earlier this month in a bid to support interfaith dialogue between Islam and the West.
The trip has sparked harsh comments in the US, with one right-wing news service calling the freelance diplomacy “ill-advised” and harmful to the Anglican Church in Iran.
A spokesman for Bishop John Chane and Canon John L. Peterson told The Church of England Newspaper that no statement would be issued from Washington about the trip and it remains unclear whether Bishop Azad Marshall of Iran was briefed on their excursion.
However, Iranian news agencies have hailed the meetings as a sign of solidarity against Zionism. Following a meeting in Qom with Canon Peterson and Bishop Chane, Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi told the Islamic Students News Agency (ISNA) on Oct 10, that the “Zionist media are waging a negative propaganda campaign” against his country.
“The Zionists spread a negative picture of Islam among the Christians, and a negative picture of Christians among Muslims,” he added saying the visit by US Episcopalians helped counter this view. “We should have more meetings to neutralize this negative campaign by the Zionists.”
Ayatollah Shirazi told the Mehrs News Agency that “clerics of divine religions should interact and meet with each other and push the world toward peace and security through joint thinking,” and pointed to the visit by the Bishop of Washington as a sign that religious leaders can help foster global peace.
Religion must not be used to justify violence, the Archbishop of Canterbury said at a meeting of world faith leaders in Naples on Oct 21.
Dr. Williams, the Pope, the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, and Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Zoroastrian leaders from around the world were in Naples as guests of the Sant’Egidio Community in a meeting desired to foster peace amongst the world’s religious communities.
At the start of an open air mass in the Piazza del Plebiscito Dr. Williams and the Pope embraced, and issued public calls for faith leaders to use their influence to build a better world.
Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.
New Gulf Rules Opposed: CEN 10.19.07 p 6. October 18, 2007Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East.
Proposals to expel foreign workers from the Persian Gulf states after six years’ residence are discriminatory and economically foolhardy, the Area Bishop of the Persian Gulf said this week. The Rt. Rev. Azad Marshall, Bishop of Iran and Area Bishop for the Persian Gulf in the Church of Pakistan told The Church of England Newspaper that proposals by the Bahrain Labour Minister Majeed al-Alawi (pictured) for consideration by the Gulf States could effect upwards of 13 million expatriate workers living in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
The Gulf States fear that under international law foreign workers might claim government education, health and housing benefits, and be able to apply for citizenship after five year’s residency. Over one million Filipinos work in Saudi Arabia, while in the UAE over 80 percent of the population consists of expatriate workers of whom almost a third are Christian.
“In some areas of the Gulf, you can’t tell whether you are in an Arab Muslim country or in an Asian district. We can’t call this diversity and no nation on earth could accept the erosion of its culture on its own land,” al-Alawi told the Gulf Daily News.
“The majority of foreign manpower in the region comes from different cultural and social backgrounds that cannot assimilate or adapt to the local cultures,” he said.
Bishop Marshall said Arabs traditionally have been known for their “warm hospitality which has helped create a model of congeniality among Arabs and Asians working together.”
“Many Arabs have created similar pockets of Arabs in some European cities,” he said adding that denying this right to Asian immigrants to the Arab world was unfair. “In this age of global economy one should move with time towards reciprocity and acceptance.”
Bishop Marshall stated that unlike Europe or the US, guest workers in the Gulf can only live “in these countries for the tenure of their visas. They give their best years and skills to these countries, for jobs and money of course, but without any hope of ever becoming permanent visa holders, residents or citizens.”
Fr. Naim Ateek, ناعم عتيق October 17, 2007Posted by geoconger in Anglican Album (Photos), Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, WCC.
The Rev Dr. Naim Ateek, director of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.
An Anglican priest and former canon of St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalam, Fr. Ateek led a number of workshops and classes at the WCC on the Palestine question.
These two photos were taken in Porto Alegre, Brazil on Feb 15 & 17, 2006.
Bishop Riah and Ahmadinejad at the UN October 16, 2007Posted by geoconger in Anglican Album (Photos), Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Iran.
The former Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt. Rev. Riah Abu al-Assal greeting the President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at an Iftar dinner in New York on Sep 25.
Middle East Bishop makes appeal for reconcilliation to Iran President: CEN 10.19.07 p 9 October 16, 2007Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Iran.
The former Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt. Rev. Riah Abu al-Assal has urged the president of Iran to work toward reconciliation between the Muslim world and the West.
Bishop Riah told The Church of England Newspaper he challenged Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during a dinner honoring the Iranian president in New York last month “to open wide the doors of dialogue and to welcome a delegation of religious leaders” to Iran to pursue peace.
“The breaking of bread, especially during the month of Ramadan, must remind us not only of those without bread, but also the urgent need to break down barriers, pull down separation walls; and replace these with bridges of understanding on the way to healing, peace and reconciliation,” Bishop Riah told the Iranian president.
President Ahmadinejad told Bishop Riah he welcomed the overture from the Anglican Communion for dialogue between the West and Islam.
The Iranian president was in New York from Sept 24-26 to address the United Nations and to give a lecture at Columbia University. Plans for the Iranian president to visit the sight of the former World Trade Center towers and the 9/11 memorial were vetoed by the New York police commissioner and caused a brief flurry of outrage from politicians angered by the proposal.
During the “iftar” dinner at the Hilton Hotel in mid-town Manhattan, given by New York’s Iranian community for the president, Ahmadinejad spoke on a variety of topics.
He lambasted as historically inaccurate the movie the “300″, which recounted the Greek victory at Thermopylae over the Persians and then moved on to a discussion of Tehran’s nuclear ambitions saying, “Iranians have never tried to oppress anyone.”
In a television interview recorded upon his return to Tehran, President Ahmadinejad said Iran wanted to form “cordial relations” with the US, but that it first must get over 9/11.
The 9/11 attack on New York was a result of “the inhuman management of the world” he said, according to a translation provided by the MEMRI. He did not want America to “turn this incident, in 20 years’ time, into another false idol like the Holocaust, which they would use as a pretext to kill people, and to prevent anybody from opening this [Pandora's] box and examining what really happened in this incident.”
Archbishop: “Don’t bomb Iran”: CEN 10.12.07 p 8. October 10, 2007Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Arms Control/Defense/Peace Issues, British Foreign Policy, Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Iran.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has denounced suggestions of a preemptive military strike against Iran’s nuclear weapons programme, saying it would upset the region’s security balance and bring misery to its peoples.
Speaking to the BBC after his return from Damascus, Dr. Williams said that “When people talk about further destabilisation of the region – and you read some American political advisers speaking of action against Syria and Iran – I can only say that I regard that as criminal, ignorant and potentially murderous folly.”
“We do hear talk from some quarters of action against Syria and Iran. I can’t understand what planet such persons are living on, when you see the conditions that are already there,” he said.
In a statement released upon his return from Syria, Dr. Williams described as ‘heartbreaking and harrowing’ a meeting he held in Syria with 200 Christian Iraqi refugees. He told the refugees he would share their plight with the West, and upon return to Britain said their situation required urgent attention.
“Security that will enable these people to return to Iraq depends on a settlement for the whole of that country guaranteeing the liberty and dignity of every minority.”
Lambeth Palace has also denied the veracity of accounts printed by the official Syrian news agency, SANA, of Dr. Williams’ trip to Damascus. SANA reported that in talks with the Archbishop, the Grand Mufti of Syria “pointed out the Israeli suppressive practices in the occupied Palestinian territories which violated all religious laws and international norms, reviewing what Iraq is witnessing of ordeals and catastrophes under the occupation.”
Dr. Williams’ office denied this took place, saying his talks with the Grand Mufti “concerned issues internal to Syria and focussed on the secular character of the Syrian constitution.”