From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Lutheran bishop says Pope's visit supports Palestinian church

Date 06 Apr 2000 09:16:17

Lutheran bishop says Pope's visit symbolizes support for Palestinian church

JERUSALEM/GENEVA, 6 April 2000, (lwi) - The head of the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in Jordan (ELCJ), Bishop Munib A. Younan, shared with lwi
his impressions of the March 2000 visit by Pope John Paul II to Jordan, the
Palestinian territories and Israel.

Bishop Younan participated in the reception of the Pope in Bethlehem on 22
March, and later on, together with other representatives of all Christian
communities of the Holy Land, was present in the celebration of the
Eucharist in the Manger Square, near the Grotto of the Nativity in
Bethlehem. On this occasion, the Pope urged the Church not to be afraid "to
preserve your Christian presence and heritage in the very place where the
Savior was born." The pontiff also offered his greetings to the Muslim
Community of Bethlehem and prayed "for a new era of understanding and
cooperation among all the peoples of the Holy Land."

During the ecumenical meeting at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate on 25
March, at which Bishop Munib was also present, the Pope in his address
emphasized that despite the mistrust and rivalry inherited from the past,
the ecumenical leaders, churches and ecclesial communities represented in
Jerusalem, have an obligation to walk the path of reconciliation and peace.

The Pope also spoke of the ecumenical dimension to the Roman Catholic
Church's celebration of the Jubilee Year 2000, and cited the opening last
January of the Holy Door at the Basilica of St.  Paul-outside-the-Walls, at
which so many churches and ecclesial communities, including the Lutheran
World Federation (LWF) were represented.

Upon arrival on Palestinian territory, where he was received by the
Chairman of the Palestinian Authority Yasser Arafat, the Pope prayed that
the divine gift of peace would become "more and more of a reality for all
who live in this land, uniquely marked by God's intervention.  "No one can
ignore how much the Palestinian people have had to suffer in recent
decades. Your torment is before the eyes of the world. And it has gone on
too long," the Pontiff stated.

The following interview is adapted from one Bishop Younan accorded to
Gemeindebrief--a newsletter published by the German-speaking Lutheran
congregation in Jerusalem.

What do you think of the relationship between the Roman Catholic church
and the Lutheran church here in Jerusalem?

Bishop Younan: Maybe you know that there is a very good climate between
the two churches. An example is the Arabic translation of the Joint
Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by Bishop Daoud Haddad (the
first ELCJ bishop-1979-1986). The Roman Catholic Church had asked for at
least 350 copies, which we of course provided free of charge to promote
this important document and its message and to intensify our relations.
This shows how good our relationship is; the Joint Declaration can
contribute to ever more progress therein.

Furthermore, Dean Karlheinz Ronecker (dean of the German-speaking
Lutherans in Palestine, Israel and Jordan) and I spoke to Patriarch
Sabbah (patriarch of the Roman Catholic Church in Palestine, Israel,
Jordan and Cyprus). We asked him to participate in a common celebration
on the occasion of the Joint Declaration signing. We were happy that
Patriarch Sabbah chose his Vicar General, Bishop Bathish, who gave the
homily at the ecumenical worship service during the Week of Prayer for
Christian Unity. At the same time he also spoke about prospects for the
future. I was surprised when he said that now there were no more mutual
condemnations. Afterwards, when asked by some people what would
henceforth happen to the condemnations contained in the witnesses of the
Church, his answer was that they would remain warnings in case the
Church turned in the wrong direction again. This is a new spirit, giving
us the possibility of a new openness.

As a Lutheran church, we can learn a lot from the Roman Catholic
Church-what they do, the way they bear witness in this part of the
world. I also expect that they can learn from us. But what is most
important is that we have good relations, as it is especially vital for
us here in Jerusalem to live together in love and to cooperate well.

What is the significance of the Pope's visit in view of the current

Bishop Younan:: For me, any Christian presence in Jerusalem means
additional support for the local Palestinian church. The conference of
the Orthodox Patriarchs, held during the Orthodox Christmas celebrations
on 7 January 2000, for example, led to increased awareness regarding
Palestinian Christians. The same was true of the visit of the Armenian
Orthodox Catholicos Karekin II, who was in Jerusalem to celebrate the
coming of the new millennium during the Armenian Christmas festivities
on 19 January 2000. And now another important representative of world
Christianity, the Pope.

^From the Pope's visit I first expect a strengthening of the Christians
in this country, and not only the Roman Catholic ones. Very often our
self-confidence is anything but strong in view of the many political,
social and financial problems.

Secondly, I expect a strengthening of the Christian claims on Jerusalem.
This city, as a matter of principle, should be open to all, not only to
Jews and Muslims.

Thirdly, the Pope's visit takes on special significance by way of the
meetings with the High Rabbi Meir Lau and the Mufti Sheikh Tayseer Al
Tamimi. For us, the message of these meetings is that our problems can
be tackled by means of constructive dialogue between the Christian
churches and Muslim scholars as well as responsible rabbis.

Fourthly, I expect a strengthening of ecumenism (Referring to the
ecumenical meeting at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate). We are less than
two percent of this country's population; therefore no one can escape
and do something on their own. We have to get along with each other, we
have to live together as Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Orthodox and
Oriental Christians--otherwise there will be no future for Palestinian

Lastly, I would like to mention the strengthening of relations between
the local Church and the foreign churches living here among us. I expect
a good step forward in coordinating the respective local work here and
in the efforts towards the local congregations living harmoniously with
Christians in the world.

Bishop Munib A. Younan
(Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan)

(The LWF is a global communion of 128 member churches in 70 countries
representing 59 5 million of the world's 63.1 million Lutherans. Its
highest decision-making body is the Assembly, held every six or seven
years. Between Assemblies, the LWF is governed by a 49-member Council,
which meets annually, and by its Executive Committee. The LWF
secretariat is located in Geneva, Switzerland.)

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Assistant Editor, English: Pauline Mumia

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