Title: Lutheran Bishop of Jerusalem Visits Damaged Churches in Nablus ELCA NEWS SERVICE
September 22, 2006
Lutheran Bishop of Jerusalem Visits Damaged Churches in Nablus 06-143-FI
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Rev. Munib A. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), went Sept. 17 to Nablus, West Bank, from Jerusalem with the heads of three other Christian churches there. Fire and bullets scarred four church buildings in Nablus from Sept. 16 attacks considered to be in reaction to remarks Pope Benedict XVI made Sept. 12 in Germany.
In a personal account of the visit, Younan said he went to Nablus with His Beatitude Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Bishop Riah Abu el-Assal of the Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East, and Bishop George Bakar, the Greek Catholic Exarch, "to stand in solidarity with Christian sisters and brothers there."
Anglican, Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic church buildings were damaged in the Nablus attacks.
"I viewed the minimal damage mostly on the outside of the four churches," Younan said. "More serious, however, was the symbolic meaning of the acts."
"Our aim was to encourage all of the people, Christians and Muslims, and to discuss events with congregations and officials in Nablus," he said. "We all -- Christian and Muslim leaders and government officials of all factions -- denounced the violence that has occurred."
"At the same time, we asked if the relationship between Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims was so shallow that a statement from thousands of miles away should spark such actions. We know the answer -- for the majority of us -- is no," Younan said.
"We concluded that these are the acts of a few irresponsible people who do not represent Islam or Palestine. These are extremists trying to drive a wedge between Palestinians -- Christians and Muslims -- and somehow disrupt the long history of coexistence we have enjoyed until recently, when political disputes are being made into religious ones," he said.
"We cannot allow (these acts) to distract us from the urgent issues of justice that we face together. Christian and Muslim religious leaders here have fully denounced violence -- whoever the perpetrator -- and stand together against it," Younan said.
"The Pope's comments were understood to be unnecessarily provocative and offensive, and they were not helpful to either Christians or Muslims here. However, we must find other ways to express that," Younan said. "We must confront conflicts in dialogue at their roots and not let them fester or tempt us into violence. This is the only path to deepen our ability to live together as Christian and Muslim neighbors," he said.
"Some elements are trying to portray Islam as a negative, violent religion. Most of us Palestinian Christians do not agree. The Islam with which we have lived all our lives has given us peaceful, good neighbors within Palestine," Younan said.
The Lutheran bishop said he wanted to ask those who attacked the churches: "Why are you trying to strengthen those who label you?" He added, "May God forgive you, for you don't know what you are doing."
Younan said that in Tubas, a village near Jenin, West Bank, Muslims stopped a man trying to burn a church. He cited the mayor of Tubas who praised the town's "fraternal relationship" between Christians and Muslims.
"Our urgent call in this fragile time and place is to join together as Muslims, Christians and Jews to promote justice, peace, forgiveness and reconciliation which are the only foundations of a civilized world," Younan said.
"I again call on Christian and Muslim leaders to sign a code of conduct that promotes respecting one another's sacred writings, symbols and places and fosters religious pluralism, mutual respect and coexistence," Younan concluded. -- -- --
The home page of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) is at http://www.holyland- lutherans.org/ on the Web.
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