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British government unveils $1.7 million pilot program to support listed places of worship

Wed, 04/04/2018 - 11:21am

[Anglican Communion News Service]  Expert advisors are being recruited to help religious communities in two areas of England use their historic buildings more efficiently. The advisors are part of a pilot scheme being run by the government’s culture ministry DDCMS and the dioceses of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich and Manchester. The experts will work to increase community engagement and vital heritage management skills and will work with listed buildings used by all faiths and denominations.

Read the entire article here.

Mothers’ Union steps in to help snow-trapped medics’ unplanned hospital stay

Wed, 04/04/2018 - 11:16am

[Anglican Communion News Service] When the “Beast from the East” blanketed much of the United Kingdom with large amounts of snow at the beginning of March, many roads were impassable, leaving many essential services short of staff. In hospitals around the country, nurses and doctors opted remain at their hospitals in their non-working hours, to ensure they were there for the start of their next shifts. In Newcastle, in the north-east of England, the chaplaincy department at the Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Trust teamed up with the diocesan branch of the Mothers’ Union to provide essential toiletry kits to staff.

Read the entire article here.

Anglican leaders pay tribute following the death of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

Tue, 04/03/2018 - 11:47am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Tributes have been paid to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the former wife of the late South African anti-apartheid leader and President Nelson Mandela, who died April 2 at the age of 81. The Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, is currently in London for a meeting of the Lambeth Conference 2020 Design Group. He told ACNS: “I send my condolences to the family. I am humbled to have known her. I admired and respected her. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.”

Read the entire article here.

‘Domestic violence is always wrong’ – strong message from the Archbishop of Uganda

Tue, 04/03/2018 - 11:45am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop Stanley Ntagali, the Primate of the Church of the Province of Uganda, has used his Easter message to stress that domestic violence is “always wrong.” His message was a response to comments by Member of Parliament Onesmus Twinamasiko, who said in a TV interview: “As a man, you need to discipline your wife. You need to touch her a bit, and you tackle her and you beat her somehow to streamline her.” Ntagali said: “I want to state categorically and very clearly that the Church of Uganda does not support his views. Even though he is an Anglican, he and his views do not represent the Church of Uganda. We condemn all domestic violence. No exceptions.”

Read the entire article here.

Archbishop of Wales condemns ‘Punish a Muslim’ social media campaign

Tue, 04/03/2018 - 11:42am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Primate of the Church in Wales, Archbishop John Davies, has spoken out to condemn a social media campaign set up to encourage attacks on Muslims. The #PunishAMuslim day is being promoted on Twitter and other social media platforms. And it is being spread by an anonymous letter-writing campaign. At the time of writing, the hashtag is a top-trending topic on Twitter, with more than 28,000 separate tweets containing the search string – mostly condemning the campaign. It has prompted security forces and police services to step up security around mosques in New York and other parts of the world.

Read the entire article here.

Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit urges political leaders to build a united Kenya

Tue, 04/03/2018 - 11:39am

[Anglican Communion Nerws Service]  The Archbishop of Kenya, Jackson Ole Sapit, has urged political leaders in the country to build a united Kenya. Speaking to reporters after an Easter Sunday service, he urged politicians to follow the rule of law and shun tribal politics.

Read the entire article here.

Presiding Bishop’s pilgrimage ends with Good Friday in Jerusalem

Fri, 03/30/2018 - 11:30am

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry carries the cross while he and other pilgrims walk the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem on Good Friday. Photo: Ben Gray/ Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

[Episcopal News Service – Jerusalem] The cold early-morning rain that fell here on Good Friday seemed to blur the lines between Christian denominations and make clearer the united Christian witness in the Holy Land as pilgrims huddled together in the wind to retrace Jesus’ road to Calvary along the Via Dolorosa.

Among them were Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and those traveling with him on a Holy Week pilgrimage. With the skies alternating between threatening and bright, the pilgrims walked gingerly along the rain-slicked limestone pavement that has been worn smooth by centuries of Christian devotion. Cassock hems sometimes dipped into the many puddles along the way, making for a cold and wet experience as the rainwater soaked in.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry walks the Via Dolorosa with Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani through the Old City in Jerusalem. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Every year the Good Friday ritual is re-enacted in the midst of everyday life in the old city. Shopkeepers were slowly opening their sweet shops, bakeries and souvenir stores. Religious icons and jewelry and vestments were for sale next to butcher shops and hair salons. Feral cats scrounged for food. Trash collectors carefully drove their motorized carts down the narrow pilgrim-lined streets. A police officer joined the procession as a guide.

Members of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land join each year to walk the way of the cross.

At each stop a pilgrim read from the Bible and others led prayers for themselves and others. The pilgrims sang hymns as they walked between each station. Curry and the Most Rev. Suheil Dawani, the Anglican archbishop in Jerusalem, were among those carrying the cross during the walk.

Among the many prayers for others were:

  • For those who have power of life and death over others;
  • For every occasion when human beings use their skill to hurt and kill;
  • For those who live under military rule or occupation;
  • For those facing failure;
  • For those living on this side of the narrow curtain of death, and those who have died and are living beyond it;
  • For those who mourn loved ones killed or wounded in violence not of their own making;
  • For every time the powerful are given undue respect while the weak and the powerless, the poor and the dispossessed, are ignored and repressed;
  • For those who experience moral weakness and failure; and
  • For those who know what it is to lose their faith.

Among the prayers the pilgrims prayed for themselves were:

  • When we judge others, and for those we condemn;
  • When we mock, insult, or hurt others;
  • When we face sickness, physical weakness, tiredness, and exhaustion;
  • When we know moral failure;
  • When everything and everyone seems to be against us and hope flees;
  • When we are ashamed or abused; and
  • Whenever we are called to account for our faith.

The Anglican and Lutheran pilgrims, along with representatives of other Christian faiths, then ate a simple breakfast at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer near the end of the Via Dolorosa.

Newly installed Lutheran Bishop Ibrahim Azar had joined the walk and then welcomed the pilgrims to the church. “It is a delight to be together as the family of Christ,” he said. “We hope and we pray that our Lutheran and Anglican relationship will deepen through our love, our worship and our actions.”

Azar later preached at the traditional Good Friday liturgy at the Anglican Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr.

His Beatitude Theophilos III, Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem and All Palestine, presents a pectoral icon to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry during a visit to his offices in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Good Friday morning. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Also on Good Friday, His Beatitude Theophilos III, Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem and All Palestine, welcomed Dawani, whom he called “our brother;” Curry and the group traveling with him to his offices in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

“Your visit is encouraging us to maintain the Christian character of Jerusalem,” Theophilos told Curry, describing the city as “multinational, multicultural and multireligious.”

The pectoral icon Presiding Bishop Michael Curry received from His Beatitude Theophilos III, Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem and All Palestine. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

The patriarch said he believes that those Christians who minister in Jerusalem “do not represent ourselves – we represent the whole world, and especially our Christian brothers and sisters. When you come here, you come home.”

Theophilos spoke of the difficulty in that representation. “Everybody loves Jerusalem, and everybody wants Jerusalem for his own,” he said. “It is very difficult to draw the lines here, so we have to be acrobats.”

However, he said, “Jerusalem has enough room to accommodate everybody.”

The patriarch said with a smile that he has a tradition of offering “spirituality” to his visitors. An assistant then offered small glasses of brandy to the guests.

Curry assured Theophilos that Episcopalians would continue to pray for him, for Dawani and the ministry of the diocese and “praying always for the peace of Jerusalem.”

“You are not alone. We are the body of Christ, and we will always do that” he said. “We will continue to carry the cross with you.”

Parts of the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem’s Old City were in shadows early on Good Friday morning. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani sing in the sixth station, known as Veronica’s house. She is said to have seen Jesus coming up the hill past her house and went outside to wipe the sweat from his face. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

The pilgrims stop for stations nine and 10 along the Via Dolorosa. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

From left, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry; Lutheran Bishop Ibrahim Azar; the Rev. Charles Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond the Episcopal Church; the Rev. David Longe, Archbishop Suheil Dawani’s chaplain; Dawani; the Rev. Wadi Far, a transitional deacon in the Diocese of Jerusalem; and others listen as the Rev. Mary June Nestler of the Diocese of Utah reads at the final station outside the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. The Rev. Susan Ackley Lukens, associate dean of St. George’s College in Jerusalem, holds the microphone. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Sun begins to break through the crowds and illuminates a religious souvenir opposite the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer and near the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Dawani invited Curry to make this Holy Week pilgrimage. Complete ENS coverage can be found here.

The presiding bishop was accompanied by the Rev. Charles Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond the Episcopal Church; the Rev. Margaret Rose, Episcopal Church deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations; the Rev. Robert Edmunds, Episcopal Church Middle East partnership officer; and Sharon Jones, Curry’s executive coordinator.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.

 

Maundy Thursday commandment reveals new depth, challenges in Holy Land today

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 2:26pm

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry washes congregants’ feet March 29 at the Anglican Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr in Jerusalem during the cathedral’s Maundy Thursday service. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Jerusalem] Jesus’ commandment to his disciples on the night before he was killed, that they should love one another as he loved them, took on deeper meanings tinged with political challenges March 29 for those on a Holy Week pilgrimage with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

The group spent part of the day discussing the struggle for peace in the Holy Land, and part of the day participating in traditional Holy Week liturgies. Even then, they heard the call for justice and harmony among followers of the Abrahamic religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which each consider Jerusalem to be a holy city.

“As we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, as the Bible teaches us, we must find ways to work for the peace of Jerusalem, which will be found where there is true equality for all, true justice for all and true freedom for everyone,” Curry told Episcopal News Service, as he reflected shortly before the traditional Maundy Thursday Eucharist and foot-washing service. “Here it is clear that this is not simply an idealistic dream. It is the only hope, and we must not rest until it is realized.”

Curry’s complete reflection on his pilgrimage experience so far can be found here.

The group began the day with an early-morning visit to the site known to Muslims as Haram Al Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount. Mohammed Azam, director general of the Department of Awqaf Jerusalem and of the affairs of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, gave Curry and the group a tour of both the mosque and the Dome of the Rock. They also visited a museum in the complex.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry walks March 29 with Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani and Mohammed Azam, director general of the Department of Awqaf Jerusalem and of the affairs of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, from the Dome of the Rock (in the background) to the mosque. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad ascended from the site. They call it the Miraculous Night Journey, and it is commemorated in the architectural wonder known as the Dome of the Rock shrine. The 35-acre compound, which is administered by Jordan, also includes the remains of the Western Wall of the Second Temple, the most important religious site for Jews. Over the centuries, various groups of people have been banned from the site, depending on who controlled it.

Azam gave Curry and his group a summary of the recent conflict between Muslims, Christians and Jews over the site.

In the end, “as Muslims we have full respect for the Jews, because of their religion. We respect it,” Azam insisted, with the Most Rev. Suheil Dawani, the Anglican archbishop in Jerusalem, acting as translator. The problem, he said, is not the Jewish people, but is instead with “the politicians who are trying to impose their ideas on this place.”

Azam said Muslim and Christian holy sites are under attack, both through violence and via laws such as the recent struggle over an onerous Jerusalem Municipality taxation plan. For centuries, religious bodies in the city have been exempt from such taxes, but the municipality is now demanding millions from religious groups as part of an ongoing dispute with Israel’s finance ministry. He called this an “extremist and radical position.”

The Times of Israel recently reported that the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem has been hit with a bill of the equivalent of nearly $2 million. Azam said Muslim religious groups would owe $120 million. Even though the controversial plan was put on hold earlier this month, the diocese’s accounts are still frozen.

Saying that “we’ve been attacked by this government,” Azam said. “It seems there are no wise people in Israel.”

Azam contended that for 1,500 years there was “much tolerance and mutual understanding” between Christian and Muslims. “We lived together as one family,” he said, adding later that “it seems Israel does not like to see this kind of relationship between Muslims and Christians.”

He asked Curry to do what he could to work for peace in Jerusalem.

“This is what Jerusalem needs: a just peace for everybody and to stop any religious wars here,” he said. “We don’t want any religious wars here. We don’t need war. We want to live in peace and harmony with everybody.”

Shoes belonging to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and those traveling with him wait outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Curry greeted Azam in the name of “your brothers and sisters in the Episcopal Church.”

“Following the lead of our brother and archbishop,” he said, gesturing to Dawani, who sat between them, “our church stands with you and with him for what is just and right.”

The presiding bishop said the Episcopal Church knows that Jordanian King Abdullah II “is a man of peace.”

“We will share your message and the story you have told with our people back home,” Curry said. “I was raised to believe that God made all people to be equal and all people to be free. Growing up as an African-American in America, the work for freedom and justice is deep in my bones.”

Later at the traditional Holy Week Chrism Mass, Dawani said in his sermon that Curry’s visit had “empowered us here in this land, especially in the difficult and challenging time we face.”

Clergy must preach God’s word to all, as well as to heal and teach, trying to transform the world the way Christ did, Dawani said.

“Being one of God’s ministers, we are used to the having the eyes of our parishes, and our parishes, our communities and also our traditions fixed on us, especially here in this land where we deal with so many governments,” the archbishop told the clergy. The diocese is spread over five countries — Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. The challenge, he said, is to know how to deal with each of those governments “to keep the balance among all the governments of this region.”

Clergy in the Holy Land have “a public role to proclaim Christ’s love to all humankind,” Dawani said. “This can lead us into difficult situations. Situations when we feel we have to speak when everyone else is silent. Situations when we have to be silent when everyone else is speaking. Situations when we have to stand up for justice, when everyone else seems to go along with the crowd.”

Dawani said Anglicans must discern “how we carry Christ’s message at this difficult time in the midst of all the hardships and all the difficulties and how we stand up for our rights in order that the witness will continue, and our presence will be empowerment.”

Deacons and clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem gather March 29 with Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry after the traditional Holy Week Chrism Mass. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Clergy typically renew their ordination vows during the Chrism Mass, and Dawani said the question his clergy ought to consider while doing so is whether “we are able to have the courage to speak such words of truth, to speak up when all around us are silent. Are we prepared to take the risk for Christ by standing up for those around us who are downtrodden?”

The archbishop noted that the Anglican Jewish Commission recently met in Jerusalem to discuss migration and immigration, what he called “the most challenging issue at this time.” Dawani criticized, most especially, “politicians who cause all these troubles and cause innocent people to suffer because of their agendas, because they’re asking for more richness, they’re asking for more oil.”

“We discussed how we should deal with the stranger in our midst; how we are to welcome those who are different to us,” he said. He said the Christians at the meeting “became passionate about this,” recalling the parable of the Good Samaritan. “In our ministry, in our offering services to the people who are in need, we don’t differentiate. Black, white, Jewish, Christian, Muslims, we help those who are in need in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Living in a land with three religions, Dawani said he knows “sometimes the political situation affects our relationships, but we should put politics aside” and remember that all people are made in the image of God, “whether he be a Christian, a Muslim or a Jew.”

Later in the afternoon, the presiding bishop and his group also had a strategic conversation about peace-building with Yusef Daher, executive secretary of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Center and Zoughbi Zoughbi, local program coordinator for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel.

Curry was in the sixth day of a Holy Week pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Previous ENS coverage of his travels can be found here. Dawani invited Curry to make this Holy Week pilgrimage.

The presiding bishop is accompanied by the Rev. Charles Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond the Episcopal Church; the Rev. Margaret Rose, Episcopal Church deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations; the Rev. Robert Edmunds, Episcopal Church Middle East partnership officer; and Sharon Jones, Curry’s executive coordinator.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.

 

Presiding Bishop reflects on Holy Land as pilgrimage nears its end

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 2:25pm

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preaches in the chapel of Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City on March 26. Jerusalem Archbishop Suheil Dawani is seated behind him. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Jerusalem] On Maundy Thursday afternoon, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reflected on what he has seen and heard since arriving in the Holy Land March 23 to make a Holy Week pilgrimage.

In the week that we’ve been here, we have spent time, and some of it in depth, with Archbishop Suheil and our Anglican brothers and sisters. In the course of our time we have seen and visited holy places where our Lord Jesus was born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, spoke Beatitudes on the hills of Galilee and then entered Jerusalem in a procession that proclaimed that God has a better way for humanity than the way of power politics and greed and hatred.

And we have walked the streets of Jerusalem where Jesus was unjustly arrested, tortured and killed – the streets where he willingly sacrificed his life for the cause of God’s love, which ultimately is the only hope for us all.

As we have seen the places of his suffering, we have seen the suffering of the children of God today.

We heard the cries of Christian refugees from Iraq, people who have lost virtually everything save their own lives, mainly because they are followers of Jesus.

We have heard the cries of people in Gaza, where the church here provides an oasis in a hospital, and oasis in the midst of a war zone through a hospital built on the teachings and spirit of Jesus, where healing and care is made available to all regardless of religion, regardless of ethnicity, regardless of politics.

We have heard the cries of Palestinian Christians throughout the land, who thrive only for equal treatment and kindness and justice for all regardless of race or religion.

We have heard the cries of people in Palestine in the West Bank where the Diocese of Jerusalem is present in St. Luke’s Hospital and its clinic and its churches. Following the teachings of Jesus again, no one is turned away because of inability to pay or because of religion or politics or ethnicity.

We have heard the cries of the Palestinian people in Jerusalem who yearn as all people yearn to breathe free in true human equality.

We have heard the cries of Israeli youths whose longings are the same, to breathe free, safe and secure.

We will visit Yad Vashem, where the end result of hatred and bigotry and inequality and injustice is there for all to see. Jesus sacrificed his life to save us from the sins and arrogance and indifference and injustice, bigotry, hatred; he came to show us the way, to be saved from the human nightmare.

As we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, as the Bible teaches us, we must find ways to work for the peace of Jerusalem, which will be found where there is true equality for all, true justice for all and true freedom for everyone. Here it is clear that this is not simply an idealistic dream. It is the only hope, and we must not rest until it is realized.

Diocese of Atlanta clergy, laity renew vows at Martin Luther King Jr.’s church

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 11:00am

Diocese of Atlanta Bishop Robert C. Wright speaks to clergy and laity at a renewal of vows services held at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Photo: Diocese of Atlanta

[Diocese of Atlanta] Clergy and laity of the Diocese of Atlanta gathered this week for their renewal of vows in the sanctuary of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his father and grandfather preached.

Bishop Robert C. Wright, whose diocese also includes middle and north Georgia, said he sought permission to use the site because of its connection to the civil rights movement leader and the recognition of the humanity of all Americans.

“Being that we are all Georgians now, and that Martin’s and Coretta’s earthly remains are laying just outside, it seems good to stop here and remember, and maybe even borrow some of their resolve for service,” Wright said, motioning toward the site outside the church where King and his wife are buried. “More than that, I invited you here because there are three important ideas that are easy to illustrate in this space. They are simple but eternal ideas. They are possibility, pain and power.”

Wright said the small sanctuary that launched King to the international stage is a powerful symbol of possibility.

“The local parish is still the hope of the world. If that sounds like too much to say, look around. This is a totally average parish. Still, from this place a soul was equipped to confront pharaohs, mobilize people and call a nation to its better self,” Wright said.

Since his ordination in 2012, Wright has focused renewal services on the diocese’s relationship with other denominations and religions and its mission to the world. Services have been held in a homeless shelter, a Jewish synagogue and at a parish church where a Muslim preached, and when held at the diocese’s Cathedral of St. Philip, the services have featured a choir from a women’s prison, preachers from other denominations and, once, a foot washing.

Ebenezer Baptist Church is the church in Atlanta where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his father and grandfather preached. Photo: Diocese of Atlanta

Ebenezer Baptist Church, a national historic site not normally used for services, was opened to the diocese by Ebenezer Baptist’s current pastor, the Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, Wright’s friend and fellow advocate for social justice.

Wright called for clergy and laity to actively seek new possibilities for sharing Jesus’ message in the world.

“When we renew our vows today perhaps what needs renewing is not our intention to be faithful to our respective vows. Perhaps what needs renewing is our sense of possibility,” Wright said. “Maybe what is needed is for us to grasp again a God-sized sense of what is possible.

Standing behind King’s pulpit, adjacent to the organ where King’s mother was shot and killed, Wright said holding the service at Ebenezer highlighted current faith issues, such as gun violence.

“What I want to point out here is, this place knows pain. It’s in the walls and the wood,” he said. “And if you’ll acknowledge that, then maybe in the spirit of fellowship, you could acknowledge your own pain in this place. Or at least pledge to.

“Why? Because to renew our vows without acknowledging pain, sorrow and profound disappointment as we endeavor to be faithful is nothing more than putting lipstick on a pig.”

Wright urged those at the service to breathe in the sanctuary’s history for their spiritual renewal.

“If anything gets renewed today, let it be our ability to stay curious even in our pain recognizing that God uses everything for learning and for the benefit of the world,” he said. “If anything gets renewed today, let it be our courage to be foolish for a God who makes life out of death, light out of darkness, and turns the cowering into conquerors.”

– Don Plummer is director of media and community relations for the Diocese of Atlanta.

Moving deeper into Holy Week, Presiding Bishop visits Bethlehem, Nazareth

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 6:14am

Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Jordan and Patriarchal Commission to Bethlehem Theophylaktos leads Presiding Bishop Michael Curry through a courtyard as they make their way to his office in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The Very Rev. Hosam Naoum, dean of Anglican Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr in Jerusalem, is at right. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Bethlehem and Nazareth] The gift of spending Holy Week in the Holy Land grew deeper and more real on March 28 for those on pilgrimage with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

In a small sample of the ecumenical hospitality that the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem both enjoys and offers, Curry and those traveling with him were the guests of Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Jordan and Patriarchal Commission to Bethlehem Theophylaktos in Bethlehem. The group traveled there at his invitation to hold Morning Prayer in the St. George’s Chapel at the Church of the Nativity and meet with him. He also welcomed them to pray in the Grotto of the Nativity below the church, which is undergoing extensive renovation and conservation.

Theophylaktos later offered the group sweets, short glasses of brandy and small cups of Arabic coffee during the early-morning conversation in his office in the new, 250-year-old wing of the Church of the Nativity. The older part of the church is 500 years old. His office walls were lined with religious icons, as well as an icon symbolizing the 2 million pilgrims who annually visit the church: a flat-screen TV with nine camera views of the shrine. Five church groups had arrived at 5 a.m. that morning to tour the church.

Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Jordan and Patriarchal Commission to Bethlehem Theophylaktos lights candles in St. George’s Chapel at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The archbishop opened the chapel to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and those traveling with him to have Morning Prayer on Holy Wednesday. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

“It is a joy to be with you and to meet you,” Curry told Theophylaktos. “And I bring you greetings from your brothers and sisters in the Episcopal Church. We pray the blessings of the crucified and risen Lord on your ministry.

“We pray for you and for peace and justice in the whole world. We must learn to live as brothers and sisters.”
Curry addressed political realities in the United States, saying “our country is very troubled right now.

“Interestingly enough it is young people and young children who are raising their voices and calling for our country to live in love,” Curry said, adding in an allusion to the setting of the conversation, “it may be that as the Bible says, a little child shall lead them – again.”

Theophylaktos responded, “We must pray.”

Young people at Christ School, a ministry of Christ Church, the Anglican parish in Nazareth, later in the day spoke to the group about their efforts to make peace among Muslim, Jewish and Christian young people. To that end, Jerusalem Peacebuilders, which has roots in the diocese, promotes what it calls “transformational, person-to-person encounters among the young people of Jerusalem, the United States and the Holy Land.” Moreover, it provides them with the opportunities, relationships and skills to become future leaders for peace in the global community.

Jerusalem Peacebuilders also oversees three youth leadership programs in New Haven, Connecticut; Houston, Texas, and Brattleboro, Vermont. Each camp runs two weeks and includes leadership skills, dialogues, guest speakers and a faith-based component. Participants who complete all three years become counselors in the programs to further strengthen and develop their leadership and peace-building knowledge and skills.

The United Thank Offering recently gave the group’s regional director, Jack Karn, a 2018 Young Adult Grant of $2,500 to help fund new in-school leadership and peacebuilding programs in the Galilee area of the Holy Land where Nazareth is located. Karn is from the Diocese of Vermont.

One young Palestinian Arab student told the group that he joined the organization because, as a Muslim, he wanted to build peace.

“I want my country to be back. I want Palestine and I want a solution to all the violence,”  Yousef Hassan said.

Some members of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem’s Jerusalem Peacebuilders talk with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry after their presentation at Christ School, a ministry of Christ Church, the Anglican parish in Nazareth. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

He also said the program has helped him know himself better and become “a calmer person.” Because of all that goes on where he lives, he said, “it’s really hard to be a peaceful person or a calm person. Most people are really aggressive.”

Another Christian student, Ghenwa Abu Ahmad, said the camp experience taught her to see herself in others. “You see how similar you are, despite our differences in appearances or religion,” she said.

At the Church of the Nativity, Theophylaktos spoke of the peaceful relationship between his church and Anglicans, which is long-standing. While the Very Rev. Hosam Naoum, dean of Anglican Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr in Jerusalem, translated for the archbishop, Theophylaktos used English to emphasize his point.

“We have a special love for Anglicans,” Theophylaktos said in English.

“They never hesitate to welcome us,” Naoum said. “When we come here, it is like coming home.”

The dean explained that when Anglicans arrived in the Holy Land in the 1840s, they acknowledged the Greek Orthodox patriarch. To this day, the Anglican religious leader of Jerusalem is referred to as the “Anglican archbishop in Jerusalem” instead of the “Anglican archbishop of Jerusalem,” in deference to the Greek Orthodox leader, Naoum said. When a new Anglican archbishop is enthroned, the patriarch participates in the service to bless him.

Those ecumenical relations extend to the Armenian Orthodox as well, especially during their Holy Week, which this year begins on April 1, the Western Church’s date for Easter. Naoum said the Armenians consider Maundy Thursday to be the climax of Holy Week. As symbol of the relationship, the Armenian leaders invite the Anglican archbishop, currently the Most Rev. Suheil Dawani, to their liturgy that day, vesting him as an Armenian bishop and having him proclaim the Gospel.

During the Western Church’s Holy Week, the Armenians give Anglicans access to the Abraham Chapel in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre for an afternoon Eucharist. That liturgy is not possible this Holy Week because the chapel is part of the church’s extensive renovation project. The church in the Old City enshrines Calvary and the empty tomb.

Naoum said it is a special experience to spend Holy Week where those events took place. “As one of the clergy here puts it, the history of salvation unites with the geography of salvation,” he said. “Those dimensions are important for the people of this place. It is not taken for granted. Those dimensions are real.”

Later at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, Franciscan priest Peter Hughes made the same point as he explained the centuries of ruins that were uncovered as the current church was built in the 1960s, a continuation of centuries of enshrining the grotto where the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary. The excavations have yielded parts of a 1st century building in which some members of what was then a sect of Christ-following Jews worshipped, a later basilica and the church built by the Crusaders.

“The interesting thing in the Holy Land, in terms of our ministry, is to show that [the centuries of] continuous Christian devotion are also supported by physical archeological evidence.”

“They knew something,” Curry agreed. “There’s a reason they were doing it there.”

After Presiding Bishop Michael Curry prayed in the small Grotto of the Nativity shrine at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, a small boy approaches him for a hug. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Naoum said, “the challenge is how much we can keep that sacred” so that the week’s liturgies and other events remain as acts of worship rather than performance.

“It is a gift and we need to keep it holy,” he added.

Still, religious tourism is part of the Holy Land economy, and at Christ School, the group heard from two 10th graders Sham Abuliel and Luna Khoury, and their teacher, Yemen Rock, about an Android app they and eight other students have developed as a mobile guide for pilgrims in Nazareth. They plan to market the app, in part, by selling chocolate bars, called Nazareth Chocolate, whose wrapper will have information about the app. It will also soon be available in the Apple App Store, Rock said.

Curry was in the fifth day of a Holy Week pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Previous ENS coverage of his travels can be found here. Dawani invited Curry to make a Holy Week pilgrimage through the Holy Land.

The presiding bishop is accompanied by the Rev. Charles Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond the Episcopal Church; the Rev. Margaret Rose, Episcopal Church deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations; the Rev. Robert Edmunds, Episcopal Church Middle East partnership officer; and Sharon Jones, Curry’s executive coordinator.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.

Hong Kong confirmed for Anglican Consultative Council’s 17th meeting in spring 2019

Wed, 03/28/2018 - 4:26pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The 17th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, or ACC, will take place in Hong Kong from April 28 to May 5, 2019, it was confirmed March 28. The ACC is one of the Anglican Communion’s four “Instruments of Communion” and the only one that includes laity amongst its number. Through its triennial meetings, the ACC and its standing committee sets the agenda for the international work of the Anglican Communion and the Anglican Communion Office, and it helps to coordinate intra-Communion joint action and programs across a range of issues.

Read the full article here.

Ireland’s proposed abortion law change is unacceptable, archbishops say

Wed, 03/28/2018 - 4:24pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The archbishops of Armagh and Dublin have said that a proposed change to the Republic of Ireland’s abortion law is “not an ethical position we can accept.” They urge church members in the Republic of Ireland to “think through the issues involved carefully and with prayer” before voting on a referendum, set to take place in May, which could ease the country’s constitutional ban on abortions.

Read the full article here.

‘Working like Christ,’ Diocese of Jerusalem tries to heal and teach all who seek help

Wed, 03/28/2018 - 12:49pm

Some of the children enrolled in St. Matthew’s kindergarten in Zababdeh in the West Bank gather around the altar at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church for a photo. Photo: Mary Frances/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – East Jerusalem and the West Bank] The Rev. Saleem Dawani, the vicar of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Zababdeh in the West Bank, describes his parish’s ministry this way: “Here we work like Christ, healing and teaching.”

That sentiment is echoed in all 10 medical missions and 17 educational ministries of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and his group learned March 27 as they visited three of those locations.

The day began at the Jerusalem Princess Basma Center, on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem, which works to empower children with disabilities and their families and help them integrate into the wide society. The center concentrates on physical rehabilitation but also works on certain mental disabilities and tries to empower mothers to aid in their children’s rehabilitation. It is one of the four major rehabilitation centers in Palestine.

Laila Dawani, the 1-year-old daughter of the Rev. Saleem Dawani, vicar of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Zababdeh, looks out from the arms of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry during his visit to the church in the majority-Christian town in the West Bank. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Children from the West Bank and Gaza stay at the center with their mothers for two to three weeks of intensive therapy, while those from Jerusalem come for daily sessions. Mothers become “shadow therapists,” learning how to help their children, and they leave the center with an individual care plan, according to Ibrahim Faltas, general director. The Episcopal Church’s United Thank Offering and the Islamic Development Bank paid for the renovation of the Child Rehabilitation Department.

“We keep them here as little time as possible,” Faltas said, explaining that the center’s goal is to help children return to their communities.

Of the 423 children who were treated last year, only nine came from Gaza. Moreover, children in the West Bank cannot reach the center because of the Israeli government’s separation barrier, as well as the lack of money to cover the travel costs. Thus, a multidisciplinary team from the center visits 15 daycare and smaller rehabilitation centers all over the West Bank about 60 times a year. More than 1,000 children are seen annually. The team also trains local practitioners.

The center also has an autism unit doing pioneering work in multi-sensory and musical therapy, an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder program and vocational training for adults.

The center runs a school for Jerusalem children in kindergarten through grade 12 that includes both abled-bodied students and those with disabilities. The center calls it an “inclusive school” because, while some children receive therapy due to their disabilities, most of the students attend academic classes together. Current enrollment stands at 423, with 164 of those students having some sort of physical, mental or learning disability.

“This is miracle work,” Curry told staff members during his visit.

Ibrahim Faltas, general director of the Jerusalem Princess Basma Center, says the ministry of the Anglican diocese operates despite the political and financial realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

The center performs these miracles while constantly worrying about money. Treatment referrals come from both the Israeli and Palestinian government ministries, and Faltas said neither government pays enough for the cost of the children’s care. The center always has an annual operating deficit before fundraising money comes in, Faltas said, because government reimbursements cover only 70 to 75 percent of the costs. Some programs have been cut or eliminated, and when people complain Faltas said he tells them to “go be upset with those decision-makers.”

Not only are the reimbursement formulas not high enough, but the Palestinian Authority does not have the money to make timely payments, in part because the United States has not made good on its promised money and so the center has a cash-flow deficit of about $1.2 million, he said. That amounts to about four months of operating revenue. Over the years, the diocese has taken on what Faltas called the “heavy burden” of helping cover the financial gap.

“They believe this is very important,” he said. “It would be an ethical challenge to the church to neglect those children. We cannot refuse children for treatment.”

There is a hope, he said, that the center can form enough new partnerships that it can reduce its annual fundraising needs to 15 percent of its budget instead of the current 30 percent.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry prays with a patient at St. Luke’s Hospital in Nablus in the West Bank. The Anglican hospital that dates to 1900 now observes Muslim tradition and maintains one floor for female patients and one for males. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Providing care to all who need it is also part of the mission of St. Luke’s Hospital in Nablus, the largest city in the West Bank.

St. Luke’s connects its original building dating to 1900 with a 53-bed, six-story hospital building with three operating rooms. Cardiac surgery is the only sort of medicine not practiced at the hospital because, according to public relations director Salwa Khoury, a nearby hospital performs that work.

St. Luke’s has a reputation as a major neurosurgery center. So much so that surgeons in 2015 managed to extract a bullet from the spine of a Palestinian man after hospitals in Jerusalem refused to perform the risky operation, she said. The man had been shot three times in the back during the Israeli–Palestinian conflict that erupted in late 2015.

The hospital, which has pre-1900 roots in two tents set up in the area by Church Mission Society members, also has a bustling emergency room and maternity ward. About 600 people come to the ER each month, according to medical director Walid Kerry. Two hundred and eighty babies are born in an average year.

Five babies were born that morning before the presiding bishop arrived, and more were expected that afternoon. As Curry and others gathered outside for a photo at the end of the visit, a group of men swung a car up to the front door and beckoned for workers to come help a pregnant woman.

While the hospital struggles with outdated equipment and other issues, no one is refused care because they cannot pay.

St. Luke’s Hospital medical director Walid Kerry and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry listen to a March 27 briefing about the hospital’s mission and ministry. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

“We are the only hospital that never says no to any patient,” Kerry told Curry. “Of course, we never say no because this is our mission.”

Kerry, who serves on the diocesan standing committee, said he is proud to work at a religious-based institution like St. Luke’s. “We feel that it is ours. It’s our mission here to help people regardless of religion or ability to pay. We don’t look for profit, but on the other hand, we must reach the break-even point.”

Outreach to the surrounding countryside is also part of St. Luke’s mission. It helps pay for the cost of running the Penman Clinic in the space underneath St. Matthew’s in Zababdeh. The clinic draws patients from 14 surrounding villages. “They like to come to our clinic because they see a different kind of care,” Dawani said.

The vicar hopes the clinic, which sees 400 to 500 patients a month, will eventually grow into a hospital. The clinic is part of a lively church that, with 275 members, is bursting at the seams. The diocese has bought land nearby which could become the site of a bigger church and that longed-for hospital. There are many young families in the area and many babies being born. They are attracted to St. Matthew’s, Dawani said, because of its ministry to children, teenagers and youth ages 17 to 22.

Zababdeh’s 6,000 residents are roughly two-thirds Christians and a third Muslim. “We live together in peace,” the vicar said.

Curry was in the fourth day of a Holy Week pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Previous ENS coverage of his travels can be found here.

The presiding bishop is accompanied by the Rev. Charles Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond the Episcopal Church; the Rev. Margaret Rose, Episcopal Church deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations; the Rev. Robert Edmunds, Episcopal Church Middle East partnership officer; and Sharon Jones, Curry’s executive coordinator.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.

 

Archbishop of Canterbury offers to contribute to peace negotiations in Nigeria

Tue, 03/27/2018 - 2:40pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has repeated his offer to contribute to any peace negotiations while violence continues to erupt in some parts of Nigeria.

“I once again exhort President Muhammadu Buhari and other authorities, civil and religious, national and international, urgently to build a coalition to end this violence immediately,” Welby said. “In communications earlier this year with the Primate of All Nigeria, His Grace Nicholas Okoh, I offered to contribute towards such effort to the extent such might be useful. I repeat that offer again, knowing, however, that within Nigeria are all the skills needed for resolution of the suffering of the people.”

Read the full article here.

Melanesian primate calls sexual violence against children ‘a crime against humanity’

Tue, 03/27/2018 - 2:38pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop George Takeli, primate of the Anglican Church of Melanesia, has spoken out after a spate of high-profile cases of sexual violence against girls in the Solomon Islands. The archbishop issued a statement in his role as chairman of the ecumenical Solomon Islands Christian Association.

“We strongly condemn acts of violence in every form, and declared that sexual violence against our children and girls is sin by its painful dishonest exploitation, and a crime against humanity,” he said.

Read the full article here.

Episcopal, Roman Catholic congregations forge bond after church arsons in Los Angeles area

Tue, 03/27/2018 - 2:24pm

The Rev. Robert Gaestel points out fire damage at Church of the Angels in Pasadena, California, after an arsonist struck Jan. 13. Photo: Diocese of Los Angeles

[Episcopal News Service] Two congregations in the Los Angeles area, one Episcopal and the other Roman Catholic, have forged an unexpected bond this year, supporting each other after both were attacked by an arsonist in January.

The Episcopal Church of the Angels in Pasadena was hit early Jan. 13, a Saturday, but the fire and smoke damage was not severe enough to cancel worship services. The fire Jan. 25 at Resurrection Catholic Church, however, severely damaged the worship space, and since then, the congregation in Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights neighborhood has been forced to worship outside under tents while the church is being repaired.

Two months later, the two congregations have found hope all around them. A suspect has been arrested and charged in these and other church arsons in the region. Worshipers at Resurrection aim to move back into their church by Easter. And Church of the Angels recently raised $2,000 for Resurrection at an Evensong service that was attended by the Catholic congregation’s pastor.

The two churches are about 20 minutes apart, but with these newfound connections, they are leaving the door open to future partnerships that would bridge that distance.

“We don’t know where this is going to go, but I would imagine new things could come as a result of this,” said the Rev. Robert Gaestel, rector at Church of the Angels, which has an average Sunday attendance of about 100 people.

Resurrection Catholic Church is much larger, with as many as 800 people attending one of six Masses on Saturdays and Sundays, the Rev. John Moretta said. He was honored to be invited by Gaestel to attend the March 11 Evensong at Church of the Angels.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” Moretta said. “I reminded him that he still prays for the holy catholic church … and that, really, we have a lot in common.”

For both congregations, their churches were spared irreparable damage thanks to the quick work of strangers.

At Church of the Angels, the fire was set in the building overnight, and two men spotted it while they were walking home from nearby nightlife hangouts. They shouted for help, which alerted Gaestel, who lives on church grounds.

Although the fire was extinguished before it could spread, it still caused nearly $250,000 in damage, mostly due to smoke, Gaestel said. Prayer books, four benches and an antique carved wooden angel lectern also were burned. Grafitti was scrawled on an angel sculpture and paving stones outside the church.

But the fire also revealed the connections neighbors feel with Church of the Angels, Gaestel said. Residents who live nearby, even those who aren’t Episcopalians and don’t attend worship services, offered to help with repairs the next day because they saw it as their neighborhood church, he said.

“People who aren’t necessarily connected with us were really concerned about us and were concerned about the building,” Gaestel said, adding that he thinks some of their feelings of connection were spiritual, as well. “Christianity goes a lot deeper in this culture than people realize, and it takes different shapes and forms than what we may think.”

With the neighbors’ help, Church of the Angels’ congregation was able to get the church cleaned up enough to worship inside on Jan. 14, though further renovations are continuing.

Resurrection Catholic Church was not so lucky. The arsonist tossed a flaming object into the church through an open window late at night. The fire was noticed by two men, who were walking to their car after leaving a job around 2 a.m., but by the time they alerted Moretta, the flames had spread and threatened to engulf the structure.

“The firemen told me that if the fire had [burned] two more minutes, we would have lost the whole church,” Moretta said.

Instead, the fire caused about $500,000 in damage. Fire insurance is covering most of the cost of repairs at Resurrection, as is the case at Church of the Angels. The congregations also have been raising money for some upgrades to the churches as part of the repairs and remodeling.

That is how the two pastors initially made contact. After learning about the fire at Resurrection, Gaestel asked the Very Rev. Michael Bamberger of the area’s Episcopal deanery to attend a news conference in Boyle Heights on Gaestel’s behalf and ask if the Catholic church had information to share on contractors. Bamberger reported back that the damage at Resurrection was much more severe than what Church of the Angels sustained.

Gaestel later called Moretta, who invited him to lunch and to visit Resurrection. Church of the Angels had scheduled its Evensong as a sendoff celebration for its longtime choir leader, who was leaving, and after conferring with the choir leader and vestry, Gaestel invited Moretta to attend. He also asked his parishioners for donations to support Resurrection’s rebuilding.

The two pastors have remained in contact. Moretta noted that both have decades of service in their respective congregations.

“He’s been at his parish 35 years. I’ve only been here 34 years,” he said.

Moretta also invited Gaestel and his family to a celebration in late April in honor of Moretta’s 50th year of ordination, and he hopes to have Gaestel back when the Resurrection congregation blesses its restored church, likely in May.

As for the suspect in the arsons, his motive remains unclear. Christian Michael Garcia, 25, was arrested shortly after the arson at Resurrection and has been charged with 20 felonies, including 13 counts of vandalism to religious properties, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“This destruction has no place in Los Angeles,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “Anyone who commits these sorts of hateful acts on our sacred places of worship will be found and will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. We have zero tolerance for arson and vandalism anywhere in Los Angeles, let alone in our sacred spaces.”

A church fire is traumatic enough for a congregation, but Gaestel said that trauma is worsened when the fire is set intentionally.

“We don’t know what his motivation was,” Gaestel said. “Clearly he must be deeply troubled about something. Hopefully he’ll get whatever help he needs.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

‘Living stones’ of Al Ahli Arab Hospital build a ministry of healing, witness in Gaza

Tue, 03/27/2018 - 12:21pm

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry hands a toddler back to her mother while visiting a session for mothers and their young children at Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City. Jerusalem Archbishop Suheil Dawani is at right. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Gaza City] Healing comes in many forms, and Al Ahli Arab Hospital’s medical ministry combines every day with Christian witness to provide the people of the Gaza Strip an example of the love of Christ in action.

That example is set in an area whose Christian population is dwindling. Suhaila Tarazi, the hospital’s director general, estimates there are no more than 900 Christians among Gaza’s 2 million residents. Ten years ago, the number of Christians stood at 3,000 and the total population was some 1.5 million.

Tarazi told Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and his delegation March 26 that the remaining Christians are “the living stones” of Gaza, and so too are institutions like Al Ahli Arab Hospital, which is one of more than 30 social service ministries of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.

“We try through our mission of healing and love to preserve Christianity,” Tarazi said. “We put our Christianity in action. It’s not talking; it’s not preaching. It’s action.”

Just 12 of the Anglican hospital’s 120 employees are Christian, Tarazi said, but all employees work together and learn how to accept one another and love their neighbors. That work is all to further the hospital’s ministry of healing and reconciliation. The hospital ministers to all, irrespective of race, religion or ability to pay.

“The number of Christians in Gaza are decreasing dramatically, but the witness to the way of Jesus is as strong as ever because at Al Ahli Arab Hospital healing happens – Muslim, Christian, anyone who needs it, healing happens,” Curry told Episcopal News Service after his return to Jerusalem. “And that is the way of Jesus. That is what love looks like. That is what the sacrifice on the cross was about.”

A toddler’s mother shows off her child to visitors at Al Ahli Arab Hospital. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Curry and staff members who accompanied him met some of the patients and employees and heard about the services that benefit some 38,000 Gaza Strip residents each year. The hospital offers general surgery, general medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics and emergency care. People are treated without regard to their financial situation, according to Tarazi.

She said the hospital struggles to survive and do the work of Jesus “in the most difficult and gloomy situation.” A drive from the Israeli border to the hospital shows a city where cars swerve around donkey-drawn carts, and some buildings still show the evidence of mortar strikes from previous fighting.

A statue depicting a large bronze-colored fist rises out of the ground in one small clearing. Placards that appeared to praise men whom residents call freedom fighters and Israelis call terrorists are common sights on street corners. Other placards or murals, including one at the Gaza border crossing, seem to warn residents against becoming traitors by cooperating with Israel.

Rubble piles are common, and some children forage in garbage-strewn lots. Forty-four percent of adults are unemployed, and 33 percent of children suffer from undernourishment or malnutrition, Tarazi said. The hospital sees nearly 700 such children ages 6 months to 3 years via a program designed to monitor their health and teach their mothers about nutrition and other health issues.

Drinking water is polluted, as is the air, according to Dr. Maher Ayyad, medical director. Both communicable diseases and non-communicable ones, such as cancer and hypertension, are on the rise. Ayyad said that, as a Palestinian, he does not like to talk about politics but “my belief is that without America there will never be a solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Bringing peace to that area will further peace efforts in the entire Middle East, he said.

“We pray all the time here because, as Christians, we believe in peace. We pray that God will give wisdom to our leaders to have peace in this area.”

Al Ahli Arab Hospital has been ministering as a Christian witness in Gaza City since 1882. The institution was founded by the Church of England’s Church Mission Society and was later run as a medical mission by the Southern Baptist Conference from 1954 to 1982. It then returned to the Anglican Church. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

The hospital’s situation is made more difficult by the restrictions Israel places on Gaza residents, including the movement of medicines and medical supplies, food, fuel and people in and out of the area. Electricity service only works sporadically, and often the hospital must run its 400 kilowatt generator for 16 hours a day. It takes $90 of fuel to power the generator each hour, Tarazi said.

Suhaila Tarazi, Al Ahli Arab Hospital’s director general, and Dr. Maher Ayyad, medical director, explain the ministry of the hospital, and the challenges it faces. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Episcopal Relief & Development helps the hospital with its fuel and food needs.

The hospital is currently struggling in part because of a Trump administration decision in January to withhold $65 million of a $125 million contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA).

The cut means UNRWA will only pay a fourth of what the hospital expected in reimbursement for the care it gives, according to Tarazi.

If money and supplies are always an issue, vision and ambition is not. For instance, the hospital has a program for early detection of breast cancer among women older than 40. The American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and Islamic Relief have helped the hospital obtain a state-of-the-art mammography machine and the equipment needed to read the resulting x-rays. Support also has come from the Australian Anglican Overseas Aid organization.

Education is an important part of the program. That was evident as Curry and his group toured the hospital campus. In a room in the breast-cancer department, hospital employees were teaching a woman in a burka how to do breast self-examination. They were using a rubber device with simulated breasts that fit on the woman’s chest outside of her clothing. There are 800 new breast cancer cases in Gaza each year, Tarazi said.

The breast health education effort is important to increase early diagnosis, according to Tarazi and Ayyad. Otherwise treatment becomes a life-threatening emergency in which time is of the essence. Time moves very slowly in Gaza in those cases. Too often, the combination of aid from the Palestinian Authority and Israeli permission to leave Gaza for treatment cannot be coordinated with available appointments at facilities outside of the area. The Gaza hospital does not have radiation oncology equipment of its own.

Curry’s group, accompanied by Jerusalem Archbishop Suheil Dawani, met a woman who had already had a single mastectomy and now had been told that there was cancer in her other breast. Hospital officials were trying to get her out of Gaza for treatment.

The World Health Organization estimates that only 40 percent of Gazans who need to leave for cancer treatment get permission to do so.

Despite all the difficulties faced by the people of Gaza, Dawani insisted that “we will endure” in order to help that woman and others like her.

Signs in the courtyard of Al Ahli Arab Hospital point patients to various departments. Dr. Maher Ayyad, the hospital’s medical director, says the serene greenery of the courtyard is itself part of the hospital’s ministry. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Al Ahli Arab Hospital is constantly trying to build partnerships around the world to aid its mission. It is in the early stages of an agreement with Texas-based M.D. Anderson Cancer Hospital. The potentially $30 million partnership would bring equipment to the hospital and enable the medical staff to consult electronically with M.D. Anderson doctors on cases. Gaza staff could go through the Texas system for training, as well.

The hospital also has a grant from USAID to build a center for minimally invasive surgery. All staff surgeons will be trained in the technique, and the $900,000 grant will also help purchase the surgical equipment.

Curry was in the third day of a Holy Week pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Previous ENS coverage of his travels can be found here.

The presiding bishop is accompanied by the Rev. Charles Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond the Episcopal Church; the Rev. Margaret Rose, Episcopal Church deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations; the Rev. Robert Edmunds, Episcopal Church Middle East partnership officer; and Sharon Jones, Curry’s executive coordinator.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.

 

 

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