British and Irish churches have sent a major ecumenical delegation on a two-week journey to the Middle East. Fr Frank Turner, assistant general secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference committee for international affairs is one of the members of the twelve-strong group which left on Saturday. They plan to meet government and diplomatic representatives, church leaders, civil society organisations, visit development projects and learn about the daily lives and worship of ordinary people in Israel-Palestine and neighbouring countries. Paul Renshaw, secretary for international affairs for Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, (CTBI) who are organising the visit, said: "This journey is a rare event - the first such wide-ranging national ecumenical visit to the Middle East in 20 years. It is at a politically significant moment, one which poses great challenges to people of all faiths in the region. "The programme has been developed in close cooperation with the Middle East Council for Churches (MECC). In an environment which is as politically difficult and religiously sensitive as the Middle East we know how much MECC values this opportunity to deepen ecumenical relationships," he said. During the first week one group will visit Lebanon and Syria, and another will go to Egypt and Jordan before uniting in Amman and travelling by road to Jerusalem. In Damascus at the Abu Nour Mosque, the Very Rev Dr Robert Davidson (past Moderator of the Church of Scotland) will deliver a homily on behalf of CTBI. In Lebanon the group will visit Palestinian refugee camps with Mrs Sylvia Haddad. director of the Joint Christian Committee for Social Work in the Lebanon, They will meet church leaders including His Holiness Aram I of the Armenian Apostolic Church who is Moderator of the World Council of Churches Central Committee. In Egypt the group will meet His Holiness Pope Shenouda III and leaders of the Evangelical, Episcopal and Coptic Catholic communities and will visit projects in Cairo and Beni Suef. In Jordan the group will hear about MECC's involvement in relief work in Iraq and visit a camp for Palestinian refugees where ecumenical support programmes have been working for a long time. In Israel-Palestine the whole party will meet with Jerusalem's Christian leaders, Muslim and Jewish representatives, the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority. They will then divide to visit Gaza, Galilee and the West bank, depending on the situation on the ground at the time. The delegates are: the Very Rev Robert Davidson, Church of Scotland; Rev Frederick George, Baptist Union; Rev Christopher Gillham, Congregational Federation; Ms Esther Hookway, Greek Orthodox Church; Mrs Gillian Kingston, Methodist Church in Ireland; Rt Rev Michael Langrish, Church of England; Rev Sigrid Marten, Church of Scotland; Dr Charles Reed, Church of England; Paul Renshaw CTBI; Rev Hywel Wyn Richards, Union of Welsh Independents; Rev Dr Frank Turner, Catholic Bishops' Conference; Rev John Waller, United Reformed Church. Mr Renshaw said:: "CTBI churches have been actively monitoring the Arab-Israeli conflict for many years within the evolving political and economic context of the Middle East. The group carries with it a keen awareness of the longstanding British political interest and influence in the area and will be attempting to refresh its appreciation of local perceptions of possible future roles for Britain and Ireland and the European Union in the quest for peace and justice in the Middle East.
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