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Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Washington: Jewish, Christian, Muslim leaders pledge to work for peace in Holy Land
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 Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders, members of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, were in Washington last week to meet with their American counterparts and US lawmakers to express their shared commitment to work for peace. In a public statement (included in full below along with a list of the Council members) the clerics pledged to "find the right way to live together in peace" and promised cooperation related to the Holy Sites that "respects their integrity and independence and avoids any act of desecration, aggression or harm." On the issue of Jerusalem the leaders said they will "work to secure open access to the Old City for all communities, and seek a common vision for this city which all of us regard as holy." The initiative was funded by a grant from the US Agency of International Development and is based on the efforts of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to foster new and creative ways to build trust and strengthen respect among communities in the region. Cardinal McCarrick and Amb. Tony Hall were instrumental in arranging their visit and meetings. The Council members met with Sec Rice when she was in the region in October, and during their visit to Washington with C David Welch, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs as well as members of the US Senate and House of Representatives. Churches for Middle East Peace board and staff attended a reception with the Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders from the Holy Land. Also last week, the US National Interreligious Leadership Initiative (NILI) released a letter to Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns ahead of their meeting on November 9. This was the fourth in a series of State Department meeting for the group this year. Among the 36 religious leaders endorsing the letter are: Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Archdiocese of Washington; Most Rev. William Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore; Most Rev. William Skylstad, President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops; Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Church; Archbishop Khajag Barsamian of the Armenian Orthodox Church; Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, ELCA; Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Episcopal Church; John H. Thomas, President, United Church of Christ; Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); The Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, State Clerk, PCUSA; Bishop Ann B. Sherer, United Methodist Church; The Rev. Michael Livingston, President, National Council of Churches. Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land Communiqué This is a public statement from the Heads of Communities and Institutions of the three monotheistic religions in the Holy Land released on November 7th during several days of meetings in Washington, DC. All of us believe in one Creator and Guide of the Universe. We believe that the essence of religion is to worship Him and respect the life and dignity of all human beings, regardless of religion, nationality and gender. We accordingly commit ourselves to using our positions of leadership, and the influence of our good offices, to advance these sacred values, to prevent religion from being used as a source of conflict, and instead serve the goals of just and comprehensive peace and reconciliation. Our respective Holy Places have become a major element in our conflict. We lament that this is the case, as our respective attachments to our holy places should not be a cause of bloodshed, let alone be sites of violence or other expressions of hatred. Holy places must remain dedicated to prayer and worship only, places where believers have free access and put themselves in the presence of the Creator. Holy places are there for believers to draw inspiration to strengthen their acceptance and love of Almighty and all His creatures, from all religions and all nationalities. Accordingly each religious community should treat the Holy Sites of the other faiths in a manner that respects their integrity and independence and avoids any act of desecration, aggression or harm. We, believers from three religions, have been placed in this land, Jews, Christians and Muslims. It is our responsibility to find the right way to live together in peace rather than to fight and kill one other. Palestinians yearn for the end to occupation and for what they see as their inalienable rights. Israelis long for the day when they can live in personal and national security. Together we must find ways of reaching these goals. Towards these ends we are actively working to: 1. Establish "hot line" procedures of rapid communication among ourselves in order to address and advise government officials regarding issues of protection of and access to Holy Sites before such issues become cause for conflict. 2. Establish mechanisms to monitor media for derogatory representations of any religion, and issue statements in response to such representations. 3. Together reflect on the future of Jerusalem, support the designation of the Old City of Jerusalem as a World Heritage Site, work to secure open access to the Old City for all communities, and seek a common vision for this city which all of us regard as holy. 4. Promote education for mutual respect and acceptance in schools and in the media. We will sponsor a conference for Israeli and Palestinian educators, academics and Ministers of Education on "The Role of Religion in Educating for Peace: Principles and Practices." 5. Demonstrate through our relations that differences can and should be addressed through dialogue rather than through violence, and strive to bring this message to our respective communities and political leaders that they may embrace this approach accordingly. 6. Provide ongoing consultation to our government leaders, and through the example of our work together remind them that the interests of one community can only be served by also respecting and valuing the humanity and interests of all other communities. Jewish Council members include Rabbi Shlomo Amar - Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yonah Metzger - Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen - Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Rabbi David Rosen and Oded Wiener -- Director General of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Christian Council members include Patriarch Theophilos III - Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, Patriarch Michel Sabah, - Latin Patriarchate, Bishop Suheil Dawani - The Anglican Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, Bishop Munib Younan - Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Holy Land and Jordan. Muslim Council members include Shaykh Tayseer Rajab Hamed Bayoud Tamimi - Supreme Judge of the Sharia Courts in the Palestine Department, Sheik Jamal Bawatnah - Minister of Awqaf, Salah Zuhayka - Assistant Secretary of the Waqf, Sheikh Hatem Hilmi Bakri and Sheikh Abdel Salam Mraish.
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