Ecumenical delegation returns from Middle East

 There were warning shots, as the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Rev Michael Langrish, with other representatives from Churches Together in England and Wales, watched yet another Palestinian village being destroyed last week. Standing among ancient uprooted olive trees and ruined homes they witnessed the bulldozers clearing both sides of a road commandeered for the use of a small number of settler families. Speaking as the delegation arrived back in London on Monday, Bishop Langrish said: "Here we were brought face to face with the daily suffering of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip." Representatives of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, the Church of Scotland, the Congregational Federation and Baptist Union, and the United Reform Church took part in the mission. "This is the first high-level visit to the Middle East for twenty years, said Paul Renshaw, CTBI co-ordinating secretary for international affairs. He added that the visit had been a long time in the planning stage in consultation with the Middle East Council of Churches. By working as a whole group, but splitting up at times into smaller units, the delegation was able to visit, in an intensive two-week programme, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel-Palestine. In Israel and the Occupied Territories, they visited Jerusalem, Gaza, Galilee and the West Bank. Ms Gillian Kingston, from the Methodist Church in Ireland said the visit had included conversations with a very wide range of people from government ministers to Hizbola activists, Muslim Grand Muftis and patriarchs of the ancient churches of the Middle East to refugees in Beirut and Amman and development workers among the urban poor in Cairo. "We walked through the squalor of refugee camps and sat in the elegance of bishops' palaces" she said. "We pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and the future of Jerusalem as an open city for two people and three faiths. However our prayers go much wider than Jerusalem, to Damascus, to Cairo and Beni Suef, to Gaza and Galilee, Bethlehem and Hebron. Our prayers need to be matched by the most creative thinking and compassionate acting. We cannot see the Middle East as someone else's problem" We will be publishing the groups' preliminary reflections and further reports on their trip later this week.

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