Churches provide 'voice for the voiceless' in Middle East

 The ever-increasing spiral of violence in Israel-Palestine concerned more than 300 representatives from member churches gathered by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland this week at Swanwick, for an Assembly, In Search of Holy Ground. Together they agreed to be the "voice of the voiceless" and to send a letter of support to Christians in the Holy Land. The letter was signed by CTBI's presidents at the end of the Assembly, which had set out to take an honest look at the way people today think; at the reality of the churches; and at how churches can together build bridges with Christian integrity. The Assembly heard from the Rev Fred George, minister of a Baptist church in north London and President (1998 of the Baptist Union of Great Britain). He was one of an ecumenical delegation sent by CTBI to travel for two weeks in March 2001 in Lebanon and Syria, Egypt and Jordan as well as Israel-Palestine. "The church leaders told us they felt isolated," he said. "We must urge our churches to lobby and be the voice of the voiceless in Israel-Palestine." The letter was addressed to:- General Secretary, Middle East Council of Churches Heads of Churches, Jerusalem Other church and ecumenical contacts in the Middle East The text was as follows: Dear Brothers and Sisters, Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are writing as Presidents of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland at the request of more than 300 delegates from 33 member churches meeting at Swanwick, Derbyshire, 26 February to 1 March 2002. It is now eleven months since an ecumenical delegation from Britain and Ireland paid a significant visit to the Middle East through a two-week programme developed in cooperation with Middle East Council of Churches and other church contacts in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Israel-Palestine. We want you to know of our deepening prayers for the peoples of the region, particularly those suffering the violence of occupation and terror in Israel-Palestine and the effects of sanctions and repression in Iraq. We want also to assure you of the continuing endeavours of member churches and associated agencies to work for peace and justice in the region through development aid and the promotion of human rights, and political advocacy directed towards the British and Irish Governments and the European Union. In relation to the Israel-Palestine crisis we seek to do this in growing cooperation with the international ecumenical family as it focuses on the call for the Israeli government to "end the occupation". The Middle East has unique gifts to offer by virtue of being the cradle of the three Abrahamic faiths. In an increasingly plural world people of different religions mingle as never before. We are conscious of our need, as British and Irish Christians, to become ever more familiar with the significance of your own experiences in exploring the encounter between people of different faiths, and look forward to finding ways of doing so in the days to come. Yours sincerely, Signed The Rt Rev Mario Conti (Archbishop of Glasgow, Roman Catholic Church in Scotland) The Rt Rev John Neill (Bishop of Cashel, Church of Ireland) The Rt Rev Barry Rogerson (Bishop of Bristol Church of England)

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