As he visited the Holy Land from 14-17 July, World Council of Churches (WCC) acting general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca wanted church leaders to know that their perspective will be heard at the WCC 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany.
Sauca visited Jerusalem and the West Bank, meeting with patriarchs and heads of Christian communities as well as local clergy and laity.
“We were, in these days, an ecumenical family in fellowship in prayers, and we remain united in our commitment that justice for the Palestinians is not lost,” he said. “I heard many expressions of appreciation for the WCC, for all those Christians around the world who have visited, who have spoken out against all human rights violations, and who have been working for justice and peace for this land and its people.”
Sauca shared that local churches in the Holy Land underscored the need for the ecumenical movement to focus on just peace and the plight of the Palestinians. “Statements and resolutions were appreciated but all those we met repeated that the Palestinians are tired and lose hope,” he said. “They want us to continue to address and condemn the military occupation and affirm the legitimacy of Palestinian resistance to injustice and end the occupation.”
Sauca also condemned violence against civilians and reiterated the WCC’s support for nonviolent resistance. “We must insist on the application of international law as it applies to the occupation, to the Palestinian right to resist that occupation, and to all efforts for a negotiated peace settlement,” he said. “We must address the right of Palestinians to self-determination as a sustainable sovereign state, side-by-side with Israel.”
Sauca also shared that WCC has been consistent on its stance and policies on Israel and Palestine, and within those approved policies, the WCC global fellowship advances towards the next WCC assembly. ”The WCC has recognised the State of Israel and its legitimate security needs since its inception in 1948,” noted Sauca. “The council has consistently called for an end to violence, repudiation of all forms of anti-semitism, an end to the illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict there.
After the visit to the Holy Land, Sauca said: ”Antisemitism is condemned in all forms and the WCC calls upon all churches to denounce antisemitism, no matter what its origin, as irreconcilable with the profession and practice of the Christian faith.” Since its first assembly, the WCC has declared that antisemitism is a sin against God and humanity.
Sauca concluded: “Criticism of the policies of the Israeli government is not in itself anti-Jewish.”
Sauca stressed: “Violence in all its forms is condemned, whether perpetrated by the State of Israel inside the Occupied Palestinian Territories or by Palestinian armed groups inside the State of Israel. The conflict cannot be resolved through the use of force but only through peaceful means.”
Sauca met with the following heads of churches and church leaders (listed in alphabetical order): Bishop Ibrahim Azar, Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Holy Land and Jerusalem; Archbishop Husam Naoum, Anglican Church; Bishop William Shomali, Latin Patriarchate; Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III.
The visit also included the Old City in Jerusalem, WCC Jerusalem Liaison Office, Nativity Church in Bethlehem, YMCA in Beit Sahour, and Ramallah. In addition, Sauca participated in the Holy Liturgy in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Sauca was accompanied by delegation members Dr Audeh Quawas, a member of the WCC central committee from the Middle East; Marianne Ejdersten, WCC director of Communication; and Yusef Daher, coordinator of the WCC Jerusalem Liaison Office.
Calls for action toward peace
Sauca’s visit occurred during a time when Christians were relaying their concerns to US President Joseph Biden, who visited the Middle East the same week.
Patriarch Theophilos III stressed in the two meetings with both Biden and with the WCC acting general secretary the need to put an end to the practices of Israeli radical groups that aim to erase the mosaic culture of the Holy City and eliminate its religious and cultural diversity, adding that the Christian heritage in Jerusalem is at risk as a result of the practices of these groups.
The Patriarch of Jerusalem also explained the dangers of Christian migration, especially from Jerusalem, and that maintaining the Christian presence is an important humanitarian and civilization message, adding that protecting the “Status Quo” is a priority for all churches, as it is the case with preserving the Hashemite custodianship over Islamic and Christian holy sites in the Holy Land.