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Jerusalem’s Christian leaders concerned with increased tension in Old City

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Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — The heads of Jerusalem’s Christian churches expressed “serious concern” over an escalation in tensions in Jerusalem’s Old City as hostilities remained high following the mid-July shooting deaths of two Israeli policemen and three gunmen on the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

Palestinian worshipers protest in Jerusalem July 20 because they refuse to pass through new security measures imposed at the entrance to the Al-Aqsa compound. (CNS photo/Abir Sultan, EPA)

Palestinian worshipers protest in Jerusalem July 20 because they refuse to pass through new security measures imposed at the entrance to the Al-Aqsa compound. (CNS photo/Abir Sultan, EPA)

The church leaders said they were worried that any change to the status quo of the site could “easily lead to serious and unpredictable consequences.”

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, were among the signatories of the July 19 statement.

Police believe the gunmen, three cousins, Arab citizens of Israel who were killed by Israel police, stashed their weapons inside the compound of the holy site for use in the July 14 attack.

“We express … our grief for the loss of human life and strongly condemn any act of violence,” the Christian leaders said. “We are worried about any change to the historical situation in Al-Aqsa Mosque (Haram ash-Sharif) and its courtyard, and in the holy city of Jerusalem. … We value the continued custody of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on Al-Aqsa mosque and the holy places in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, which guarantees the right for all Muslims to free access and worship to Al-Aqsa according to the prevailing status quo.”

Israel, which maintains control to access the site and has set up metal detectors at the entrance of the compound, repeatedly has said it has no intentions of changing the status quo in the area. The Jordanian Waqf Islamic trust administers the inside of the compound. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the site but cannot pray there.

The compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, is also considered a Jewish holy site as the historical location of the two Jewish biblical temples.

Today, Jews pray at the Western Wall, a retaining wall of the platform, below the compound. Visitors to the Western Wall plaza must go through metal detectors to enter the site.

Jerusalem Muslim leaders have called on worshippers not to go through the metal detectors, and Muslims have been converging outside the Old City’s Lion’s Gate for prayers instead.

“We renew our call that the historical status quo governing these sites be fully respected, for the sake of peace and reconciliation to the whole community, and we pray for a just and lasting peace in the whole region and all its people,” the Jerusalem church leaders said.

On July 14, the same day as the attack, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops condemned the incident as a “desecration.” The bishops said they mourned for those killed and deplored “the heightened tensions that such an attack can span.” They noted that the “path to peace, for which both Israelis and Palestinians yearn, cannot be paved with violence.”

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Pope Francis, religious leaders pray for peace at Assisi prayer service

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Catholic News Service

ASSISI, Italy — Jesus’ cry of thirst on the cross is heard today in the cries of innocent victims of war in the world, Pope Francis said.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Pope Francis, an unidentified clergyman and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, England, attend an ecumenical prayer service with other Christian leaders in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. The pope and other religious leaders participated in the service that marked the 30th anniversary of St. John Paul IIís Assisi interfaith peace gathering. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Pope Francis, an unidentified clergyman and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, England, attend an ecumenical prayer service with other Christian leaders in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. The pope and other religious leaders participated in the service that marked the 30th anniversary of St. John Paul IIís Assisi interfaith peace gathering. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Christians are called to contemplate Christ in “the voice of the suffering, the hidden cry of the little innocent ones to whom the light of this world is denied,”” the pope said Sept. 20 at a prayer service in Assisi with other Christian leaders, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury.

Far too often the victims of war “encounter the deafening silence of indifference, the selfishness of those annoyed at being pestered, the coldness of those who silence their cry for help with the same ease with which television channels are changed,” the pope said in his meditation.

The pope arrived in the morning by helicopter and was whisked away to the Sacred Convent near the Basilica of St. Francis.

After arriving in a blue Volkswagen, the pope raised his arms to embrace Patriarch Bartholomew and, together, the two greeted the other religious leaders present. Archbishop Welby, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch and leaders of the Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist communities also welcomed the pope to Assisi.

Several refugees were among those who greeted the pope, including a young Yezidi woman from Iraq’s Sinjar district who survived the August 2014 massacre committed by the Islamic State. “I want to thank you for praying for the Yezidis and your support for acknowledging our genocide,” she told the pope.

“You have suffered a lot. I pray, I will pray for you with all my heart,” the pope said as he placed his hand over his heart.

After having lunch with a dozen refugees and victims of war, Pope Francis and the Christian leaders went to pray in the lower Basilica of St. Francis. Members of other religions went to different locations in Assisi to offer prayers for peace in their own traditions.

During the solemn celebration, prayers were offered for countries where violence and conflicts continue to cause suffering for innocent men, women and children.

One by one, several young men and women placed lit candles in a round stand as an acolyte read the names of each country, including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria and Ukraine.

The prayer service began with a Liturgy of the Word, which included a meditation after each reading.

Reflecting on the first reading from the prophet Isaiah, Archbishop Welby said that the world today “struggles to distinguish between what something costs and what it is worth.”

Despite this, God responds with “infinite love and mercy” and offers to receive from him freely because “in God’s economy we are the poorest of the poor; poorer than ever because we think ourselves rich,” he said.

“Our money and wealth is like the toy money in a children’s game: It may buy goods in our human economies which seem so powerful, but in the economy of God it is worthless. We are only truly rich when we accept mercy from God, through Christ our Savior,” he said.

Christians are called to be rich in God’s mercy by listening to him in the voice of the poor, by partaking in the Eucharist, by coming to him through his mercy.

“We are to be those who enable others to be merciful to those with whom they are in conflict. We are called to be Christ’s voice to the hopeless, calling, ‘come to the waters’ in a world of drought and despair, giving away with lavish generosity what we have received in grace-filled mercy,” Archbishop Welby said.

Patriarch Bartholomew commented on the second reading from the book of Revelation in which God calls “all who are thirsty come: all who want it may have the water of life, and have it free.”

Christians from around the world, he said, answered God’s call in Assisi “to invoke the Lord for the greatest of his gifts, peace, from him, the king of peace.”

Jesus comes to all who thirst for peace, he continued. However, Christians must experience an inner conversion in order to listen to him through “the cry of our neighbor,” to experience a true conversion and to give prophetic witness through fellowship.

“Then we shall offer living water to the thirsty, endless water, water of peace to a peaceless world, water that is prophecy, and all shall listen to Jesus, who will thrice say: ‘Surely I am coming soon,’” Patriarch Bartholomew said.

In his meditation, Pope Francis reflected on Jesus’ words on the cross, “I thirst,” which he said was not only a thirst for water but also for love.

Like St. Francis of Assisi who was upset by the reality that “love is not loved,” the pope said Christians are called to contemplate Christ Crucified in those “who thirst for love.”

He also recalled the example of St. Teresa of Kolkata, who asked that all Missionaries of Charity houses have Jesus’ words, “I thirst,” inscribed in their chapels next to the crucifix.

“Her response was to quench Jesus’ thirst for love on the cross through service to the poorest of the poor,” Pope Francis said. “The Lord’s thirst is indeed quenched by our compassionate love; he is consoled when, in his name, we bend down to another’s suffering.”

In response to Jesus’ thirst, he said, Christians are challenged to hear the cry of the poor, suffering and the innocent victims of war.

Those who “live under the threat of bombs” and are forced to flee from their homes are “the wounded and parched members of his body,” he said. “They thirst.”

However, all too often they are offered only “the bitter vinegar of rejection.”

Pope Francis called on Christians to be “trees of life that absorb the contamination of indifference and restore the pure air of love to the world.”

“From the side of Christ on the cross water flowed, that symbol of the Spirit who gives life so that, from us, his faithful compassion may flow forth for all who thirst today,” the pope said.

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Archbishop of Canterbury: Failure of ecumenism would imprison mercy

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Catholic News Service

ASSISI, Italy — Churches that are not reconciled with one another weaken the experience of mercy that unites believers to God and with each other, Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury said.

By not reconciling with one other, “our worship is diminished and our capacity to grow close together with God

Pope Francis exchanges greetings with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, England, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, as he arrives for an interfaith peace gathering at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. The peace gathering marks the 30th anniversary of the first peace encounter in Assisi in 1986. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis exchanges greetings with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, England, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, as he arrives for an interfaith peace gathering at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. The peace gathering marks the 30th anniversary of the first peace encounter in Assisi in 1986. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

is reduced,” he said Sept. 20 in Assisi during a discussion on ecumenism.

“The failure of ecumenism imprisons mercy and prevents its liberation and its power with one another,” he said.

Speaking before Pope Francis arrived in Assisi for an interreligious peace meeting, Archbishop Welby joined other Christian leaders exploring how love, charity and mercy help foster peace and unity among Christian denominations.

Mercy is the “engine of reconciliation,” Archbishop Welby said, and it is “the source of our capacity for the evangelization of the world in which we live.”

“Mercy begins with the mercy that each of us experiences in the sacrament of reconciliation; the knowledge that we ourselves are accepted,” he said.

Suffering and martyrdom, the archbishop added, also unite Christians and are a visible sign of ecumenism for the world.

“If we do not suffer together, we do not know the meaning of the ecumenism of mercy,” he said. “When they kill us, they do not ask if we are Anglican, Presbyterian, Catholic or Orthodox; we are one in Christ for them. So why are we divided when they are not killing us?”

Echoing Jesus’ prayer “that they may be one so that the world may know that I come from the Father,” Archbishop Welby said that the evangelization of the world “depends on that ecumenism of mercy.”

While they may have theological differences, he said, Christians must learn to “disagree well” and “learn to love one another with good disagreement.”

Evangelization depends on the visible sign of love and unity. If not, churches will be unable “to carry out Jesus’ command to go out into the world,” he said.

“It depends on the world seeing visibly that we belong to one another and that we love one another,” Archbishop Welby said. “Without that, we have nothing to say to a world that is incapable of resolving its own differences.”

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Christian leaders discuss plight of Mideast minorities with Obama

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Eight Eastern Christian leaders spent 40 minutes talking to President Barack Obama about the situation of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East.

U.S. President Barack Obama gestures during a meeting with Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, fourth from left, and other religious leaders at the White House Sept. 11. (CNS photo/Pete Souza, courtesy White House)

U.S. President Barack Obama gestures during a meeting with Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, fourth from left, and other religious leaders at the White House Sept. 11. (CNS photo/Pete Souza, courtesy White House)

“We felt how deeply moved he was by what was happening to the Christians there,” Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite patriarch, said at a Mass later the same day at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church. The Sept. 11 Mass closed the three-day inaugural In Defense of Christians summit. A conference organizer told Catholic News Service an American businessman from the Middle East sent his private jet to transport the Christian leaders to the summit.

The cardinal said each of the leaders from Eastern Catholic and Orthodox rites had a chance to speak individually to Obama, who the White House said “dropped by National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s meeting at the White House.”

Although the White House did not release details of the discussion, throughout the summit the Christian leaders spoke of the threat to Christians and other minorities posed by Islamic State militants, particularly in Iraq and Syria. Several said they were advocating religious freedom, an inherent right. They spoke of the need for local leaders and the international community to become involved in a solution because, as one Orthodox bishop said, “no one can possibly agree to a beheading.”

A White House statement, read out near the end of the In Defense of Christians summit, said Obama reinforced the U.S. commitment to fight Islamic State militants and other groups that threaten the Middle East, as well as American personnel and interests in the region.

“He underscored that the United States will continue to support partners in the region, like the Lebanese Armed Forces, that are working to counter (Islamic State fighters) and promote regional stability. The delegations agreed on the need for all leaders in the region to reject violence and prejudice and call for moderation, tolerance of other views and religions, and an end to sectarian divisions.

“The president emphasized that the United States recognizes the importance of the historic role of Christian communities in the region and of protecting Christians and other religious minorities throughout the Middle East,” the statement said.

The Christian leaders who met with Obama and rice were Cardinal Rai; Catholicos Aram of Cilicia, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church; Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan; Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham; Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II; Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria; retired Chaldean Bishop Ibrahim Ibrahim of St. Thomas the Apostle of Detroit; and Antiochian Orthodox Metropolitan Joseph of New York and All North America.

 

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