By Daniel J. Lehmann
The final day of a trip to the Middle East by North American Lutheran bishops ended with a flurry of activity, with most clergy visiting West Bank schools while a smaller delegation made contact with political and government leaders.
ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson and National Bishop Susan C. Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada held visits on Tuesday with the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister, president and Jerusalem mayor’s offices, as well as the Islamic Supreme Court and the Russian Orthodox Church.
Prime Minister Salam Fayad told the group the Palestinian people “are tortured by decades of occupation” and that he’d like to “see you do more” to help. He committed to keeping Jerusalem a shared city, open to Jews, Christians and Muslims.
First, though, “justice must prevail. . . Violence must stop,” Fayad said.
From there the ELCA and ELCIC leaders drove across the West Bank city of Ramallah to meet with representatives of the office of the president. Rafiq Husseini, chief of staff, said he believed Palestinian Christians were being targeted by Israel to leave the West Bank.
Once Christians, who at one time made up 22 percent of the population but now total no more 1.5 percent, are gone, Husseini said he fears the West will lose interest in the then-Muslim country.
At the Islamic Supreme Court, Chief Judge Tayseer al-Tamimi lauded the Lutheran bishops for coming to the West Bank.
“Rarely do we find an international person like you” promoting the welfare of Palestinians, al-Tamimi said of Hanson, who is also president of the Lutheran World Federation.
The bishops were in the Middle East for a week in an effort to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace.
Later, they met with a deputy mayor of Jerusalem to promote a housing project at Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives that is being developed by the LWF.
The delegation also met with Russian Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III. They paid their respects for the Dec. 5, 2008, death of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II.
And as the day ended, leaders laid a wreath at the grave of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He was instrumental in the Oslo Accord that led to limited Palestinian rule in the West Bank and Israel. On Monday, the group had place a wreath at the tomb of the other signatory to the accord, Yasser Arafat.