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    ELCA works to provide relief to people internally displaced in Syria

    Posted on June 28, 2013 by karin

    June 26, 2013

    ELCA works to provide relief to people internally displaced in Syria

    CHICAGO (ELCA) — In response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is providing more than $540,000 to the Syriac Orthodox Church to support its outreach to people displaced from their homes but remain in Syria because of the violent conflict. According to news reports, the conflict in Syria has claimed 100,000 lives since the fighting began in 2011.

    Funds from ELCA Lutheran Disaster Response will provide for six-month’s worth of rent for 500 families, health services and supplies for children and infants, and support medical programs and surgeries.

    On a recent trip to Chicago, His Eminence Archbishop Jean Kawak, patriarchal office director of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Damascus, discussed the effects of the fighting on the entire population of Syria, across all sectarian and ethnic divides.

    “It is not only the Christian(s) who are harmed or affected by this situation. I’m scared about the entire Syria, but because we (Christians) are a minority in Syria, the minorities are usually more affected by a civil war or a problem like our Syrian problems,” said Kawak.

    Although more than 1.5 million people have fled Syria and are seeking refuge in neighboring countries, there are an estimated 4.25 million Syrians who are internally displaced. According to the Rev. Robert O. Smith, the ELCA is one of the first churches in North America to provide aid to Syrians internally displaced from their homes.

    “We started exploring what the Syriac church was doing to respond to the situation in Syria and then how the ELCA might be able to accompany them in that work,” said Smith, the ELCA’s area program director for the Middle East and North Africa. “It became apparent that the aid was not getting to the internally-displaced people,” said Smith.

    Lutheran Disaster Responds funds will primarily support Christians in Syria, who have no other source of relief.

    “Christians are the most vulnerable of all the vulnerable populations (in Syria), because they often can’t access the little aid that is available. In order to help the Christian population, the ELCA has to accompany churches in Syria, but the ELCA does not choose to work with only Christians,” said Smith.

    Kawak explained that all communities in Syria are suffering from the violence that is spreading throughout the country, stressing that the church will not turn away anyone who needs assistance.

    “I’m proud to say my nephew in Damascus asked me to help a Muslim family. The family was in a suburb of Damascus where it was attacked and destroyed,” said Kawak. “I told him let them come to me and I gave them money and medicine and many other things. And I’m really proud of him because he asked me to help a Muslim.”

    “You see this is our life. And they tried many times to come and see me and say thank you. I told them you don’t have to thank me. This is my duty and I’m happy to do it. Please come always. We need each other; we need to be together. And we hope that everybody, the extremists from all sides, we need and we pray for them to understand that we have to respect they are human beings because they are human beings.”

    Kawak said, “This is our mission to help everybody. This is an instrument of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He told us to help everybody, regardless his color, his religion, his sect, his ethnic group. We need to do it and we are helping to do it.”

    The ELCA also provides aid to Syrian refugees living in other countries and participates in humanitarian assistance in partnership with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, along with other Lutheran companion churches and partner organizations. Earlier this year, the ELCA provided $100,000 to support the needs of Syrian refugees at the Za’atri refugee camp in Jordan. The funds were sent to The Lutheran World Federation, which helps manage camp operations in cooperation with the Jordanian authorities.

    The federation, which is managing the camp operations, is a global communion of 143 member churches in 79 countries worldwide. The ELCA is the communion’s only member church from the United States.

    Text from ELCA News Service

    Join ELCA leaders and urge Obama to pursue diplomatic solutions in Syria

    Posted on April 23, 2013 by karin

    In a letter to President Obama on April 12, ELCA leaders urged Obama to “take steps to find new avenues toward peace and resolve the war through diplomatic means” in Syria.  In their letter, the ELCA presiding bishop and four synod bishops offered their appreciation for Obama’s chosen “path of restraint,” particularly as the bishops have heard louder calls in recent weeks “for the United States to provide lethal military assistance to the Syrian opposition,” they wrote.

    “The volatility of the conflict in Syria continues to lead to violence, suffering, death and people fleeing for safety,” said the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, in an interview. “Acknowledging the conflict’s complexity should not cause us to silence our voices or refrain from acts of compassion,” said Hanson. “The letter to President Obama calls for restraint in actions by the United States that could escalate the violence and for renewed efforts to find a resolution that will become a foundation for a lasting peace and a Syrian society that experiences justice and reconciliation.”

    Hanson said that through the ELCA’s partnership with The Lutheran World Federation, this church “is aiding Syrian refugees who have fled to Jordan.” The ELCA continues to participate in humanitarian assistance in partnership with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, along with other Lutheran companion churches and partner organizations. According to the United Nations, more than 70,000 people have been killed during the two-year civil war in Syria.

    “We are steadfast in our support of immediate and unhindered access to assistance by all available means for victims of this war,” the bishops wrote in their letter.

    Click here  for the full text of the ELCA leaders’ letter.

    Click here to send your own letter to President Obama.

    Click here to read more about the current humanitarian situation in Syria.

    (text above from ELCA NEWS SERVICE)

    ELCA, other US churches call for examination of aid to Israel

    Posted on October 5, 2012 by Julie Brenton Rowe

    Concerned about the deteriorating conditions in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories and the commitment for a just peace, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and other U.S. Christian leaders are urging Congress to conduct an investigation into possible human rights and weapon violations by the government of Israel.  The US gives Israel about $3 billion in aid annually. From 2009 to 2018, the United States is scheduled to give Israel-the largest recipient of U.S. assistance- $30 billion in military aid.

    In an Oct. 5 letter to Congress, the religious leaders said that through their experience with companions in the region, “we have witnessed the pain and suffering of Israelis as a result of Palestinian
    actions and of Palestinians as a result of Israeli actions. In addition to the horror and loss of life from rocket attacks from Gaza and past suicide bombings, we have witnessed the broad impact that a sense of insecurity and fear has had on Israeli society. We have also witnessed widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinians, including killing of civilians, home demolitions and forced displacement, and restrictions on Palestinian movement, among others. We recognize that each party—Israeli and Palestinian—bears responsibilities for its actions and we therefore continue to stand against all violence regardless of its source.”

    The letter cited possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, which respectively excludes assistance to any country that engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limits the use of U.S. weapons to “internal security” or “legitimate self-defense.”

    The leaders urged Congress “to undertake careful scrutiny to ensure that our aid is not supporting actions by the government of Israel that undermine prospects for peace. We urge Congress to hold hearings to examine Israel’s compliance, and we request regular reporting on compliance and the withholding of military aid for non-compliance.”

    The leaders further said it is unfortunate that “unconditional U.S. military assistance to Israel has contributed to (the) deterioration, sustaining the conflict and undermining the long-term security interests of both Israelis and Palestinians. This is made clear in the most recent 2011 State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices covering Israel and the Occupied Territories, which details widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of U.S.-supplied weapons.”

    Examples of human rights violence related to U.S. military support were included as an annex to the letter and, in addition to specific rights violations, the Christian leaders expressed their concern that Israel continues to expand its settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, claiming territory “that under international law and U.S. policy should belong to a future Palestinian state.”

    “From Palestinian Lutherans, I hear discouragement about the lack of progress and questions about where the voice is of American Christians. Our letter seeks to be a partial answer to such questions, that we are clear in our resolve to continue to work for a just and lasting solution for Israelis and Palestinians,” Hanson said.

    “When as Lutherans we say that all the baptized will strive for justice and peace in all the earth, it means that we will be immersed in complex issues. While we do not all agree on the best way to establish justice and bring peace, we will be involved in lively, respectful, passionate conversations,” said Hanson.


    Read ELCA press release | Read letter

    ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson denounces hate video and violence

    Posted on September 21, 2012 by Julie Brenton Rowe

    In letters to Coptic Orthodox, Islamic and Muslim leaders across the United States, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), denounced the hate video “Innocence of Muslims” and shared his commitment to speak against the violence and hate demonstrations that have erupted in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere.
         In his Sept. 19 letters, Hanson expressed sadness about what has unfolded in recent days, especially the tragic deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and others. He lifted up the importance of standing “shoulder-to-shoulder with people of other faiths” in working for a “world where peace, love and concern for one another may be a reality.”  Read ELCA press release

    ELCA responds to needs of Syrian refugees in Jordan

    Posted on August 24, 2012 by Julie Brenton Rowe

    The ELCA is responding to the growing refugee crisis in Jordan resulting from Syrians fleeing recently-escalated violence in their home country.  A year of brutal violence is believed to have taken over 10,000 lives thus far in Syria with no end in sight.  An estimated 200,000 people have fled to Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey.   

    Jordanian officials recently invited the Rev. Munib A. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and president of The Lutheran World Federation, into the process of addressing the needs of Syrian refugees. Younan has built a strong relationship with the royal family of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and Younan is now helping to identify ways the ELCA and The Lutheran World Federation can deepen their participation in relief efforts.

     ELCA Disaster Response has committed $250,000 to help support The Lutheran World Federation efforts to provide the lodging for 300 families — about 1,400 people — with adequate housing within the refugee camp in Jordan while providing expertise in camp management to ensure people receive health care, food and water. Earlier this year, ELCA Disaster Response allocated $200,000 to provide food, clothing and other materials to support Syrian families and individuals displaced by the conflict.

    Bishop Younan stated:   “I am grateful that, in addition to humanitarian aid organizations, the ELCA was one of the first churches to respond to the needs of the Syrian people, both inside the country and in refugee populations in neighboring countries,” said Younan. “I am grateful for the (ELCA’s) strong accompaniment of my own church, the ELCA’s robust participation in The Lutheran World Federation and for your church’s response to this and other disasters throughout the world.”   Read ELCA news report   |   Go to ELCA’s Disaster Response coverage and donate now   |   Read more on Syria from the BBC    |    Read more about the LWF response

    ELCA/Israeli Consulate meet to discuss Arab spring, recognition of ELCJHL, permits for Mt of Olives Housing Project

    Posted on March 4, 2012 by Julie Brenton Rowe

    The seal of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.

    Representatives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and The Consulate General of Israel to the Midwest, both based here, met Feb. 29 to discuss one another’s understanding of the “Arab Spring” developments, especially concerns for minority religious groups in the Middle East, and the official Israeli-government position regarding the situation in Syria.

    The request for the meeting came from Bahij Mansour, who directs the inter-religious affairs division of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mansour is the former Israeli ambassador to Angola and will soon become ambassador to Nigeria.

    They also discussed recognition of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and the issuance of permits for the Mt. of Olives Housing project, a key initiative by the Lutheran World Federation, the ELCJHL, the ELCA and other international partners to build 84 affordable housing units in East Jerusalem.

    “The urgency of this meeting is that we believe that the government of Israel should give formal recognition to the ELCJHL” the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, said in an interview.      He said the recognition would be “a tangible sign of Israel’s concern for and commitment to religious minorities, because Christians are a numerical minority among Palestinian people.”

    “I felt it was very important today to hold the government of Israel to the promise made to the Rev. Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, and to me when I served as president of The Lutheran World Federation. That recognition has not happened and is of deep concern,” said Hanson.

    Mansour responded that he was supportive of the request for recognition, but that complex relationships within the present coalition government of Israel were delaying the request.

    Hanson also cited that the Israeli government has yet to grant necessary permits to support the Mount of Olives Housing Project — an effort to build affordable homes on Lutheran World Federation-owned property on the Mount of Olives. Homes would be leased to Palestinian families and individuals, many of them Christians, which would enable them to maintain their Jerusalem residency and keep the right to work, live and move freely within the city.      Hanson said the granting of the housing permits can “become a concrete sign that even seemingly small steps can contribute towards a movement for peace.”

    Read full ELCA news story



    Bishop Hanson and other faith leaders visit White House officials to urge action on Israel and Palestine peace

    Posted on November 12, 2011 by Julie Brenton Rowe

    The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, and other ecumenical faith leaders met with White House officials to express urgency and encourage action on the situation in Israel and Palestine.   According to Hanson, continued meetings with the Obama administration are “a priority because of our commitment to our companions in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. It is also carried out in the commitment we have made in the ELCA’s Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine.

    “As we began our conversation with Mr. Ross, I expressed disappointment. We hear our Christian partners in the region question the United States’ commitment. They wonder why the U.S. has not been more vocal about the increased settlement construction. I told Mr. Ross that we repeatedly hear Palestinian churches say they see this as a moment of abdication by the U.S. administration.”

    Hanson said afterwards that, “More progress must be made toward the goal of a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine. Since our meeting a year ago, the prospects for peace seem to have diminished with the expansion of settlements and the absence of face-to-face negotiations.”

    According to a Nov. 10 news release from Churches for Middle East Peace, the church leaders who attended the Nov. 8 meeting said they are disappointed with developments since their 2010 meeting at the White House. 

    “The position of the Palestinian Christian community is precarious,” stated the release. “There are constant problems of obtaining visas for clergy who must travel outside Jerusalem and the West Bank. Restriction on movement between Bethlehem and Jerusalem is a problem that undermines Christian life. Church leaders are humiliated at check points.”

    Ecumenical leaders at this year’s White House meeting included Hanson; Katharine Jefferts Shori, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church; Denis James Madden, auxiliary bishop of Baltimore and chairman-elect of the Committee for Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Neil Irons, executive secretary of the Methodist Council of Bishops; and Sara Lisherness, director of compassion, peace and justice for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).
    The meeting was arranged by Churches for Middle East Peace, a coalition of 24 national church denominations and organizations working to encourage U.S. government policies that promote a just and lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    Read full ELCA story

    Bishop Hanson to Obama: Don’t block Palestinian Statehood

    Posted on September 23, 2011 by Julie Brenton Rowe

    In a letter today, the Rev. Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, urged President Obama not to block the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN.  US officials have vowed to use the US veto power to block the Palestinian initiative asking for full member status at the UN.  In preparation for a meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that a settlement freeze, one of the Palestinian demands for renewing negotiations, would not happen.  The Heads of Churches in Jerusalem recently issued a statement calling for two states having justice, peace and security, a shared Jerusalem and renewed negotiations to those ends.  They also urged restraint on both sides in anticipated protests after the bid is introduced.

    Read Haaretz Article  | See more resources at Churches for Middle East Peace website

    BBC Q and A about Palestinian statehood

    ELCA Bishop Calls For ‘Solemn Remembrance’ in Response to Bin Laden Death

    Posted on May 4, 2011 by Matthew Ley

    In a May 2 statement  to ELCA members, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson urged remembrance of those who have died because of Bin Laden’s choices “of hatred and violence” and those who continue to mourn their loss.  He also reminded us of our Easter focus on God’s new life, love of neighbor and the restoration of human community as the Christian vocation in life.  Here is the full text of the statement:

    Sisters and brothers in Christ,

    The death of Osama bin Laden is an occasion for solemn remembrance. We remember the lives of all whose deaths resulted from his choosing hatred and violence. We stand with those who continue to mourn the death of loved ones while giving thanks for their lives, their love and their faith. We also continue to hold in prayer all whose service in the military, in government and in humanitarian and peacemaking activities contribute to a safer and more prosperous world.

    At the same time we also recall who we are: people baptized into Christ, freed to serve our neighbors. We are people called as Christ’s ambassadors of reconciliation with our neighbors, serving God’s work of restoring community. We engage our neighbors of other faiths, including our Muslim neighbors near and far, in respectful, searching dialogue and shared commitment to build a world that reflects God’s will for peace with justice. We pray for our neighbors, even those who are our enemies.

    Most of all, in these 50 days of celebrating Christ’s resurrection, joy finds its fullest and deepest expression not over a human death but in God’s promise to unite all things in heaven and on earth, to reconcile the human family and to bring God’s reign of peace. Confident in what God has promised, we witness our resolve against any act of violence in the name of religion and our renewed commitment of service to the neighbors and world God so deeply loves.

    In God’s grace,

    Mark S. Hanson

    Questions: What impact do you see this situation having on the situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and within the wider region of the Middle East? How will it affect the United State’s role and image in the peace process?

    ELCA Presiding Bishop Joins Interfaith Call for Middle East Peace

    Posted on April 21, 2011 by Julie Brenton Rowe

    The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and 32 Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders, said in a letter that a new peace initiative by former Israeli government, intelligence and security officials offers a useful sign for Middle East peace. The leaders, writing as the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East (NILI), sent the letter to President Obama April 14.

    Speaking of the latest Israeli initiative, as well as the Arab Peace Initiative and the Geneva Accord, the leaders said:  “The main elements of these peace initiatives reflect years of official and informal, unofficial negotiations,” the religious leaders wrote. They wrote that “the peace initiatives include creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, based on the 1967 borders with possible limited land swaps as mutually agreed; a fair negotiated resolution of the issue of refugees that does not threaten the demography of Israel; the sharing of Jerusalem by Israel and the Palestinian state with both having their capitals in the city; and Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights as part of a peace agreement with Syria.”

    NILI is an initiative composed of a broad range of Jewish, Christian and Muslim national organizations in support of a common, substantive message for Middle East peace.  It’s focus is on building support for strong U.S. leadership for a two-state solution to the conflict that brings security and recognition to Israel and establishes a viable and independent state for the Palestinians—two states living side by side in peace and security—with peace agreements between Israel and all her Arab neighbors.