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Las asociaciones traerán una paz duradera a Tierra Santa, dicen líderes religiosos

ENS Headlines - Monday, February 9, 2015

Miembros de la peregrinación interreligiosa visitan el Duomo de la Roca y la mezquita de Al-Aqsa, el tercer sitio más sagrado del islam. Foto de Matthew Davies/ENS.

[Episcopal News Service] La asociación y la inversión económica, especialmente en apoyo de obras de base de carácter religioso, son la clave de una paz duradera en Israel y los Territorios Palestinos, escuchó decir en repetidas ocasiones una delegación interconfesional de Estados Unidos a líderes religiosos con los que se reunió durante una peregrinación a Tierra Santa entre el 18 y el 26 de enero.

La delegación de 15 miembros, integrada por judíos, cristianos y musulmanes de EE.UU., encontró que este era el mensaje constante en todas sus conversaciones, ya fuera con rabinos, con cadíes (jueces islámicos), con sacerdote y con obispos.

El cadí Iyad Zahalka, presidente de los tribunales de Sharía en Jerusalén, le dijo a la delegación que era a través de estas asociaciones “que lograremos un entendimiento entre todas las comunidades. Este tipo de actuación para juntar a judíos, cristianos y musulmanes está motivando a la gente aquí a participar más en esta clase de diálogo”.

Zahalka dijo que los políticos firman acuerdos diplomáticos, “no así los religiosos. Pero nuestra labor es preparar a las personas para ese momento, para aceptar el proceso de paz, para participar en el proceso de paz, para alentar a nuestros líderes. Luchamos por crear la dinámica de la paz, que es mucho más importante que firmar acuerdos”.

Kadi Iyad Zahalka (izquierda), que preside los tribunales de Sharía en Jerusalén, con el obispo Prince Singh de la Diócesis episcopal de Rochester. Foto de Matthew Davies/ENS.

Pero él reconoció el extremismo de ambas partes, tales como el reciente apuñalamiento de 11 personas por un palestino en un autobús en el centro de Tel Aviv y el incendio de una escuela árabe-judía por radicales judíos.

“Estos desafíos deben alentarnos a hacer más a favor del diálogo y la coexistencia a fin de prevenir el sufrimiento”, dijo Zahalka al grupo interreligioso hacia el fin de su semana de peregrinación. “Es muy importante para nosotros hacer eso y es muy importante que otros nos apoyen en el proceso del diálogo”.

El rabino Ron Kronish, director del Consejo de Coordinación Interreligiosa de Israel, trabaja estrechamente con Zahalka en promover el diálogo y la paz, especialmente entre las religiones.

Kronish habló acerca de las complejidades de identidad que existen a través de Israel y la Cisjordania que con frecuencia causa confusión cuando se abordan los problemas de la paz.

Hay palestinos que viven en Cisjordania, y judíos que viven en Israel; pero también hay árabes israelíes, es decir árabes palestinos con ciudadanía israelí”, apuntó el. “Su objetivo no es luchar contra la ocupación cada minuto, su objetivo es la integración en la sociedad israelí aunque tengan varias relaciones con los palestinos en Jerusalén Oriental, Cisjordania y Gaza”.

La peregrinación interreligiosa se creó en respuesta a la Resolución B019 de la Convención General de la Iglesia Episcopal, aprobada en 2012, que pedía inversión y participación positivas en la región y recomendaba que la obispa primada Katharine Jefferts Schori creara una peregrinación interreligiosa modelo que experimentara múltiples narrativas.

Comprometido a profundizar su propia asociación, los miembros del grupo interconfesional compartieron mutuamente sus tradiciones religiosas, incluidos los oficios en la catedral anglicana en Jerusalén Oriental, en una sinagoga judía en Jerusalén Occidental y, cosa rara, una visita privada al Duomo de la Roca y a la mezquita de Al-Aqsa, el tercer sitio más santo del islam, que normalmente está estrictamente vedado a los no musulmanes.

Miembros de la peregrinación interreligiosa visitan el Duomo de la Roca y la mezquita de Al-Aqsa. Foto de Matthew Davies/ENS

El grupo —dirigido por Jefferts Schori; el rabino Steve Gutow, presidente del Consejo Judío para las Relaciones Públicas; y Sayyid Syeed, director nacional de alianzas interreligiosas y comunitarias de la Sociedad Islámica de América del Norte— fue recibido, en el oficio del domingo por la mañana en la catedral anglicana de San Jorge [St. George’s Anglican Cathedral] en Jerusalén Oriental, por su deán, el Muy Rdo. Hosam Naoum, y por el arzobispo Suheil Dawani de la Diócesis Episcopal de Jerusalén. Jefferts Schori predicó durante el oficio.

Peregrinos interreligiosos participan del oficio, en la mañana del domingo, en el oficio de la catedral anglicana de San Jorge en Jerusalén. Foto de Matthew Davies/ENS.

Las diócesis y los individuos de la Iglesia Episcopal en EE.UU. han mantenido una larga asociación con la diócesis de Jerusalén y continúan apoyando el ministerio de sus más de 30 instituciones de servicio social a través de Israel, Jordania, Líbano, Siria y los Territorios Palestinos. Las instituciones incluyen escuelas, hospitales, clínicas y centros para personas con discapacidades y sirven a los necesitados, independientemente de su filiación religiosa.

La diócesis y las instituciones también reciben ayuda de los Amigos Americanos de la Diócesis Episcopal de Jerusalén, una organización sin fines de lucro fundada en 1985.

La obispa primada Katharine Jefferts Schori y el arzobispo Suheil Dawani, de la Diócesis Episcopal de Jerusalén, conversan a la entrada de la catedral de San Jorge, Jerusalén, luego del oficio en árabe del 25 de enero. Foto de Matthew Davies/ENS.

Dawani le dijo al grupo interconfesional, después del oficio, que la religión debe ser parte de la solución y no parte del problema. “Tenemos una responsabilidad como líderes, y tenemos el deber de facilitar y propiciar la coexistencia entre todas las comunidades”, afirmó. “Como centro de las tres religiones abrahámicas, oramos porque Jerusalén sea un modelo para la paz futura de todo el mundo”.

Una fuente de mayor preocupación para la Diócesis de Jerusalén son los muchos cristianos, tanto palestinos como judíos, que se están yendo de Tierra Santa en busca de mejores oportunidades en el extranjero.

Dawani ha dicho que “la inversión es algo que todos necesitamos aquí en las privaciones y la difícil situación económica. La inversión realmente alentará a la gente no sólo a quedarse, sino a sentir que pueden ocuparse de sus familias y del futuro de sus hijos.

En respuesta a tales llamados de los asociados de la Iglesia Episcopal en Tierra Santa, así como a la Resolución B019, la Sociedad Misionera Nacional y Extranjera [DFMS] invirtió $500.000 en el Banco de Palestina en 2013 al objeto de propiciar el desarrollo económico en los Territorios Palestinos. El Consejo Ejecutivo de la Iglesia Episcopal respaldó recientemente la expansión de esa inversión y encomendó el asunto al comité de préstamos de justicia económica para su estudio.

El arzobispo Suheil Dawani de la Diócesis Episcopal de Jerusalén, y la obispa primada de la Iglesia Episcopal Katharine Jefferts Schori se reúnen con Su Beatitud Teófilo III, patriarca de Jerusalén y de Toda Palestina. Foto de Matthew Davies/ENS.

Luego del oficio, Dawani acompañó al grupo a una visita a Su Beatitud Teófilo III, patriarca de Jerusalén y de Toda Palestina, quien dijo que la presencia [del grupo] en Tierra Santa aporta “gran aliento y apoyo a su pueblo”. El Patriarca es el máximo líder de los cristianos grecoortodoxos en Tierra Santa, y representa la más larga presencia histórica de cualquier institución religiosa en la Jerusalén actual.

“No es una tarea fácil contar con una voz unificada como judíos, musulmanes y cristianos”, dijo él. “Reunir a la gente y trabajar por la reconciliación, esto es lo que intentamos hacer. La gente aquí usa la palara ‘tolerancia’, que es totalmente inaceptable. Debemos hablar de inclusión”.

El Patriarca habló sobre la tierra que está relacionada con las historias sagradas de las tres religiones abrahámicas y del conflicto y los malentendidos que ha causado. “¿Cómo podemos convencer a nuestra gente —judíos, cristianos y musulmanes— que tenemos un enfoque diferente de la historia sagrada?, preguntó. “La letra mata, pero el espíritu de la letra, vivifica. ¿Cómo podemos transmitir este mensaje a los políticos, a los diplomáticos?… No entienden lo que significa la historia sagrada”.

“El problema es que la gente aquí entiende la tierra en términos escatológicos”, añadió, “[pero] servimos a una naturaleza humana común y a un destino común… Esto es lo que tenemos que tener en mente si queremos creer que somos realmente pueblo de Dios… Esta tierra es totalmente santa, y nosotros compartimos esta tierra, todos nosotros”.

Syeed le respondió al patriarca diciéndole que sus palabras eran “reconfortantes, inspiradoras y consoladoras… Esta es la tierra del manná y del salwá”, la palabra hebrea y árabe para llamar al alimento que Dios le proporcionó a los israelitas durante su travesía por el desierto.

Su Beatitud Teófilo III, patriarca de Jerusalén y de Toda Palestina, pasa para una foto con la delegación interreligiosa y los líderes anglicanos en Tierra Santa. Foto de Matthew Davies/ENS.

Dos días antes, el grupo asistió al culto de la sinagoga en la noche del viernes en Kol Haneshamah, un centro del judaísmo progresista en Jerusalén Occidental. Después del culto, los invitaron a participar en la cena del sabat en casa del rabino Levi Weiman-Kelman, rabino de 10 generaciones, cuya congregación está comprometida con la justicia social y que a menudo dirige manifestaciones pacíficas contra la violencia, incluso en el caso de un ataque contra una mezquita, una sinagoga o una iglesia.

El rabino Levi Weiman-Kelman (de pie) les da la bienvenida a su casa a los peregrinos interreligiosos que van a participar de la cena del sabat. De izquierda a derecha, el rabino Steve Gutow, presidente del Consejo Judío para las Relaciones Públicas; Sayyid Syeed, director nacional de alianzas interreligiosas y comunitarias de la Sociedad Islámica de América del Norte; y la obispa primada de la Iglesia Episcopal Katharine Jefferts Schori. Foto de Matthew Davies/ENS.

Weiman-Kelman compartió una interpretación de la Midrash judía del Génesis que ilustra como la formación del nombre Jerusalén se logró a través de un acuerdo y de consideración hacia el otro.

Debido a sus propios encuentros con Dios, Abraham llamó al lugar Yireh, y Sem lo llamó Shalem. Según la escritura hebrea, “el Bendito dijo: Si la llamo Yireh como la llamó Abraham, Sem, que es un hombre justo, se enojará. Si la llamo Shalem como Sem la llamó, Abraham, un hombre justo, se enojará. Por tanto, llamo a este lugar como ellos dos lo llamaron Yireh-Shalem, Yeru-shalayim, Jerusalén”.

Luego de la reflexión de Kelman, Jefferts Schori dijo que ella se sentía estimulada por los puentes que se habían tendido durante la semana de peregrinación y que eso le recordaba la historia de la creación, la relación entre la luz y las tinieblas, entre la tierra y el cielo. “Al principio todo parece división”, dijo ella, “pero es una buena lección de la importancia de la interconexión”.

A principios de la semana, el rabino David Rosen, director internacional de asuntos interreligiosos del Comité Judío Americano, con sede en Jerusalén, habló sobre una nueva era de relaciones interreligiosas en tierra Santa, la cual encuentra a los líderes religiosos comprometidos en asociaciones más profundas y más efectivas, particularmente a través del Consejo de las Instituciones Religiosas de Tierra Santa.

Establecido en 2005, el Consejo la continua participación del liderazgo y la representación de las instituciones religiosas oficiales de las comunidades de fe judías, cristianas y musulmanas en Tierra Santa.

Al presentar a Rosen, Gutow dijo que el ex rabino de Irlanda ha sido una fuerza motriz en el diálogo interreligioso y “en verdad ejemplifica las relaciones interreligiosas en esta región”.

Pero Rosen reconoció la necesidad de mayores esfuerzos para incluir las voces religiosas en las esferas políticas.

“Hay una actitud entre los políticos de no arriesgarse a hacer algo con líderes religiosos. Si los partidos incorporaran voces religiosas tendrían un efecto inmensamente poderoso. Pero prefieren la inercia al riesgo”.

El rabino David Rosen (a la derecha), director de asuntos interreligiosos del Comité Judío Americano, con sede en Jerusalén, habla al grupo interreligioso durante un almuerzo en Tel Aviv. De izquierda a derecha están Mohamed Elsanousi, dirección de relaciones exteriores de Finn Church Aid; Azhar Azeez, presidente de la Sociedad Islámica de América del Norte; y la obispa primada de la Iglesia Episcopal Katharine Jefferts Schori. Foto de Matthew Davies/ENS.

Hacia el final de la peregrinación, Kronish, del Consejo de Coordinación Interreligioso en Israel, se hizo eco de mucho de lo que Rosen había dicho. “La década del 90 fue un período de grandes esperanzas de paz, pero desde 2000 la situación se ha ido deteriorando”, dijo, haciendo notar que el último acuerdo de paz significativo entre Israel y los líderes palestinos fue el Memorándum de Wye River en 1998.

“Así hemos tenido 16 años, y en realidad ningún resultado. La pregunta es cuánto más podemos descender. El mayor obstáculo para la paz es la desesperación política. Nadie percibe que haya una resolución a la vista”, afirmó. “Ahora mismo no tenemos esperanza en nuestros líderes políticos de ambas partes. No parecen dispuestos a hacer las dolorosas concesiones que se necesitan” para llegar a un acuerdo de paz.

“Donde hemos encontrado esperanza es en el trabajo con los jóvenes, los jóvenes adultos, las mujeres, con líderes religiosos en la base, con educadores, con las personas que están llevando a cabo una ardua labor educativa y espiritual en las trincheras y no en la arena política”.

Jefferts Schori describió la pacificación como “la labor de tender puentes de relación entre los seres humanos… Eso exige asumir riesgos personales, vulnerabilidad, y la capacidad de ver y oír los profundos anhelos humanos del otro”.

Gutow, reflexionando sobre la peregrinación dijo: “Debemos estar con los que pueden entender y hablar con integridad sobre las diferentes narrativas de la gente normal que hace sus hogares aquí. Debemos proporcionarles las plataformas y el apoyo económico y la validación que necesitan para tener éxito.

“La tarea de nuestra peregrinación es servir como testigos interreligiosos de las verdades de ambas partes y de ayudar a la gente buena y noble que vive allí a encontrar la paz y la integridad y la calma que desean y que merecen”.

Miembros de la peregrinación

Episcopales

  • Obispa primada Katharine Jefferts Schori
  • Rvdmo. Prince Singh, de la Diócesis Episcopal de Rochester.
  •  Rdo. John E. Kitagawa, rector de la iglesia de San Felipe de las Colinas [St. Philip’s in-the-Hills] en Tucson, Arizona
  •  Rdo. Charles K. Robertson, canónigo de la Obispa Primada.
  •  Rda. Margaret Rose, subdirectora de relaciones ecuménicas e interreligiosas.
  •  Alexander D. Baumgarten, director de Actividad Pública y de Comunicación de la Misión.
  •  Sharon Jones, asistente ejecutiva de la Obispa Primada.

Judíos

  • Rabino Steve Gutow, presidente del Consejo Judío para las Relaciones Públicas.
  •  Rabino Leonard Gordon, presidente de relaciones interreligiosas del Consejo Judío para las Relaciones Públicas.
  •  Ethan Felson, vicepresidente y consejero general del Consejo Judío para las Relaciones Públicas.
  •  Rabino Batya Steinlauf, director justicia social e iniciativas interreligiosas del Consejo Judío de Relaciones Comunitarias del Área Metropolitana de Washington.

Musulmanes

  • Sayyid Syeed, director nacional de alianzas interreligiosas y comunitarias de la Sociedad Islámica de América del Norte.
  •  Dr. Muhammad Shafiq, director del Centro Hickey para estudios y diálogos interreligiosos en Nazareth College, Rochester, Nueva York.
  •  Azhar Azeez, presidente de la Sociedad Islámica de América del Norte.
  •  Mohamed Elsanousi, director de relaciones exteriores de Finn Church Aid

Un artículo de ENS que incluye reflexiones de la delegación interreligiosa puede encontrarse aquí. Un artículo acerca de la reunión del grupo con líderes políticos puede encontrarse aquí.

– Matthew Davies es redactor y reportero de Episcopal News Service. Traducción de Vicente Echerri.

Líderes religiosos de EE.UU. dejan Tierra Santa con mayor conciencia de posibilidades

ENS Headlines - Friday, February 6, 2015

La delegación interreligiosa posa para una foto en el exterior del Centro Peres para la Paz en Jafa, Israel, luego de una reunión con el ex primer ministro Israelí Shimon Peres. Foto de Matthew Davies/ENS

[Episcopal News Service] Un tapiz de palabras tales como “vulnerabilidad” y “fragilidad”, “valor” y “dignidad” se tejieron en una trama común mientras líderes judíos, cristianos y musulmanes de Estados Unidos convenían en que habían sido transformados por una peregrinación de una semana a Tierra Santa. La experiencia, dijeron, aumentaría su responsabilidad a asociados en Israel y los Territorios Palestinos y le daría cuerpo al tejido de su futura labor de pacificación, tanto en la región como de vuelta a casa.

El grupo interreligioso de 15 miembros fue codirigido por Katharine Jefferts Schori, obispa primada de la Iglesia Episcopal; el rabino Steve Gutow, presidente del Consejo Judío para las Relaciones Públicas (JCPA) y Sayyid Syeed, director nacional de alianzas interreligiosas y comunitarias de la Sociedad Islámica de América del Norte (ISNA).

La obispa primada de la Iglesia Episcopal Katharine Jefferts Schori y el rabino Steve Gutow, presidente del Consejo Judío para las Relaciones Públicas, comparten un momento de reflexión silenciosa durante una visita al Yad Vashem, el museo judío en memoria del Holocausto. Foto de Matthew Davies/ENS

El  grupo sostuvo reuniones con israelíes y palestinos, con personas al frente de grandes responsabilidades y políticos de alto nivel, así como con líderes religiosos y cívicos, y compartieron mutuamente las tradiciones religiosas de los demás  mientras viajaron durante nueve días por Israel, la Cisjordania y Jerusalén. Entre las escalas se incluyeron Tel Aviv, Nazaret, Safed, Tiberias, Ramala y el asentamiento cisjordano de Gush Etzión y sus áreas circundantes, así como los sectores oriental y occidental de Jerusalén.

Si bien unas reuniones prolongadas con funcionarios del gobierno palestino impusieron la cancelación de un viaje del grupo a Belén, algunos peregrinos visitaron la ciudad cisjordana en el ínterin de otras reuniones. El grupo en pleno recorrió la barrera de separación en su ruta en torno a Belén y sus inmediaciones en Cisjordania. La visita de un grupo a Hebrón se canceló por alteraciones de última hora en el calendario mientras una tormenta invernal se acercaba a EE.UU. lo cual obligó a algunos participantes a cambiar su planes de regreso.

(Un artículo de ENS acerca de la reunión del grupo con líderes políticos puede encontrarse aquí).

Mientras el grupo reflexionaba sobre lo vivido durante la semana, en una conversación sostenida en un hotel administrado por palestinos, a intramuros de la Vieja Jerusalén, donde se hospedaron, Gutow describió el viaje como “una peregrinación de relaciones.

Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, director of social justice and interfaith initiatives for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, takes a photo of members of the Muslim delegation (from left) Mohamed Elsanousi, director of external relations for La rabina Batya Steinlauf, directora de justicia social e iniciativas interreligiosas del Consejo Judío de Relaciones Comunitarias del Área Metropolitana de Washington, le toma una foto a los miembros de la delegación musulmana (de izquierda a derecha) Mohamed Elsanousi, director de relaciones exteriores de Finn Church Aid; Sayyid Syeed, director nacional de alianzas interreligiosas y comunitarias de la Sociedad Islámica de América del Norte (ISNA) y Azhar Azeez, presidente de ISNA. Foto de Matthew Davies/ENS

“Hemos adquirido densidad mientras recorríamos el suelo santo de la más santa de las tierras. Vimos la belleza del lugar y vimos su dolor. Se acentuó nuestra comprensión”, dijo él. “No es la visión elemental con la cual llegamos a esta tierra, sino más bien la complejidad, el matiz, las historias (buenas y malas), las dificultades lo que ahora definen nuestra visión de lo que hay allí. La santidad conlleva su esfuerzo”.

Jefferts Schori dijo que “la voluntad de los peregrinos de profundizar en el diálogo y de aprender tanto como enseñar en los intercambios seguirá repercutiendo. Siento como si hubiéramos tenido una muestra de la realidad eterna que buscan nuestras tradiciones”.

Ella también advirtió que, como una coalición interreligiosa, “tenemos una voz que puede hablar a los líderes políticos, a otros líderes cívicos. Existe la posibilidad de prender algunos fuegos, en el mejor sentido de la expresión, en Estados Unidos, de esperanza y de posibilidades, si hablamos juntos… Que seamos vasijas e instrumentos de la paz del Bendito”.

El Corán, dijo Syeed, “nos dice que hemos investido a los seres humanos con nobleza y dignidad, pero que a fin de mantener esa dignidad tenemos una cierta responsabilidad. Resulta muy difícil para nosotros regresar y perder de vista ese proceso de dignificación en que Dios nos ha puesto: mirarnos mutuamente a los ojos, ver que hay una imagen de Dios, y creer que no podemos permitirnos la degeneración, y no permitiremos que otros se degeneren. Es nuestro deber colectivo salvarnos los unos a los otros”.

Miembros de la delegación interreligiosa recorren la barrera de separación en su ruta en torno a Belén. Foto de Matthew Davies/ENS

La visita se planeó en respuesta Resolución B019, aprobada por la Convención General de la Iglesia Episcopal en 2012, que requería la inversión y la participación positivas en la región y que recomendaba que la Obispa Primada llevara a cabo una peregrinación interreligiosa modelo que tuviera la experiencia de múltiples testimonios. Esa resolución reiteraba el compromiso de la Iglesia Episcopal, de larga data, con una solución negociada de dos estados “en la cual un estado de Israel seguro y universalmente reconocido viva al lado de un estado viable y seguro para el pueblo palestino”.

El conflicto entre israelíes y palestinos ha durado más de 60 años. Las negociaciones de paz entre líderes israelíes y palestinos auspiciadas por EE.UU. se interrumpieron en mayo de 2014, cuando ambas partes culparon a la otra de no hacer las concesiones adecuadas en temas tales como las fronteras, el estatus de los refugiados, la compartición de Jerusalén y la construcción de asentamientos israelíes en territorio palestino.

Alexander D. Baumgarten, director actividad pública y de comunicación de la misión de la Iglesia Episcopal y uno de los organizadores de la peregrinación, dijo: “me sorprende que la narrativa sea realmente una cosa complicada, porque la narrativa nace de nuestros propios niveles de confianza con las comunidades y las personas y las realidades con las cuales nos identificamos, para nosotros así como para los israelíes y los palestinos. Eso es algo maravilloso en muchos aspectos, pero también esta preñado de peligro porque aferrándonos a nuestras propias narrativas… podríamos dejar de ver la auténtica verdad en la narrativa del otro”.

El obispo Prince Singh de la Iglesia Episcopal de Rochester. Foto de Matthew Davies/ENS

El obispo Prince Singh, de la Diócesis Episcopal de Rochester y miembro de la delegación episcopal, se mostró de acuerdo. “No sólo hemos celebrado nuestras diferencias; hemos interiorizado más las verdades con que cada uno de nosotros ha crecido y que ha considerado santas, pero para poder reconocerlas en otra verdad”, dijo. “Los varios espejos que se han presentado han sido muchísimo más claros debido a este tipo de transparencia en la comunidad”.

A través de la peregrinación, Singh dijo que se había encontrado “descendiendo a lugares profundos, lo cual no puedo hacer si no soy vulnerable. Cuando miramos a los problemas de la justicia, las opiniones pueden diferir debido a las lentes que usemos. Pero si, de manera experiencial, esto es lo que puede llegar a ser una querida comunidad, ello me da muchísima esperanza”.

Los peregrinos dijeron que la experiencia de viajar juntos como una comunidad interreligiosa también daría sus frutos cuando tuvieran que enfrentarse a problemas apremiantes en sus propios contextos.

“Siento como si Dios hubiera lanzado el guijarro al agua y las ondas apenas comenzaran”, agregó Singh. “Ese guijarro es para mí este modelo que puede aplicarse a la paz en tantísimos niveles… Una de las cosas que me llevo de aquí es la de invitar a las personas a [integrarse en] asociaciones, y particularmente con el gobierno, para ver si podemos proponer juntos algunas soluciones, y si las comunidades religiosas pueden ser útiles en el proceso… de manera que podamos abordar algunos grandes problemas como la pobreza y la violencia en nuestras comunidades”.

Jefferts Schori apuntó: “Sé que habrá sobradas oportunidades para nosotros de colaborar, en procurar la reconciliación en la Tierra del Bendito, y en la nación que compartimos en otro hemisferio. El edificar la paz en un lugar impacta las situaciones problemáticas y violentas en todas partes”.

Algunos miembros del grupo en peregrinación han convenido en seguir reuniéndose ahora que están de regreso en Estados Unidos, con el propósito de compartir reflexiones del viaje y recomendaciones con funcionarios electos y de dirigir a sus propias comunidades a través de una extensa trayectoria de promoción social, instrucción y diálogo compartido relacionados con el fin del conflicto israelí-palestino. Según Baumgarten, los episcopales pueden esperar oír más acerca de esto en los meses que median de ahora al comienzo de la 78ª. Convención General en Salt Lake City en junio.

Compartir unos con otros las tradiciones religiosas y aprender acerca de Jerusalén, como una santa ciudad compartida, a través de los ojos de los líderes de otras fes trajo una nueva dimensión a la comprensión que el grupo tiene de las historias judía, cristiana y musulmana y del contexto actual de Tierra Santa.

La obispa primada de la Iglesia Episcopal Katharine Jefferts Schori y el rabino Leonard Gordon, que preside las relaciones interreligiosas del Consejo Judío para las Relaciones Públicas, miran a Jerusalén desde el Monte de los Olivos. Foto de Matthew Davies/ENS

“Sabíamos que cada una de nuestras tradiciones vio el rostro de Dios en esas colinas y esos valles; ahora sabemos que todas nuestras tradiciones ven el rostro de Dios allí”, dijo Gutow. “Según madurábamos juntos, podíamos sentir la presencia de Dios en cada uno de nuestros corazones, no sólo en el nuestro. Ese es el don. Entendimos aún más de lo que hicimos, y ver el rostro de Dios en cada uno de los demás sólo profundiza nuestra responsabilidad con la tierra, los unos con los otros y, francamente, con Dios”.

El grupo interreligioso recorre las excavaciones arqueológicas de la Vieja Jerusalén. Foto de Matthew Davies/ENS

Mohamed Elsanousi, director de relaciones exteriores de Finn Church Aid en EE.UU. y miembro de la delegación musulmana, dijo que la hermandad entre las fes “fortaleciendo nuestras relaciones y edificando la confianza entre nosotros” ha sido una parte fundamental del viaje, especialmente al profundizar su comprensión de [esa] tierra y de su significado como “los lugares sagrados de todos los hijos de Abraham”.

Dijo que la experiencia también crearía espacio para más oportunidades con el propósito de extender el diálogo y profundizar la comprensión entre las religiones en EE.UU.. “esta visita nos ha impuesto una responsabilidad… porque nos ha dado esta oportunidad de entender” y de actuar, añadió.

Syeed se refirió a varias iniciativas y publicaciones basadas en EE.UU. —facilitadas por la ISNA y sus asociados interreligiosos— para combatir la ignorancia, las incomprensiones y cambiar las nociones preconcebidas de las personas acerca de las religiones abrahámicas.

“Hablamos de una fraternidad que está determinada a cambiar la situación —una fraternidad transformadora— de manera que tiene que asentarse en suelo firme”, dijo Syeed, con referencia específica a dos guías para el diálogo interreligioso: Compartiendo el pozo [Sharing the Well] e Hijos de Abraham [Children of Abraham].

Los peregrinos también reconocieron que compartir este viaje con tan diverso grupo de líderes religiosos presenta ciertos retos y saca a las personas del ámbito donde se sienten cómodas.

El rabino Leonard Gordon, presidente de relaciones interreligiosas del Consejo Judío para las Relaciones Públicas, dijo que la peregrinación había conllevado “una cierta cantidad de contracción, en nuestros hábitos regulares de oración, nuestros hábitos de comidas, nuestros hábitos regulares de expresar nuestro pensamiento. Hemos sido deferentes los unos con los otros”.

Gordon reconoció que ha habido momentos de tensiones y de incomodidad, pero reconoció que “es difícil estar juntos y estar en este mundo de conflicto del que muchos de nosotros hablamos todo el tiempo, y hemos tenido que estar en este lugar de escuchas, pero creo que lo hemos hecho maravillosamente”.

Miembros del grupo reflexionan sobre la peregrinación de una semana de duración antes de regresar a EE.UU. Foto de Matthew Davies/ENS

Sharon Jones, asistente ejecutiva de la obispa primada Jefferts Schori, visitaba Tierra Santa por primera vez. Dijo que la experiencia ha sido abrumadora, pero que regresa a Estados Unidos con un nuevo propósito y con un compromiso de encontrar vías a las que ella pueda responder.

Sus preocupaciones iniciales respecto a pasar una semana con un nuevo grupo de líderes religiosos y lo que ella pudiera contribuir a la peregrinación se deshicieron después de conocer a todo el mundo la primera noche. “Tuve una gran sensación de comunidad y percibí muchísima confianza, y hemos compartido mucho”.

La Rda. Margaret Rose, subdirectora de relaciones ecuménicas e interreligiosas de la Iglesia Episcopal, dijo: “si somos peregrinos, seguiremos estando en este viaje… Ahora debemos determinar qué decisión debe tomarse, y que acción realmente deber exigir valor. Tengo aquí personas experimentadas que son increíblemente valerosas. Oro pues por el valor y la bravura para llevar a cabo algunas cosas que no hemos hecho antes”.

Azhar Azeez, president of the Islamic Society of North America, and Azhar Azeez, presidente de la Sociedad Islámica de América del Norte, y la rabina Batya Steinlauf, directora de justicia social e iniciativas interreligiosas del Consejo Judío para las Relaciones Comunitarias del Área Metropolitana de Washington, conversan antes de las reuniones con los funcionarios del gobierno palestino. Foto de Matthew Davies/ENS

La rabina Batya Steinlauf, directora de justicia social e iniciativas interreligiosas del Consejo Judío para las Relaciones Comunitarias del Área Metropolitana de Washington, dijo que en lugar de mirar todas las cosas con las cuales ella se siente cómoda y familiar, “miró hacia arriba y hacia fuera, y se sentía realmente diferente porque estoy con una nueva comunidad que ve desde todas esas distintas perspectivas. Eso me conmovió… Creo que gran parte de lo que estamos intentando hacer es ver el mundo desde la perspectiva de Dios, y creo que es uno de los mensajes fundamentales que hemos recibido: recordar que esto pertenece a Dios”.

Steinlauf advirtió que todas las personas con las que el grupo se reunió “dijeron que a la postre íbamos a tener esperanza y a ser optimistas… porque uno simplemente tiene que serlo, y hay un criterio de que, bien, allí podría ocurrir un milagro. Manifestar puntos de vista tan discrepantes y, sin embargo, oír que todos se aferran aún a la esperanza de un milagro, agrada saber que todos estamos empeñados en realizar uno y que, con perseverancia, podríamos llegar a obtenerlo”.

Azhar Azeez, presidente de la Sociedad Islámica de América del Norte, también habló de ver las cosas desde nuevas perspectivas, a través de los ojos de líderes religiosos, de políticos, de académicos, de autores y de activistas. “Esta tierra es en verdad una tierra bendita, pero al mismo tiempo encontramos algunos gigantescos desafíos… Es muy fácil para mí en Estados Unidos o a cualquier otra persona en una sociedad occidental, hablar sobre estos temas, pero la gente que vive aquí son los que enfrentan los verdaderos retos”.

Varios miembros del grupo dijeron haberse sentido conmovidos e inspirados por las reuniones con líderes de iniciativas de base —el Programa de Negociación Shades, EcoPaz [EcoPeace] y Raíces [Roots]— que reúnen a israelíes y palestinos para oír y aprender mutuamente de sus diferentes narrativas y para edificar una sociedad pacífica en la cual todo el mundo pueda prosperar.

“Estoy totalmente anonadado por el valor que significó para cada uno de ellos”, dijo Gutow. “Cuando vas contra la tradición, cualquiera que esta sea, cuando vas contra tu propio pueblo, cuando estás dispuesto a levantarte y decir ‘esta no es la manera correcta de hacerlo”, eso conlleva un cierto tipo de coraje”.

Ethan Felson, vicepresidente y asesor legar del Consejo Judío para las Relaciones Públicas, y la Rda. Margaret Rose, subdirectora de relaciones ecuménicas e interreligiosas de la Iglesia Episcopal, conversan durante una visita al sitio bautismal de Yardenit, en el río Jordán. Foto de Matthew Davies/ENS

Ethan Felson, vicepresidente y asesor legal del Consejo Judío para las Relaciones Públicas dijo: “en una época cuando se dedica tanta energía a aplastar a un lado o al otro, resultó enriquecedor experimentar sobre el terreno la labor de genuinos pacificadores dedicados a destrozar sus propias zonas de seguridad y a viajar con otros pacificadores que hacen lo mismo”.

Las personas que llevan a cabo la labor más transformadora, dijo Felson, “no son los que se centran en un documento o en normativas ni en definiciones, sino más bien los que siguen estando donde están en su comunidad, en ese auténtico lugar y se reúnen con otros que de la misma manera siguen estando en ese lugar genuino, y que realmente abrazan un entendimiento diferente de lo que significa para dos pueblos con diferentes narrativas venir a vivir uno junto al otro”.

El Rdo. John E. Kitagawa, rector de la iglesia episcopal de San Felipe de las Colinas [St. Philip’s-in-the-Hills], en Tucson, Arizona, dijo: “Hemos escuchado estos increíbles testimonios de personas que están poniéndose al frente, escudriñándose atentamente, siendo capaces de emprender esos diálogos

de corazón. Me voy de un lugar más esperanzador de lo que yo creía que sería”.

Resumiendo la peregrinación, Baumgarten dijo: “Lo que me ha resultado alentador en este viaje fue ver que, especialmente al margen del foco de atención, los israelíes y los palestinos están realmente retando a sus comunidades a caminar por la senda del otro”.

Citando el poema de T.S. Eliot, El viaje de los magos, en el cual Eliot pone en boca de los tres sabios: “regresamos a nuestros lugares, estos reinos. Pero ya no nos sentimos cómodos aquí, en nuestra antigua dispensación”.

“Así es como me siento como resultado de este viaje”, dijo Baumgarten. “Creo que si todo el mundo pudiera venir aquí y recorrer la senda que hemos andado juntos, ninguno de nosotros se sentiría cómodo en nuestra antigua dispensación”.

– Matthew Davies es redactor y reportero de Episcopal News Service. Traducción de Vicente Echerri.

Partnerships will bring lasting peace to Holy Land, religious leaders say

ENS Headlines - Friday, February 6, 2015

Members of the interfaith pilgrimage visit the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. Photo: Matthew Davies/ENS

[Episcopal News Service] Partnerships and investment, especially in supporting faith-based grassroots work, hold the key to lasting peace in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, a United States interfaith delegation heard repeatedly from religious leaders with whom they met during a Jan. 18-26 pilgrimage in the Holy Land.

The 15-member delegation of Jews, Christians and Muslims from the U.S. found this prevailing message in all their conversations, whether with rabbis, kadis (Islamic judges), priests or bishops.

Kadi Iyad Zahalka, head of the Sharia courts in Jerusalem, told the delegation that it is through these kinds of partnerships “that we will achieve understanding among all of the communities. This kind of action in bringing together Jews, Christians and Muslims is motivating to the people here to be more engaged in this kind of dialogue.”

Zahalka said that the politicians sign diplomatic agreements, “not the religious people. But our job is to prepare the people to be ready for that moment, to accept the peace process, to engage the peace process, to encourage our leaders. We strive to create the dynamic of peace, which is much more important than signing the contracts.”

But he acknowledged the concerns of extremism on both sides, such as the recent stabbing of 11 people by a Palestinian man on a bus in central Tel Aviv and the burning of an Arab-Jewish school by Jewish radicals.

Kadi Iyad Zahalka (left), head of the Sharia courts in Jerusalem, with Bishop Prince Singh of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester. Photo: Matthew Davies/ENS

“These challenges must encourage us to do more in dialogue and co-existence in order to prevent suffering,” Zahalka told the interfaith group towards the end of their weeklong interfaith pilgrimage. “It is very important for us to do that and it is very important for others to support us in the process of dialogue.”

Rabbi Ron Kronish, director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, works closely with Zahalka in promoting dialogue and peace, especially among religions.

Kronish talked about the complexities of identity that exist throughout Israel and the West Bank that often cause confusion when addressing issues of peace.

There are Palestinians who live in the West Bank, Jews who live in Israel, but there are also Arab Israelis, “that is Arab Palestinians with Israeli citizenship,” he said. “Their goal is not fighting occupation every minute, their goal is integration in Israeli society even though they will have various relationships with Palestinians in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.”

The interfaith pilgrimage was formed in response to the Episcopal Church’s General Convention Resolution B019, passed in 2012, that called for positive investment and engagement in the region and recommended that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori develop an interfaith model pilgrimage that experiences multiple narratives.

Committed to deepening their own partnership, the interfaith group shared in one another’s faith traditions, including services at the Anglican cathedral in east Jerusalem, a Jewish synagogue in west Jerusalem, and a rare, private tour inside the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, which normally are strictly closed to non-Muslims.

Members of the interfaith pilgrimage visit the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Photo: Matthew Davies/ENS

The group – led by Jefferts Schori; Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; and Sayyid Syeed, national director of interfaith and community alliances for the Islamic Society of North America – was welcomed for a Sunday morning service at St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in east Jerusalem by its dean, the Very Rev. Hosam Naoum, and Archbishop Suheil Dawani of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. Jefferts Schori preached during the service.

Interfaith pilgrims join the Sunday morning service at St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem. Photo: Matthew Davies/ENS

U.S.-based Episcopal Church dioceses and individuals have long been in partnership with the Jerusalem diocese and continue to support the ministry of its more than 30 social service institutions throughout Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Territories. The institutions include schools, hospitals, clinics and centers for people with disabilities and serve those in need regardless of their religious affiliation.

The diocese and the institutions also are supported by the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, a nonpolitical, nonprofit organization established in 1985.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Archbishop Suheil Dawani of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem talk outside St. George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem, following the Arabic service on Jan. 25. Photo: Matthew Davies/ENS

Dawani told the interfaith group following the service that religion needs to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. “We have a responsibility as leaders, and we have a duty to facilitate and bring co-existence among all the communities,” he said. “As the center of the three Abrahamic faiths, we pray that Jerusalem will be a model for future peace to the whole world.”

A source of major concern for the Jerusalem diocese is the many Palestinian and Israeli Christians who are leaving the Holy Land in search of better opportunities overseas.

Dawani has said that “investment is something we all need here in the hardships and difficult economic situation. Investment really will encourage people not only to stay here, but to feel that they can take care of their families and the future of their children.”

In response to such calls from the Episcopal Church’s partners in the Holy Land, as well as to Resolution B019, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society invested $500,000 in the Bank of Palestine in 2013 for the purpose of economic development in the Palestinian Territories. The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council recently endorsed expansion of that investment and commended the matter to the church’s economic-justice loan committee for study.

Following the service, Dawani accompanied the group for a visit to His Beatitude Theophilus III, Patriarch of Jerusalem and All Palestine, who said that their presence in the Holy Land brings “great encouragement and support to its people.” The patriarch is the senior leader of Greek Orthodox Christians in the Holy Land, and represents the longest continuing historical presence of any single religious institution in Jerusalem today.

Archbishop Suheil Dawani of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori meet with His Beatitude Theophilus III, Patriarch of Jerusalem and All Palestine. Photo: Matthew Davies/ENS

“It’s not an easy task to have such a unified voice as Jews, Muslims and Christians,” he said. “Bringing people together and working for reconciliation, this is what we are trying to do. People here use the word ‘tolerance’ which is totally unacceptable. We need to be talking about inclusiveness.”

The patriarch talked about the land being connected with the sacred histories of the three Abrahamic faiths and the conflict and misunderstandings that has caused. “How can we convince our people – Jews, Christians and Muslims – to have a different approach to the sacred history?” he asked. “The letter is killing, but the mind, or the spirit of the letter, is vivifying. How can we communicate this message to politicians, to diplomats? … They don’t understand what the sacred history means.”

“The problem is that people here understand the land in eschatological terms,” he added, “[But] we serve common human nature and common destiny … This is what we have to bear in mind if we want to believe that we are really people of God … This land is totally holy, and we share this land, all of us.”

Syeed responded to the patriarch by saying that his words were “soothing, inspiring and comforting … This is the land of manna and salwa,” the Hebrew and Arabic words that describe the food that God provided for the Israelites during their travels in the desert.

His Beatitude Theophilus III, Patriarch of Jerusalem and All Palestine, poses for a group photo with the interfaith delegation and Anglican leaders in the Holy Land. Photo: Matthew Davies/ENS

Two days earlier, the group attended a Friday evening synagogue service at Kol Haneshamah, a center for Progressive Judaism in West Jerusalem. Following the service, they were welcomed for Shabbat dinner at the home of Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, a 10th generation rabbi whose congregation is committed to social justice and often leads peaceful demonstrations against violence, including whenever a mosque, synagogue or church is attacked.

Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman (standing) welcomes the interfaith pilgrims to his home for Shabbat dinner. From left are Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Sayyid Syeed, national director of interfaith and community alliances for the Islamic Society of North America; and Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Photo: Matthew Davies/ENS

Weiman-Kelman shared a Jewish Midrash interpretation from Genesis that illustrates how the formation of the name Jerusalem was achieved through a compromise and consideration to the other.

Because of their own encounters of God, Abraham called the place Yireh, and Shem named it Shalem. According to Hebrew scripture, “The Holy Blessed One said: If I call it Yireh as Abraham called it, Shem a righteous man, will be upset. If I call it Shalem as Shem called it, Abraham, a righteous man, will be upset. Therefore I call this place as the two of them called it Yireh-Shalem, Yeru-shalayim, Jerusalem.”

Following Kelman’s reflection, Jefferts Schori said that she is invigorated by the bridges that have been built during the weeklong pilgrimage and that it reminds her of the creation story, the relationship between light and dark, earth and sky. “At first it looks like division,” she said, “but it’s a good lesson in the importance of interconnection.”

Earlier in the week, Rabbi David Rosen, Jerusalem-based international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, spoke about a new age of interfaith relations in the Holy Land, which finds religious leaders engaged in deeper, more effective partnerships, particularly through the Council of the Religious Institutions of the Holy Land.

Established in 2005, the council facilitates the ongoing engagement of the leadership and representation of the official religious institutions of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith communities in the Holy Land.

In introducing Rosen, Gutow said that the former chief rabbi of Ireland has been a leading force in interreligious dialogue and “really exemplifies interfaith relations in this region.”

But Rosen acknowledged the need for greater efforts to include religious voices in political spheres.

“There is an attitude among politicians not to risk doing anything with religious leaders. If the parties brought in religious voices it would have an enormously powerful effect. But they prefer inertia over risk.”

Rabbi David Rosen (right), Jerusalem-based international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, speaks to the interfaith group during lunch in Tel Aviv. From left are Mohamed Elsanousi, director of external relations for Finn Church Aid; Azhar Azeez, president of the Islamic Society of North America; and Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Photo: Matthew Davies/ENS

Towards the end of the pilgrimage, Kronish of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel echoed much of what Rosen had said. “The 1990s was a period of high hopes for peace, but since 2000 the situation has been deteriorating,” he said, noting that the last significant peace agreement between Israeli and Palestinians leaders was the Wye River Memorandum in 1998.

“So we’ve had 16 years, a lot of talk, and really no product. The question is how much further down can we go? The greatest obstacles to peace are political despair. Nobody feels like there is a resolution in sight,” he said. “We don’t have right now hope in our political leaders on both sides. They don’t seem willing to make the painful compromises that are needed” to reach a peace agreement.

“Where we have found hope is working with youth, young adults, women, with religious leaders at the grassroots levels, with educators, with the people who are doing hard educational and spiritual work in the trenches and not in the political arena.”

Jefferts Schori described peacemaking as “the work of building bridges of relationship between human beings … That requires personal risk-taking, vulnerability, and the ability to see and hear the partner’s deep human desires.”

Gutow, reflecting on the pilgrimage said: “We must stand with those who can both understand and speak with integrity about the differing narratives of the regular people who make their homes there. We must provide them with the platforms and the financial support and the validation they need to succeed.

“The job of our pilgrimage is to serve as an interfaith witness to the truths of both sides and to help the good and kind people who dwell there find the peace and wholeness and calm they so desire and so deserve.”

Pilgrimage members

Episcopalian

•    Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori
•    Bishop Prince Singh of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester
•    The Rev. John E. Kitagawa, rector of St. Philip’s in-the-Hills Episcopal Church in Tucson, Arizona
•    The Rev. Charles K. Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop
•    The Rev. Margaret Rose, deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations
•    Alexander D. Baumgarten, director of public engagement and mission communication
•    Sharon Jones, executive assistant to the presiding bishop

Jewish

•    Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs
•    Rabbi Leonard Gordon, interreligious relations chair for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs
•    Ethan Felson, vice president and general counsel for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs
•    Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, director of social justice and interfaith initiatives for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington

Muslim

•    Sayyid Syeed, national director of interfaith and community alliances for the Islamic Society of North America
•    Dr. Muhammad Shafiq, director of the Hickey Center for interfaith studies and dialogue at Nazareth College in Rochester, New York
•    Azhar Azeez, president of the Islamic Society of North America
•    Mohamed Elsanousi, director of external relations for Finn Church Aid

An ENS article including reflections from the interfaith delegation is available here. An article about the group’s meeting with political leaders is available here.

– Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.

Maryland bishop suffragan faces more charges in fatal accident

ENS Headlines - Thursday, February 5, 2015

[Episcopal News Service] A Baltimore grand jury has indicted Episcopal Diocese of Maryland Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook on 13 counts for allegedly causing the Dec. 27 car-bicycle accident that killed Thomas Palermo.

Five of the charges listed in the indictment handed down Feb. 4 by a Baltimore City grand jury come in addition to those Cook has faced since being charged Jan. 9 with four criminal offenses and four traffic violations.

The new charges include driving while under the influence of alcohol per se (a “per se” DUI charge involves drivers whose blood alcohol limit is above the .08% legal limit and can be charged with drunk driving even if their ability to drive does not appear to be impaired), driving under the impairment of alcohol, texting while driving, reckless driving and negligent driving.

The original criminal charges included manslaughter by vehicle, criminal negligent manslaughter by vehicle, homicide by driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol per se and homicide by driving a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol.

The traffic charges filed on Jan. 9 included failing to remain at an accident resulting in death, failing to remain at the scene of an accident resulting in serious bodily injury, using a text messaging device while driving causing an accident with death or serious injury, and driving under the influence of alcohol. The grand jury added to the two failure-to-stop offenses a charge of failure to stop the vehicle as close as possible to the scene of an accident.

Failing to remain at an accident resulting in serious bodily injury or death are both felony charges.

Cook faces a combined maximum penalty of at least 39 years in prison and a $39,000 fine, depending on whether her 2010 arrest and subsequent “probation before judgment” sentence is considered a first offense for any sentence she might receive if she were convicted of the charges of driving under the influence of alcohol and/or driving while under the influence of alcohol per se.

She is scheduled to be arraigned in Baltimore City Circuit Court on March 5.

When Cook was first charged in January she turned herself in later that day after an arrest warrant was issued. She was booked into jail and a $2.5 million bail was set. A judge later refused to lower the bail amount, according to news reports.

Mark H. Hansen bailed Cook out of jail on Jan. 25. He posted $35,000 in collateral and signed a $215,000 promissory note agreeing to pay $1,000 a month, according to the Baltimore Sun. The paper reported that the only condition of her release is that she not drive.

Cook returned that day to Father Martin’s Ashley, a drug and alcohol treatment facility near Havre de Grace, Maryland, where she had spent 12 days after the accident before being charged, according to Cook’s attorney, David B. Irwin.

In an autobiographical statement submitted as part of the search process that resulted in her being elected suffragan in May 2014, Cook called Hansen her “steady companion” and a “passionate Anglican.” She said that she and Hansen had dated in their 20s and reconnected in 2012. He currently works as a “lay pastor” at St. Clement’s Church in Massey, Maryland in the Diocese of Easton.

The Diocese of Maryland declined to comment on the indictment. Late last month, the Standing Committee and Bishop Eugene Sutton asked Cook to resign as an employee of the diocese. She has not yet responded to that request.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter of the Episcopal News Service.

Educational webinar examines Congolese refugee issues

ENS Headlines - Thursday, February 5, 2015

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society will present an hour-long webinar on February 19 to explore the current status of the refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The free churchwide webinar begins at 7 pm Eastern. The webinar will be available on-demand following the event.

The webinar will be facilitated by Kurt Bonz, Program Manager for Episcopal Migration Ministries, the refugee resettlement service of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society; Allison Duvall, Episcopal Migration Ministries’ Church Relations Manager; and Katie Conway, Policy Analyst for Immigration and Refugees in the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s Office of Government Relations.

The goals of the webinar are:
• To provide an overview of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
• To update the current status of Congolese refugees
• To suggest what can be done in communities to continue to welcome Congolese refugees as they arrive in the US seeking safety, peace, and a chance to begin their lives again.
• To examine ways for faith community support and advocacy for the plight of Congolese refugees
• To review how congregations can prepare to welcome these new Americans into the community

“Over the next 4-5 years, the United States expects to welcome tens of thousands of refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, scene of some of the world’s worst ongoing violence and human rights abuses,” noted Deborah Stein, Episcopal Migration Ministries Director. “Both this webinar and our March #ShareTheJourney pilgrimage to the Great Lakes Region of Africa are part of a broader campaign to bring awareness about the plight of Congolese refugees and the ways Episcopalians can be involved in welcoming these new Americans.”

Participation is via registration here.

Questions are welcomed and encouraged and can be submitted via the webinar chat room or on social media using #ShareTheJourney.

Resources
The webinar content is ideal for Sunday forums, discussion groups, adult formation classes, youth groups, and formation classes.  A discussion guide is available here.

For more information contact Duvall, aduvall@episcopalchurch.org.

Episcopal Migration Ministries
Episcopal Migration Ministries is the refugee resettlement service of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. Each year this ministry works in partnership with its affiliate network, along with dioceses, faith communities and volunteers, to welcome refugees from conflict zones across the globe.

#ShareTheJourney as the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society celebrates 75 years of resettling refugees in the United States. #ShareTheJourney is a multi-media effort to educate, form, and equip Episcopalians to engage in loving service with resettled refugees and to become prophetic witnesses and advocates on behalf of refugees, asylees, migrants, and displaced persons throughout the world.

The Episcopal Public Policy Network
The Episcopal Public Policy Network is a grassroots network of Episcopalians across the country, supported by the Missionary Society and dedicated to carrying out the Baptismal Covenant call to “strive for justice and peace” through the active ministry of public policy advocacy. The Episcopal Public Policy Network is part of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s Office of Government Relations, located in Washington, DC. The actions, programs, and ministry of the Office of Government Relations are based entirely on policies approved by the Church meeting in General Convention or by the Executive Council. As Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori reminds us, “The voices of the people of faith must be a prophetic impetus for lasting change, toward healing the body of God.”

Episcopal Relief, Cornell grow agriculture partnership in Burundi

ENS Headlines - Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Anglican Church of Burundi’s Sustainable Livelihoods Program works with communities on agriculture and the environment, water and sanitation, gender-based violence and health. Community-built “water points” improve access to clean water for drinking and household use. Photo courtesy of Emily Ambrose

[Episcopal Relief & Development press release] Episcopal Relief & Development, in partnership with the Anglican Church of Burundi, is joining with Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to provide field study opportunities for students in the International Agriculture and Rural Development (IARD) program.

With high population density and hilly topography, Burundi faces chronic challenges in maintaining food supply. Soil erosion, crop disease, limited seed supply and lack of market access contribute to the country’s ranking last out of 78 on the International Food Policy Research Institute’s most recent Global Hunger Index.

Supporting the growth of the Church’s Sustainable Livelihoods Program, which works with farmers to improve agricultural practices, diversify harvests and restore soil quality, this operational research partnership provides field study placements of two to four months for both graduate and undergraduate students. Two students have completed their placements so far, and funding from the Andy Paul Africa Initiative Fund through the Office of Cornell’s Vice Provost for International Affairs will enable at least four more students to participate in coming years.

“Having been an undergraduate student at Cornell myself, I was well aware of the expertise at the school in international agriculture, and was hoping to find a way to connect that to our program work,” said Episcopal Relief & Development Program Officer Sara Delaney. “When it became clear that there was a need for more international study opportunities for IARD students, there was excitement on both sides that we had found what could be a win-win situation.”

In Burundi, the partnership enables the Sustainable Livelihoods Program to expand and improve project activities, with the aim of reaching approximately 100,000 households nationwide by 2016. As part of the project, women in rural areas are taking action to reduce hunger and improve diets for their families by building small “kitchen gardens” in their yards. The gardens, which have grown to number more than 1,100 in less than a year, are planted with vegetables such as leafy greens, eggplants, pumpkins, tomatoes and watermelons. They serve as an addition to the small, hilly plots (less than one hectare, approximately two city blocks) that the families farm with corn, beans and potatoes.

The particular focus of each student placement term depends on the individual’s knowledge and interests, but includes topics such as agricultural methods, family nutrition, soil and erosion management, crop disease management and seed access. Strategic evaluation of program activities through surveys and other means will enable project leaders to assess impact, identify challenges and communicate results.

“We welcome this scientific partnership with Cornell University and are very glad to have hosted two students so far (Ms. Angela Siele and Ms. Emily Ambrose) from the IARD program,” said Léonidas Niyongabo, Provincial Development Officer for the Anglican Church of Burundi. “Their scientific contributions have expanded and reinforced farming capabilities in the pilot communities, especially for women engaged in the kitchen gardens project. I am glad that they also had opportunities to learn from us and our Burundian participants! Their achievements will be used for the improvement of poor communities around the world, and will remain linked in our hearts.”

University of Burundi student Bienvenue Ingabica Carelle (left) and Cornell University student Emily Ambrose (center) worked with Anglican Church of Burundi program staff during their field study placement. The students train community members on how to build and maintain “kitchen gardens” as a source of nutritious produce. Photo courtesy of Emily Ambrose

 

Episcopal Relief & Development’s partnership with the Church of Burundi aims to provide high-quality support to farmers, enabling them to preserve their land, maximize its productivity and reduce malnutrition, especially for children under aage five. The research partnership with Cornell will provide robust data on program activities and impact, in order to shape future plans for improved outcomes, and valuable cross-cultural experiences for both students and program participants.

“Since international field experience is a degree requirement for all IARD students, we saw the opportunity for field placement with an Episcopal Relief & Development partner, especially a high-capacity one such as the Church in Burundi, to be mutually beneficial,” said Steven Kyle, Cornell professor and advisor for the International Agriculture and Rural Development graduate program. “After hearing about Angela and Emily’s experiences, we are very excited for the future of this partnership.”

Comprehensively, the Sustainable Livelihoods Program of the Anglican Church of Burundi aims to transform livelihoods through support in the areas of agriculture and the environment, water and sanitation, gender-based violence and health. In 2014, the program reached approximately 22,000 people in eight provinces.

“It is wonderful to be able to partner with Cornell on a project that provides meaningful opportunities and benefits for everyone involved,” said Abagail Nelson, Episcopal Relief & Development’s Senior Vice President of Programs. “As we and our partner in Burundi benefit from access to the advanced technical knowledge of Cornell’s students and faculty, we feel proud to be able to offer opportunities for students to be immersed in community-led programming and learn about our holistic, integrated approach to development. I look forward to seeing this partnership grow!”

Episcopal Relief & Development works with more than 3 million people in nearly 40 countries worldwide to overcome poverty, hunger and disease through multi-sector programs that utilize local resources and expertise. An independent 501(c)(3) organization, Episcopal Relief & Development works closely with Anglican Communion and ecumenical partners to help communities rebuild after disasters and develop long-term strategies to create a thriving future. In 2014-15, the organization joins Episcopalians and friends in celebrating 75 Years of Healing a Hurting World.   

EPPN Policy Alert: Protect immigrant families, support executive action

ENS Headlines - Thursday, February 5, 2015

[Episcopal Public Policy Network] Urge Your Member of Congress to Protect Immigrant Families &Support Executive ActionIn late 2014, President Obama announced a historic series of executive actions that will extend relief from deportation to millions of families across the country and make needed administrative changes to immigration enforcement priorities. Children and young adults who have known no other home but the United States, and parents of U.S. citizen children who have lived under the constant threat of separation from their sons and daughters will soon have the opportunity to apply for relief under the new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DAPA) program and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Within the first few weeks of 2015, however, there have been several attempts in Congress to repeal these programs of protection, thereby threatening families with separation, and reinstate overly punitive enforcement programs such as the Secure Communities Program.

Reforms to our nation’s immigration laws that prioritize family unity and humane and proportionate enforcement have long served as the foundation of our immigration reform advocacy. In 2012, General Convention passed a resolution in opposition to the Secure Communities Program and on January 12, 2015, over 100 bishops across the country joined the Presiding Bishop in voicing support for these Executive Actions. They called for Congress and the Administration to work together in implementation of these programs and to continue to work together towards a legislative solution to our broken immigration system.

Stand with immigrant families across the country and share that letter with your Members of Congress today!

General Convention 2015: The Blue Book will be available online

ENS Headlines - Thursday, February 5, 2015

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] The Report to the 78th General Convention, commonly referred to as The Blue Book, will be available online at the Episcopal Church General Convention website here.

Reports will be added to the General Convention website as they are received, the Rev. Canon Michael Barlowe, General Convention Executive Officer, said. Currently posted are reports from The Taskforce for Reimagining The Episcopal Church (TREC), the Task Force on the Study of Marriage, and the Standing Commission on Communications and Information Technology. Additional reports will be posted weekly, as they are translated and edited for publication.

The Episcopal Church’s 78th General Convention, June 25 – July 3, will be held at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, UT (Diocese of Utah).

For the first time, all reports for the Blue Book will be offered only online rather than in print.  “The 78th General Convention will be a convention of screens,” Barlowe explained.  “The Blue Book will not be printed as it has been in years past.”

He added that the documents can be downloaded as desired, and that Church Publishing may make a print copy available for purchase.

The Blue Book contains reports of the committees, commissions, agencies and boards of the General Convention. The information is available in English and in Spanish.

For questions about The Blue Book, contact Twila Rios, staff assistant for content management and digital publishing in the General Convention Office, trios@episcopalchurch.org.

The Episcopal Church’s General Convention is held every three years, and is the bicameral governing body of the Church. It comprises the House of Bishops, with upwards of 200 active and retired bishops, and the House of Deputies, with clergy and lay deputies elected from the 109 dioceses and three regional areas of the Church, at more than 800 members.

Texas: Eldest son arrested in murders of vicar, wife and child

ENS Headlines - Thursday, February 5, 2015

[Episcopal Diocese of Texas] The eldest son of the Rev. Israel Ahimbisibwe, Isaac Tiharihondi, was arrested in Mississippi and has been charged with two counts of capital murder, according to media reports. Ahimbisibwe, his wife Dorcas and five-year-old son Jay were found dead in their west Houston apartment on Feb. 2 after they failed to show up for church Sunday and did not respond to numerous attempts to contact them.

The Rev. Israel Ahimbisibwe

“While I am relieved authorities have found Isaac, I am heartbroken that he has been charged with capital murder,” said the Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle, bishop of Texas. “This only adds to the tragedy of their deaths and raises more questions than it answers.”

Ahimbisibwe, a native of Uganda, was vicar of Church of the Redeemer and chaplain at the University of Houston. He had previously served as an assistant at Holy Spirit, Houston. Emmanuel, 17, Ahimbisibwe’s middle son, is in boarding school in California.

“As a Christian community, let us pray for Emmanuel and Isaac as they journey through this time of grief and sorrow,” Doyle said. “Let us also pray for our courts and our prisons, that all involved will be given clarity of mind, peace and wisdom. Our Book of Common Prayer reminds us to ‘pray that any that are held unjustly be released and that those who are guilty find repentance and amendment of life.’ We follow a God in Jesus Christ who is present with those who suffer. Let us be faithful to the God of love and forgiveness.”

Funeral arrangements are pending.

CARAVAN interfaith art exhibition opens in Paris

ENS Headlines - Thursday, February 5, 2015

[CARAVAN press release] Following the recent tragedy in Paris and in the midst of the increasing chasm of discord and misunderstanding that exists between the Middle East and the West, and between Christians, Muslims and Jews, the 7th CARAVAN Exhibition of Visual Art titled “The Bridge” opens in Paris, France, this week at the historic Church of Saint Germain des Prés in the Latin Quarter.

The first week of February 2015 is the United Nations World Interfaith Harmony Week.

Through the founding sponsorship of SODIC from Egypt, The Bridge is an East-West traveling art exhibition organized and curated by CARAVAN, an interreligious and intercultural peace-building NGO. It showcases the work of 47 premier contemporary visual artists of Arab, Persian and Jewish backgrounds. As a multireligious group, the artists are making the case for using that which we have in common as the foundation for the future of our world.

The Bridge opened on Feb. 2 with a month-long exhibition in Paris, France and will then travel throughout Europe, to Egypt and the United States, and will be held in a variety of venues (cathedrals, museums, galleries, interfaith centers, etc) before closing in 2016.

As the exhibition travels, it takes with it a fundamental message of intercultural and interreligious harmony and provides a link not only within communities but also between communities. The Bridge serves as a common starting point on which to build, toward seeing the development of a world that inherently respects and honors cultural and religious diversity, living and working together in harmony.

The Bridge exhibition involves a diverse range of Arab, Persian and Jewish visual artists.

Participating artists include women and men, from premier contemporary artists to emerging younger artists, from the three primary monotheistic faith backgrounds and 13 countries. Each artist has submitted one original work (done specifically for the exhibition) addressing the theme “The Bridge,” focusing on what they hold in common through their cultures and creeds, illustrating their ideas of how to build bridges between us all.

The Bridge is co-curated by CARAVAN Founder/President, the Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler and noted artist, Lilianne Milgrom.

CARAVAN, which originated out of Cairo, Egypt, is an international humanitarian arts NGO that focuses on building bridges through the arts between the creeds and cultures of the Middle East and West. CARAVAN’s experience has shown that the Arts can serve as one of the most effective mediums to enhance understanding, bring about respect, enable sharing, and deepen friendship between those of different faiths and cultures. One of the flagship initiatives of CARAVAN is the globally recognized interfaith CARAVAN Exhibition of Visual Art, a unique arts initiative that brings together many of the Middle East’s and West’s premier and emerging

The 2014 CARAVAN Exhibition of Visual Art was held first in Cairo at the Museum of Modern Art, then in Washington D.C. at the renowned National Cathedral, following by in New York City at the historic Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. The exhibition involved 48 premier Egyptian and Western artists, from Christian, Muslim and Jewish traditions. Titled “AMEN: A Prayer for the World,” the art exhibition sought to express the deep, fundamental acknowledgment of power and hope for all people. More than 200,000 people viewed the exhibition in these three venues. The 2013 CARAVAN interfaith exhibition was held first in Cairo and then at the world renowned St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, attracting more than 120,000 people during the five-week exhibition.

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THE BRIDGE: 2015 CARAVAN Exhibition of Visual Art / Paris: 2-28 February, 2015 Church of Saint Germain des Pres (dans La Chapelle Saint Symphorien) 3, place Saint Germain des Prés, VI, Paris, France (www.eglise-sgp.org)

Monday through Friday: 5-8 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday: 12-8 p.m.
Website: www.oncaravan.org
Facebook: visit CARAVAN Arts
Twitter: @oncaravanarts

For more information, interviews or photos, please email: oncaravan@gmail.com

Lent Madness 2015 – Which saint will win the Golden Halo?

ENS Headlines - Thursday, February 5, 2015

[Lent Madness press release] For the sixth year running, people worldwide are gearing up for Lent Madness, the “saintly smackdown” in which 32 saints do battle to win the coveted Golden Halo. Calling itself the world’s most popular online Lenten devotion, Lent Madness brings together cut-throat competition, the lives of the saints, humor, and the chance to see how God works in the lives of women and men across all walks of life.

The creator of Lent Madness, the Rev. Tim Schenck, says, “People might think Lent is all about eating dirt and giving up chocolate, but it’s really about getting closer to Jesus.” Schenck, who is rector of St. John’s Church in Hingham, Massachusetts, adds, “The saints aren’t just remote images in stained glass windows or pious-looking statues. They were real people God just happened to use in marvelous ways.”

Lent Madness began on Schenck’s blog in 2010 as he sought a way to combine his love of sports with his passion for the lives of saints. Starting in 2012, he partnered with Forward Movement (the same folks that publish Forward Day by Day), to bring Lent Madness to the masses.

The Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, Schenck’s Lent Madness co-conspirator, says, “Throughout Lent, as we’re having fun with the competition, we are also inspired by how God used ordinary people to do extraordinary things.” Gunn, who is executive director of Forward Movement in Cincinnati, Ohio, adds, “That’s the whole point of the Christian life: to allow God to work in us to share God’s love and proclaim Good News.”

Schenck and Gunn form the self-appointed Supreme Executive Committee, a more-or-less benevolent dictatorship that runs the entire operation. The formula has worked as this online devotional has been featured in media outlets all over the country including NBC, The Washington Post, FOXNews, NPR, USAToday, and even Sports Illustrated (no, really).

Here’s how it works: on the weekdays of Lent, information is posted at www.lentmadness.org about two different saints. Each pairing remains open for 24 hours as participants read about and then vote to determine which saint moves on to the next round. Sixteen saints make it to the Round of the Saintly Sixteen; eight advance to the Round of the Elate Eight; four make it to the Faithful Four; two to the Championship; and the winner is awarded the Golden Halo.

The first round consists of basic biographical information about each of the 32 saints. Things get a bit more interesting in the subsequent rounds as we offer quotes and quirks, explore legends, and even move into the area of saintly kitsch.

This year Lent Madness features an intriguing slate of saints ancient and modern, Biblical and ecclesiastical. 2015 heavyweights include Teresa of Avila, Frederick Douglass, Francis of Assisi, Hildegard of Bingen, Balthazar, and the Venerable Bede. The full bracket is online at the Lent Madness website.

From the “you can’t know the saints without a scorecard” department, the Saintly Scorecard — The Definitive Guide to Lent Madness 2015 is available through Forward Movement. It contains biographies of all 32 saints to assist those who like to fill out their brackets in advance, in addition to a full-color pull-out bracket.

This all kicks off on “Ash Thursday,” February 19. To participate, visit the Lent Madness website, where you can also print out a bracket for free to see how you fare or “compete” against friends and family members. Like that other March tournament, there will be drama and intrigue, upsets and thrashings, last-minute victories and Cinderellas.

Ten “celebrity bloggers” from across the country have been tapped to write for the project including the Rev. Amber Belldene of San Francisco, CA; the Rev. Laurie Brock of Lexington, KY; Dr. David Creech of Morehead, MN; the Rev. Megan Castellan of Kansas City, MO; the Rev. Laura Darling of Oakland, CA; Neva Rae Fox of Somerville, NJ; the Rev. Nancy Frausto of Los Angeles, CA; the Rev. David Hendrickson of Denver, CO; the Rev. Maria Kane of Houston, TX; and the Rev. David Sibley of Manhasset, NY.

Information about each of the celebrity bloggers and the rest of the team is available on the Lent Madness website.

If you’re looking for a Lenten discipline that is fun, educational, occasionally goofy, and always joyful, consider this your invitation to join in the Lent Madness journey.

Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech on religious freedom

ENS Headlines - Thursday, February 5, 2015

[Lambeth Palace] Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby delivered the following speech at the launch of the Religious Liberty Commission in Westminster on Feb. 4.

It’s a great privilege to be here. This is an area of life which has been central to my own prayer and my own thinking for a very long time. When my wife and I got married in 1979, in our first two summer holidays, we took Bibles – with a group affiliated with Open Doors – firstly to what was then Czechoslovakia, and secondly to Romania.

That brought home to us a number of things. One was that God is present in the midst of the suffering of the persecuted church. Secondly that listening to those who are being persecuted is extraordinarily important; talking at them or about them is one thing, but actually hearing them is something quite different, and it burns itself into one’s soul.

Although there’s much talk of persecution in this country I think we need to distinguish our situation – as Rowan Williams did quite rightly – from the serious oppression in places around the world where the response to the call of Jesus to “follow me” is forbidden.

I’m going to expand this to talk about other faiths as we go on, but I’m consciously starting with Christians.

We need to start with generosity and free will, because religious freedom – the choice of how and whether at all we follow God or turn away from God – is something that is given in creation, and in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

For those of us who are Christians – I’m aware that there are other faiths here – living out that choice as something that we offer freely and around us, as well as something we demand for ourselves, is what distinguishes us from some of the sad and in fact evil history that has characterised the church…

Free choice is essential because that is what Jesus gave those he encountered. Think of the rich young ruler who is offered a choice and goes away saddened (Matthew 19:16-30). Think of the thieves on the cross on either side of Jesus, one of whom turns to him, the other of whom curses him: they have choice (Luke 23:39-43).

The choice to respond in faith or not is right through the Bible. The choice of truth and error is right through the Bible. In the Old Testament, the Jewish scriptures, we see above all in the history of Israel and in the teaching of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 30:11 ff) and all those books that link in closely to that pivotal book of the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy alone the word ‘choose’ comes more than 20 times; it is fundamental to our understanding of what it is to relate to God and to the world.

We are those who have space, who have free will, who have choice – and then bear the consequences.

For these reasons, even more fundamentally than international law, freedom of religion is a fundamental human right – now enshrined in international law – and should be treated as equal, not subordinate, to other human rights. And for those of us who are Christians, let’s just be quite clear that the church, including the Church of England, has a poor record in this as in many other areas, but perhaps in the last 300 years has begun to learn a little of where it went wrong.

Because human beings are in the image of God, our religious beliefs are a core part of what it is to be human. They form us into who we are; they provide foundations for our deepest convictions, and motivations for our sincerest actions.

That is something that goes back right through history. We see looking back that the formation of the monasteries with Saint Benedict was driven not by the thought that it would be a good idea to have somewhere that was safer as the Roman Empire collapsed around them, where a little bit of civilization could be maintained – let alone, as a friend who mine who’s a Catholic priest said to me, so that gentlemen can live together in community. It was so that faith in Christ could be expressed tangibly and visibly, in lives lived together growing towards Christ.

The trouble with ‘freedom of belief’ is that it’s almost misleading, as it fails fully to convey the total orientation and way of life that some foundational convictions provide. Unlike beliefs of preference, predilections and taste, faith is not an optional extra – or as it usually turns up in the research on marketing that sometimes comes across one’s desk, as a leisure interest. I remember years ago, when the present chief justice of the United States was appointed to his post and was about to go through his Senate confirmation hearings. There were a lot of questions about the fact that he is a Roman Catholic. The question was: would that influence his judgement? And I remember a senator who was interviewed and said, “I don’t mind him being a Roman Catholic, provided it has no effect on what he does.” [Laughter]

Well belief doesn’t work that way. It is essential that when we are talking about freedom of religion – and freedom not to follow a religion – that getting God, understanding what this means, the transformation at the deepest level of the human being that goes with faith in God, is something that isn’t just like saying, “I prefer the colour green to the colour blue”, but it’s often treated that way, a mere matter of personal preference. It is at the very depths of what it is to be human.

If human rights are normative, as we believe, for how humans ought to be treated, then the precious, God-given gift of human dignity is the foundation on which these rights stand. We have value, every human being has value, because we are valued by God. Rights spring from the ineradicable dignity that we are given in creation, and we have a responsibility before God, as those who trust in Him, to protect them.

We must be models ourselves; we must speak out in solidarity. Silence is not an option if we are to stay true to our faith. If our religious beliefs are a core part of our humanity, then treasuring the dignity of each and every human must mean we treasure their right to religious belief – even when we disagree. Religious freedom is a precious freedom, but it is also profoundly delicate and complex. It is not private, but public. It is lived out and expressed publicly.

I’ll speak about other faiths, but in Christianity to start with, to belong to Christ is to be part of the family of Christ. I look around and I see people here today – to my intense pleasure – Christians from the Levant and the Middle East. When they are attacked, we are attacked as Christians… but within Islam there is a similar concept: when Muslims in one part of the world are attacked, that is an attack on the people of Islam.

Religious faith is lived out in community. It’s lived out in love for one another. We may passionately disagree with doctrines of a different faith, but we need to recognise that faith is something that is public, that is something that we do together – and the moment that is attacked, the whole concept of what it means to belong to God is undermined. The public witness of the church that loves one another is a blessing to its community… and yet throughout history it is in its public gathering that the church is attacked.

Because of its public, communal nature, gathering of those who believe in God – Christians and other faiths – are a challenge in a diverse society. We find it fine to say that a particular church is going incredibly well and is full every Sunday. But at the same time – we see reports about it – we are deeply uncomfortable about the mosque down the road that has people outside because they can’t fit them in.

Well, if we believe in freedom to choose, if we believe in freedom of religion, what’s good for one is good for all. We must speak out for others persecuted for their beliefs, whether it be religious or atheistic: taking responsibility for someone else’s freedom is as important as protecting my own. It is as much the right of Stephen Fry to say what he said and not to be abused by Christians who are affronted, as it is the right of Christians to proclaim Jesus Christ as their Saviour: that is his freedom to choose, that is given to us in creation.

In the last two years my wife and I have visited every province of the Anglican Communion (37 of them). We have seen extraordinary stories of courage and persecution – not only the persecution of Christians, but the suppression of any diversity. In the Middle East we know that Christians are fleeing their homes… in Pakistan, I had an anguished email on Tuesday from our bishop there about a school that had been raided and attacked. By the grace of God people weren’t killed, but it is a routine part of life.

We know about the attacks on Jewish communities – this atrocious development of attacks on Jewish communities, particularly across Europe. We know about attacks on Muslims; mosques firebombed in this country. We know about attacks on other faiths.

But we also know in some countries about the quiet, creeping removals of freedom, which breed a climate of fear and animosity. The lesson we learn from the moving reading earlier about the plane going past is: why was that possible? It didn’t happen overnight. It began in the 1930s with the disparagement of Jewish people; with them being treated as less than entirely human. And by the time they were being carted off screaming in trains, it was more or less tolerated.

That breeding of a climate of fear and animosity is where we must first speak out. We must speak with humility and boldness. (I’m saying we now as the churches.) Boldness we do. But also we must speak with deep humility – the humility of the alcoholic who used to do this sort of thing themselves, but has learned right from wrong, and stands up and says, ‘Don’t be as I was’.

I welcome this coordination of efforts by the Religious Liberty Commission. And I echo its encouragement for religious and political leaders to continue to speak out in unison against all and any violation of freedom of religion.

Finally I am grateful for its support in resourcing us as church leaders with knowledge and encouraging us to engage with and pray for the persecuted church.

Freedom of religion embedded in the very way we are human. Freedom of religion is in international law. Freedom of religion is God-given and God-called. It is preserved by humble, confident care of what it is to be a human being, and the knowledge that when human beings live out their lives faithful to Christ – and I’m talking here as a Christian – they are the most human they will ever be.

Thank you.

Find out more about the Religious Liberty Commission 

Rapidisimas

ENS Headlines - Thursday, February 5, 2015

Peter Eaton, de 56 años de edad, deán de la catedral de Denver, Colorado, ha sido electo obispo coadjutor (auxiliar con derecho a sucesión) de la diócesis del Sureste de la Florida que tiene su sede en Miami. La elección tuvo lugar en la cuarta votación. Desde el principio Eaton llevaba una ligera ventaja. Hijo de clérigo, su padre fue profesor de seminario en Barbados y Puerto Rico. Eaton  hizo la mayor parte de sus estudios en Inglaterra y habla español, inglés y francés. Sucederá al obispo Leopoldo Frade que se jubila por razones de edad en enero del año que viene. Él y su esposa Kate están celebrando el décimo aniversario de su boda. Ella se especializa en componer música religiosa. ¡Enhorabuena!

La muerte por incineración de un joven piloto jordano capturado en diciembre en Siria y que ha sacudido al mundo, puede traer graves consecuencias para el Medio Oriente, dijeron observadores políticos. En Jordania se informó que ya se están haciendo los preparativos para vengar la muerte del piloto. Un vocero del grupo dijo que “el mundo sabrá de lo que son capaces” haciendo justicia por este horrendo crimen perpetrado ante los ojos del mundo.

La polémica entre el periódico ABC de Madrid y el presidente de Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, ha subido de tono recientemente. Mientras que el diario madrileño reitera su información en el sentido de que Diosdado Cabello, presidente de la Asamblea Nacional, “es la mano que mece el narcotráfico” y que el periódico promueve una campaña “bestial y vulgar” contra el país petrolero, ABC contesta diciendo que “bestial y vulgar es amordazar a la prensa, cerrar emisoras de radio y televisión y meter en la cárcel a quien piense diferente”.

Israel Ahimbisibwe, sacerdote episcopal de 52 años, su esposa y un hijo pequeño fueron asesinados en su apartamento de Houston. La familia era de origen ugandés. El clérigo servía como capellán en la Universidad de Houston y estaba a cargo de una pequeña Iglesia Episcopal. Era muy querido en la comunidad por su trabajo pastoral. La policía encontró sus cuerpos cuando no asistieron a un oficio donde Ahimbisibwe debía oficiar. Los investigadores no descartan ninguna posibilidad.

La acción del presidente Barack Obama de reanudar las relaciones entre Estados Unidos y Cuba ha causado más revuelo de lo que se pensó originalmente. Gran parte de la comunidad cubana está dividida sobre las consecuencias de estas medidas. El gobierno de Cuba ha reaccionado positivamente aunque ha puesto unas condiciones que los analistas piensan que son “irrealizables”. El gobernante Raúl Castro ha dicho que Estados Unidos tendrá que eliminar las sanciones que impone el embargo económico (en Cuba le llaman “bloqueo”), y compensar a Cuba por las consecuencias  negativas  de éste durante los últimos 55 años, devolver el territorio que ocupa la base naval  de Guantánamo y suspender las transmisiones de Radio y Televisión Martí. Estados Unidos por su parte, pide el restablecimiento del estado de derecho, elecciones libres, libertad de prensa y libertad para los presos políticos. Veremos qué pasa.

El Departamento de Estado de Estados Unidos ha decidido restringir visas a más funcionarios del gobierno de Venezuela. La nota dada a la publicidad dice en parte: “Los que violan los derechos humanos y aquellos que se benefician de la corrupción y sus familias no son bienvenidos en Estados Unidos”. Seguramente que Venezuela responderá en forma similar.

Michelle Bachelet, presidenta de Chile, ha enviado al congreso un proyecto de ley que elimina la condena a los que interrumpen el embarazo o según el lenguaje médico “despenaliza el aborto terapéutico” que fue instaurado durante el régimen de Pinochet. Bachelet es médica pediatra. Según el proyecto de ley el plazo para abortar es de 12 semanas de gestación y cuando se trate de una menor de 14 años se buscará la autorización de los padres.

Con el revuelo que han causado las posibles relaciones entre Estados Unidos y Cuba, se cree que la ley que da preferencia a los cubanos para inmigrar a Estados Unidos según una ley llamada de “Ajuste Cubano”, se pronostica que esta ley sea enmendada y que miles de cubanos que residen en suelo estadounidense tendrán que ser extraditados a Cuba especialmente los que hayan cometido delitos graves. Según las autoridades hay 34,525 cubanos con órdenes finales de deportación.   ORACIÓN. Señor, ten piedad.

Ruling issued in South Carolina property case

ENS Headlines - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

[The Episcopal Church in South Carolina press release] Circuit Court Judge Diane S. Goodstein has ruled that a breakaway group that sued local Episcopalians over control of the Diocese of South Carolina has the right to hold onto the name and property of the diocese.

The judge’s decision was issued late in the afternoon on Feb. 3, more than six months after the conclusion of a three-week trial in St. George in July. The lawsuit initially was filed by the breakaway group in January 2013 against The Episcopal Church and its local diocese in eastern South Carolina, which is known as The Episcopal Church in South Carolina. TECSC includes 30 parishes and mission churches in the region who have remained part of The Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion.

“We have understood from the beginning that this lawsuit was mounted after years of planning by individuals who were intent upon taking the diocese and its property out of The Episcopal Church,” said Holly Behre, Director of Communications for TECSC. “We have also understood that defending ourselves will be a long legal process.”

“We are considering all the issues raised by the Court Order and plan to recommend to the Church to engage the appeal process as appropriate,” said diocesan Chancellor Thomas S. Tisdale. “The result of the recent trial was not unexpected and road ahead in the judicial system is clear to us.”

The Rt. Rev. Charles G. vonRosenberg, Bishop of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, said the ruling represents one step on a long journey. “Our biblical heritage tells of journeys experienced by faithful people. Those journeys often were difficult and filled with setbacks, but people of faith were called to persevere on the way.”

“Perseverance is our call and intention, on this journey in our day,” the bishop said.

The bishop said history also contains many examples of justice being delayed. “The Episcopal Church in South Carolina believes that such is the situation we now must endure for a while, as we continue on this journey.”

Von Rosenberg later issued a pastoral letter about the court ruling. It is available here.

Marriage task force calls for gender-neutral language in marriage canon

ENS Headlines - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

[Episcopal News Service] The A050 Task Force on the Study of Marriage is recommending that the 2015 meeting of General Convention authorize Episcopal Church clergy to officiate at same-sex marriages.

The task force proposes the change in its just-released Blue Book report by way of a resolution (numbered A036) that would revise Canon I.18 titled “Of the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony” (page 58 of The Episcopal Church’s canons here).

The revision removes, among many edits, the language of I.18.2(b) that requires couples to “understand that Holy Matrimony is a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman.” Removing that and other gender-specific language from the canon, the report says, addresses the mandate in the group’s enabling resolution that it “address the pastoral need for priests to officiate at a civil marriage of a same-sex couple in states that authorize such.”

Section 3 of Canon 18 would be rewritten to, in part, remove the requirement that the couple sign a declaration stating they “solemnly declare that we hold marriage to be a lifelong union of husband and wife as it is set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.”

The revision would recast the requirement in the canon’s first section that clergy conform to both “the laws of the state” and “the laws of this Church” about marriage. The rewritten portion of that section would require that clergy conform to “the laws of the State governing the creation of the civil status of marriage, and also to these canons concerning the solemnization of marriage.”

Canon I.18 contains the majority of the rules in the church’s canons about clergy officiating at marriage. Canon I.19 governs the “preservation of marriage, dissolution of marriage, and remarriage” and as such refers to “husband” and “wife” in its third section. The Book of Common Prayer, which Article X of the church’s constitution authorizes, refers to marriage on page 422 as Christian marriage being “a solemn and public covenant between a man and a woman in the presence of God.” It uses gender-specific language throughout “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage,” “The Blessing of a Civil Marriage” and “An Order for Marriage” rites, as well as in its “Additional Directions” section.

The task force says in its report that its revision of Canon I.18 makes the canon “focused on the actual vows made in The Book of Common Prayer marriage rite, rather than on the purposes of marriage in general,” which it adds are stated “in literally creedal form.”

The clergy’s discretion to decline to solemnize any marriage is preserved and extended to include the choice to decline offering a blessing on a marriage, the task force said.

The 122-page report, the majority of which includes resources the task force developed for the study of marriage and essays on various issues concerning marriage, is available in English here and in Spanish here.

The task force was formed in response to a call (via Resolution A050) from the 77th General Convention in July 2012 for a group of “theologians, liturgists, pastors and educators to identify and explore biblical, theological, historical, liturgical and canonical dimensions of marriage.”

That same meeting of convention authorized provisional use of a rite to bless same-sex relationships. Use of that rite, Liturgical Resources I: I Will Bless You and You Will Be A Blessing, is due to be reviewed by General Convention in 2015.

Noting the rapidly changing social and legal landscape of marriage, the Task Force on the Study of Marriage says in its report that “this time of flux bears continuing discernment and attention by our Church.”

Thus the group will ask convention to consider Resolution A037 to continue the task force’s work into the 2016-2018 triennium as a way to “explore further those contemporary trends and norms” the current group has identified.

Those trends and norms, the group’s report says, include “those who choose to remain single; unmarried persons in intimate relationships; couples who cohabitate either in preparation for, or as an alternative to, marriage; couples who desire a blessing from the Church but not marriage; parenting by single and/or unmarried persons; differing forms of family and household such as those including same-sex parenting, adoption, and racial diversity; and differences in marriage patterns between ethnic and racial groups, and between provinces inside and outside the United States.”

While doing its work this triennium, “the Task Force became highly aware of a growing contemporary reality in society and the Church that is redefining what many mean by ‘family’ or ‘household,’” the group says in its report, adding that “this changing reality is felt in our congregations.”

Marriage “as a normative way of life” is being challenged, yet the group says it “did not have the time or resources to fully address this reality.”

“More broadly, our Church has done very little to respond to it,” the task force says.

The task force’s two resolutions, as well as other expected proposed resolutions on marriage, will be handled by a special legislative Committee on Marriage when the General Convention next meets June 25-July 3 in Salt Lake City.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, said in July that they would appoint the committee “to ensure that the work of the Task Force on Marriage and resolutions related to the rapidly shifting contexts of civil marriage in the United States and in several other parts of the world can be given appropriate consideration.”

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter of the Episcopal News Service.

US interfaith leaders leave Holy Land with deeper sense of possibilities

ENS Headlines - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The interfaith delegation gathers for a group photo outside the Peres Peace Center in Jaffa, Israel, following a meeting with former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Photo: Matthew Davies/ENS

[Episcopal News Service] A tapestry of words such as “vulnerability” and “fragility,” “courage” and “dignity” were woven into a common thread as Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders from the United States concurred that they’d been transformed by a weeklong pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The experience, they said, would augment their responsibility to partners in Israel and the Palestinian Territories and inform the fabric of their future peacemaking work, both in the region and closer to home.

The 15-member interfaith group was co-led by Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori; Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA); and Sayyid Syeed, national director of interfaith and community alliances for the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, share a moment of quiet reflection during a visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the holocaust. Photo: Matthew Davies/ENS

The group held meetings with Israelis and Palestinians, decision-makers, high-level politicians, religious and civic leaders, and shared in one another’s faith traditions as they traveled for nine days in Israel, the West Bank, and Jerusalem. Stops included Tel Aviv, Nazareth, Safed, Tiberius, Ramallah, the West Bank settlement of Gush Etzion and its surrounding areas, and both east and west Jerusalem.

While extended meetings with Palestinian government officials necessitated cancellation of a group trip to Bethlehem, some pilgrims visited the West Bank city between other meetings. The full group toured the separation barrier in its route around Bethlehem and its environs in the West Bank. A group visit to Hebron was canceled because of last-minute schedule alterations as a winter storm approached the U.S. forcing some participants to change their departure plans.

(An ENS article about the group’s meeting with political leaders is available here.)

As the group reflected on the week, in conversation at the Palestinian-run hotel where they were staying inside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, Gutow described the journey as “a pilgrimage of relationship.

Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, director of social justice and interfaith initiatives for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, takes a photo of members of the Muslim delegation (from left) Mohamed Elsanousi, director of external relations for Finn Church Aid; Sayyid Syeed, national director of interfaith and community alliances for the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA); and Azhar Azeez, president of ISNA. Photo: Matthew Davies/ENS

“We thickened together as we traversed the holy soil of the holiest of lands. We saw the beauty of the place and we saw its pain. We grew in our understanding,” he said. “It is not the simple vision with which we entered the land but rather the complexity, the nuance, the stories (good and bad), the difficulties that now define our vision of what is there. Holiness takes a bit of work.”

Jefferts Schori said that the pilgrims’ “willingness to enter into deep conversation and both to teach and to learn in the interchanges will continue to resonate. I feel like we’ve had a taste of the eternal reality which our traditions seek.”

She also noted that, as an interfaith coalition, “we have a voice that can speak to political leaders, to other religious leaders, to other civic leaders. There is the potential to light some fires, in the best sense, around the United States, of hope and possibility if we speak together … May we be vessels and instruments of the peace of the Holy One.”

The Quran, Syeed said, “tells us that we have invested human beings with nobility and dignity, but that in order to maintain that dignity we have a certain responsibility. It’s very difficult for us to go back and lose sight of that dignifying process that God has set for us: to look into each other’s eyes, see that there is an image of God, and believe that we cannot allow ourselves to be degenerated, and we will not allow others to be degenerated. It is our collective duty to save each other.”

Members of the interfaith delegation tour the separation barrier in its route around Bethlehem. Photo: Matthew Davies/ENS

The visit was planned in response to Resolution B019, passed by the Episcopal Church’s General Convention in 2012, that called for positive investment and engagement in the region and recommended that the presiding bishop develop an interfaith model pilgrimage that experiences multiple narratives. That resolution reiterated the Episcopal Church’s longstanding commitment to a negotiated two-state solution “in which a secure and universally recognized State of Israel lives alongside a free, viable and secure state for the Palestinian people.”

The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has lasted more than 60 years. U.S.-led peace negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders broke down in May 2014, with both sides blaming the other for failing to make adequate concessions on issues such as borders, the status of refugees, the sharing of Jerusalem, and the construction of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.

Alexander D. Baumgarten, director of public engagement and mission communication for The Episcopal Church, and one of the pilgrimage’s organizers, said: “It strikes me that narrative is a really complicated thing, because narrative is born out of our own levels of trust with the communities and the people and the realities with which we identify, for us as well as for Israelis and Palestinians. That is a wonderful thing in many ways but it is also fraught with danger, because in clinging to our own narratives … we might fail to see the authentic truth in another narrative.”

Bishop Prince Singh of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester. Photo: Matthew Davies/ENS

Bishop Prince Singh of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, a member of the Episcopal delegation, agreed. “We’ve not just celebrated our differences; we’ve moved into engaging more deeply the truths that each of us has grown with and has considered holy, but to be able to recognize it in another truth,” he said. “The various mirrors that have been presented have been a lot clearer because of this kind of transparency in community.”

Throughout the pilgrimage, Singh said that he’d found himself “going to deep places, which I cannot do if I’m not vulnerable. When we look at issues of justice, opinions can differ because of the lenses we use. But if, experientially, this is what beloved community can be, that gives me a lot of hope.”

The pilgrims said that the experience of journeying together as an interfaith community would also bear fruit when tackling pressing issues in their own contexts.

“I feel like God has thrown the pebble in the water and the ripples are just starting,” said Singh. “One such ripple for me is this template that can be applicable to peace on so many levels … One of the things I am taking away from here is to invite people into partnerships, and especially with the government, to see if we can figure out some solutions together, and if the faith communities can be helpful in the process … so that we can address some big issues like poverty and violence in our communities.”

Said Jefferts Schori: “I know there will be abundant opportunities for us to collaborate, in seeking healing in the Land of the Holy One, and in the nation we share in a different hemisphere. Peace building in one place impacts troubled and violent situations elsewhere.”

Members of the pilgrimage group have agreed to continue meeting now that they’re back in the United States, for the purpose of sharing trip reflections and recommendations with elected officials and to lead their own communities through an extended journey of shared advocacy, education and dialogue related to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to Baumgarten, Episcopalians can expect to hear more about this in the months between now and when the 78th General Convention begins in Salt Lake City in June.

Sharing in one another’s faith traditions and learning about Jerusalem as a shared holy city through the eyes of other faith leaders brought a new dimension to the group’s understanding of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim histories and present context in the Holy Land.

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Rabbi Leonard Gordon, interreligious relations chair for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, look out over Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Photo: Matthew Davies/ENS

“We knew that each of our traditions saw the face of God in those hills and valleys; we now know that all of our traditions see the face of God there,” Gutow said. “As we grew together, we were able to feel God’s presence in each of our hearts, not just our own. That is the gift. We understand even more than we did, and seeing God’s face in each other only deepens our responsibility to the land, to each other and, frankly, to God.”

The interfaith group tours the archaeological excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo: Matthew Davies/ENS

Mohamed Elsanousi, director of external relations for Finn Church Aid in the U.S., and a member of the Muslim delegation, said that the fellowship among faiths “strengthening our relationships and building trust among us” has been a pivotal part of the trip, especially in deepening his understanding of the land and its meaning as the “sacred places of all the children of Abraham.”

He said the experience also would create space for more opportunities intended to further dialogue and deepen understanding among faiths in the U.S. “This visit has put responsibility on us … because we’ve been given this opportunity to understand” and to act, he said.

Syeed spoke of several U.S.-based initiatives and publications – facilitated by ISNA and its interfaith partners – to combat ignorance, misunderstandings and to change people’s preconceived notions about the Abrahamic faiths.

“We are talking about a fellowship that is determined to change the situation – a transformative fellowship – so that has to be on strong grounds,” said Syeed, with specific reference to two resource guides for interfaith dialogue, Sharing the Well and Children of Abraham.

The pilgrims also recognized that sharing this journey with such a diverse group of religious leaders presents certain challenges and shifts people outside of their comfort zones.

Rabbi Leonard Gordon, interreligious relations chair for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said that the pilgrimage has involved, “a certain amount of contraction, in our regular prayer routines, our regular eating routines, our regular routines of speaking our mind. We have been deferential to one another.”

Gordon acknowledged that there have been moments of tension and discomfort but recognized that “it is hard to be together and to be in this world of conflict that many of us speak about all the time, and we’ve had to be in this place of listening, but I think we’ve done it wonderfully.”

Members of the group reflect on the weeklong pilgrimage before returning home to the U.S. Photo: Matthew Davies/ENS

Sharon Jones, executive assistant to Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori, was visiting the Holy Land for the first time. She said that the experience has been overwhelming but that she is returning to the United States with a new purpose and with a commitment to finding ways that she can respond.

Initial anxieties about spending a week with a new group of religious leaders and what she might be able to contribute to the pilgrimage were quashed after meeting everyone on the first evening. “I’ve felt community and I’ve felt a lot of trust, and we’ve shared so much.”

The Rev. Margaret Rose, deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations for The Episcopal Church, said: “If we are pilgrims, we continue to be on that journey … We now need to determine what action should emerge, and that action really should require courage. I have experienced people here as being incredibly brave. So I pray for some bravery and courage to do some things that we haven’t done before.”

Azhar Azeez, president of the Islamic Society of North America, and Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, director of social justice and interfaith initiatives for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, in conversation ahead of meetings with Palestinian government officials. Photo: Matthew Davies/ENS

Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, director of social justice and interfaith initiatives for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said that instead of looking at all of the things with which she is comfortable and familiar, she “looked up and out, and it felt really different because I am with a new community that sees from all these different perspectives. It touched me … I think a lot of what we’re trying to do is to see the world from God’s perspective, and I think that is one of the main messages we received: to remember that this belongs to God.”

Steinlauf noted that everyone the group met with “ultimately said that we are going to have hope and be optimistic … because you just have to be, and there’s a sense that, well there could be a miracle. To have such disparate views expressed and yet to hear that all are still holding out hope for a miracle, it’s nice to know that we are all working for one and with perseverance that we might actually get one.”

Azhar Azeez, president of the Islamic Society of North America, also spoke of seeing things from new perspectives, through the eyes of religious leaders, politicians, academics, authors and activists. “This land is a truly blessed land, but at the same time we find some huge challenges … It is very easy for me in America or anyone else in a Western society to talk about these issues, but the real challenges are faced by the people who live over here.”

Several members of the group said they had been moved and inspired by meetings with leaders of grassroots initiatives – the Shades Negotiation Program, EcoPeace and Roots – that bring together Israelis and Palestinians to hear and learn from one another’s narratives, and to build a peaceful society in which everyone can prosper.

“I was totally overwhelmed by the courage it took for each one of them,” said Gutow. “When you go against the tradition, whatever that tradition might be, when you go against your own people, when you’re willing to stand up and say, ‘this is not the right way to do it,’ that takes a certain kind of courage.”

Ethan Felson, vice president and general counsel for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and the Rev. Margaret Rose, Episcopal Church deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations, talk during a visit to the Yardenit Baptismal Site on the Jordan River. Photo: Matthew Davies/ENS

Ethan Felson, vice president and general counsel for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said: “In a time when there is so much energy devoted to smashing one side or another, it was enriching to experience true peacemakers at work on the ground smashing their own comfort zones, and to travel among peacemakers doing the same thing.”

The people who are doing the most transformative work, Felson said, “aren’t the ones who are focused on a document or on policies or on calling out something, but rather about remaining where they are in their community in that authentic place and meeting others who similarly remain in that authentic place, and really embracing a different understanding of what it means for two people with different narratives to come to live alongside one another.”

The Rev. John E. Kitagawa, rector of St. Philip’s-in-the-Hills Episcopal Church in Tucson, Arizona, said: “We’ve heard from these incredible voices of people who are really putting themselves on the line, looking at themselves so intently, being able to make those conversions of heart. I am leaving in a more hopeful place than I thought I would be.”

In summing up the pilgrimage, Baumgarten said, “What I’ve been encouraged by on this trip was seeing that, especially away from the spotlight, Israelis and Palestinians really are challenging their communities to walk by a different road, and I think that now, in going home, we really are challenged to challenge our own communities to walk by another road.”

Baumgarten drew on the T.S. Eliot poem The Journey of the Magi, in which Eliot writes in the voices of the wise men, “We returned to our places, these Kingdoms. But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation.”

“That’s how I feel as an outcome of this trip,” said Baumgarten. “I feel that if everyone could come here and walk the road we’ve walked together, none of us would be at ease in our old dispensation.”

– Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter of the Episcopal News Service.

Joining hands in mission on Feb. 22, Episcopal Relief & Development Sunday

ENS Headlines - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

[Episcopal Relief & Development press release] Congregations across The Episcopal Church will join hands in mission on Episcopal Relief & Development Sunday, Feb.22, with prayers, sermons and special offerings to support the organization’s work worldwide.

This year’s observance has particular significance, as Episcopalians and friends celebrate 75 years of healing a hurting world through the agency’s programs and partnerships. Today, Episcopal Relief & Development works with more than three million people each year in nearly 40 countries to strengthen communities and combat poverty, hunger and disease.

“This 75th Anniversary year is a special time to celebrate the dedicated efforts, generous contributions and steadfast prayers of supporters and partners who have made this journey possible,” said Rob Radtke, President. “I invite all Episcopalians to join me in holding this organization and its vibrant, global community in prayer, both on Episcopal Relief & Development Sunday and throughout the year.”

Five “I Believe” statements provide the core theme for Episcopal Relief & Development Sunday this year, rallying awareness and action in support of clean water, sustainable agriculture, child survival, economic empowerment and strong partnerships for long-term impact. Congregations may focus on a specific program area with downloadable educational and faith formation resources for all age groups, or incorporate the 75th Anniversary Prayers of the People and Collect into their liturgy. Planning guides and bulletin inserts in English and Spanish are available on the organization’s website at episcopalrelief.org/Sunday.

In addition, the 75th Anniversary edition of Lenten Meditations provides daily reflections for Ash Wednesday through Easter, and a new prayer resource called “Walk in Love” – based on the Anglican Cycle of Prayer, with personal stories and detailed descriptions from Episcopal Relief & Development’s partners and programs – offers weekly devotionals for the entire year.

“Lent is a time of reflection, for renewing our commitment to seeking and serving Christ in all persons and prayerfully considering how to use our own talents and resources to create an abundant shared future,” said Sean McConnell, Director of Engagement. “Episcopal Relief & Development seeks to bring Episcopalians and friends into closer relationship with Christ and with one another, as we strive together to build a global community where all God-given gifts are valued and utilized for the good of many.”

Lent was designated at the 2009 General Convention as a time to encourage dioceses, congregations and individuals to remember and support the life-saving work of Episcopal Relief & Development. Although the first Sunday in Lent is the official day, congregations may observe Episcopal Relief & Development on any Sunday during the Lenten season.

Lenten resources can be downloaded from episcopalrelief.org/Lent. Printed Lenten Meditations and Walk in Love booklets, as well as hope chests, offering envelopes, prayer cards and other materials, may be ordered from Episcopal Marketplace online or by calling 1.866.937.2772. Orders should be placed by February 10 for delivery to most locations by Ash Wednesday, though expedited shipping is available.

“One of the most inspiring aspects of the 75th Anniversary Celebration is talking with Episcopalians who care deeply about the work we do together and are actively sharing their stories and passion with others,” McConnell said. “This year’s Episcopal Relief & Development Sunday will be especially meaningful, as we reflect on our legacy of lifting up those most vulnerable and look toward the next 75 years of building community and relationships that support the holistic well-being of all Creation.”

Episcopal Relief & Development works with more than 3 million people in nearly 40 countries worldwide to overcome poverty, hunger and disease through multi-sector programs that utilize local resources and expertise. An independent 501(c)(3) organization, Episcopal Relief & Development works closely with Anglican Communion and ecumenical partners to help communities rebuild after disasters and develop long-term strategies to create a thriving future. In 2014-15, the organization joins Episcopalians and friends in celebrating 75 Years of Healing a Hurting World.     

Task Force on Study of Marriage presents final report

ENS Headlines - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] The Episcopal Church Task Force on the Study of Marriage has presented its final report to the 78th General Convention and to the Church, and for inclusion in Reports to General Convention, commonly referred to as The Blue Book.

The 122 page report in English is here.

The report in Spanish is here.

The Episcopal Church’s Task Force on the Study of Marriage was enabled by Resolution A050 at the 2012 General Convention.

The Episcopal Church’s 78th General Convention, June 25 – July 3, 2015 will be held at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, UT (Diocese of Utah).

The Episcopal Church’s General Convention is held every three years, and is the bicameral governing body of the Church. It is comprised of the House of Bishops, with upwards of 200 active and retired bishops and the House of Deputies, with clergy and lay deputies elected from the 109 dioceses of the Church, at more than 800 members.