[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] Jerusalem’s vocation is as a city of peace, the Archbishop in Jerusalem, the Most Revd Suheil Dawani, has said. The seemingly incongruous statement was made in a speech at the Carter Centre in Atlanta Georgia in which he spoke about the Church’s role as peace-builder in a multi-faith context.
“The vocation of Jerusalem is to be a city of peace,” he said. “Its very name invites us to explore diversity and peace within the one shared reality. In the first instance, as is well known, the salem element in the name of our city refers to the words for peace in both Hebrew and Arabic: Shalom and Salaam.
“On the other hand, the dual form of the word in Hebrew suggests some kind of plurality about this place of peace. The very form of the word invites us to imagine Jerusalem as more than a simple reality, but rather a place where a rich diversity is integral to the Shalom/Salaam found within its walls.”
He explained that throughout the Middle East, and particularly in Jerusalem, religion is “integral to the identity of individuals, families, communities and national societies”. This was not always recognised in the secular West where “religion is seen as an optional personal attribute.
“The religious diversity of Jerusalem is apparent even to the casual observer, and sometimes the diversity leads to conflict that shames every person of faith,” he said. The Archbishop explained that he was not merely talking about differences between Christians, Jews and Muslims; but also differences within those groups.
“Our religious diversity, and the competition it often breeds, has too frequently been part of the problem in our region. However, that very diversity may also be an asset as we seek to deepen trust and reduce violence.”
In explaining the Church’s “essential role” in the “complex social and political context” of Jerusalem, Archbishop Dawani spoke of the need to “develop, embrace and practice a theology of presence as a form of mission”; and said: “Such a theology will not ignore witness and evangelism or turn away people drawn to Christianity from other religious communities. But it will understand that proactive evangelism is problematic and perhaps even unhelpful in our context.”
He went on to explore the Church’s presence through the areas of faith, hope, hospitality, service, solidarity, prophecy and justice.
“These seven suggestions are some essential attributes of a Christian community that embraces a theology of divine presence,” he said. “You may have already noticed that none of them are exclusively Christian attributes, even though they are authentic Christian attributes.
“Herein lies perhaps our major task as a Christian community engaged in interfaith dialogue. When we are true to our own deepest calling, we are close to the deepest calling of our interfaith colleagues.
“In being who God calls us to be, we encourage and support people of other faiths also to be what God calls them to be. If every religious community in Jerusalem and the Middle East practiced these seven attributes then our region would be a more peaceful place, and perhaps even a model of justice and reconciliation for other parts of the world.”
Archbishop Dawani concluded his speech with examples of the Anglican Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem’s presence in the region, including the Princess Basma Centre in East Jerusalem; the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza; the Theodore Schneller School in Amman, Jordan; and the St Luke’s Hospital in Nablus. “Each of these institutions and many others beside them, give glory to God and serve our neighbours in their moments of need,” he said. “They do not compete with others or seek to draw people away from their own communities of faith. They are simply expressions of Christian presence, and as such they are signs of God’s presence with us all.”
- Click here to read Archbishop Dawani’s full speech.