This website is best viewed with CSS and JavaScript enabled.

Terry Waite urges church to be 'a voice for peace

Posted on: May 8, 2003 3:36 PM
Related Categories: USA

From an article by Dan Webster

[ENS] "The world of international affairs is a moral mess," Terry Waite, the former Anglican envoy held hostage for four years in Lebanon, told an audience at the Salt Lake City Library auditorium in the US on May 3. "I don't know who is going to clean it up."

Terry Waite was in Utah for the annual Dewey Lecture Series, and preached the following day at Salt Lake City's All Saints Church. He served as an envoy of Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie in the Middle East during the 1980s, negotiating with kidnappers in Iran and Libya, when he was taken hostage by the group Islamic Jihad in Lebanon in 1987. He was released after 1,763 days in captivity in November 1991.

The former hostage told the audience at the library that there are two perceptions in the Arab and Islamic worlds that should concern the United States: that the primary motive for the war in Iraq was economic, and that by going to war the US has "consolidated the base of terrorism." In politics, perceptions should be taken as seriously as reality, he said.

"The UN is only as strong as its member nations allow it to be," he said. Russia, China, the United States and the United Kingdom have wanted to use the UN for their own national purposes, he maintained, suggesting that a "move towards nations giving up some sovereignty to the UN" would strengthen the international body.

Later, in an interview, he said that "this would be a good time" to see the United Nations reconstructed. "We need to hear more the voices from the Nobel Peace Prize winners," he suggested. He thinks retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former President Jimmy Carter and others could be helpful in restoring morality to the life of international relations.

On Sunday, Terry Waite recalled how he kept hope alive during the years he was imprisoned. "As a boy in church, sitting in the quire - Sunday by Sunday - I thought often I was bored," he said. "Often the sermons meant nothing to me. They seemed to float over my head.

"I didn't think I was learning anything but, years later in captivity, the language came back. I had no books, no prayer book, but I could remember the services of the church: they were there. They were stored in my memory, and I could draw on them." He said he did not engage in extemporaneous prayer in the dark solitude of his hostage life, fearing that in doing so he would "give voice to depression and despair," so he resolved to stick with his memorised collects.

"I reverted to the prayers that I had learned through the prayer book," he told the congregation, "Which were simple, straightforward and balanced and, in that way, was able to find some inner peace amidst the conflict raging all around. That was a great and wonderful gift."
Those prayers and the services of the church, he said in an interview, also gave him the opportunity to be in community even during his more than three years of strict isolation. It was a great comfort for him, he said, to feel part of the worldwide cycle of prayer that Anglicans were saying with him each day of his captivity.

One favourite prayer, which he recited before both groups, meant a great deal during those times he was chained to the floor, blindfolded and held in a room with no windows or artificial light: "Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night." It is one of the 84 collects of Cranmer that appears in the Evening Prayer service in prayer books throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The gospel text for Sunday (Luke 24:36b-48) was the story of Jesus' first appearance to the disciples after the Resurrection. Jesus' first words to his disciples, "Peace be with you," seemed to feed Terry Waite's message to the faithful.

"Peace, if we discover it and we grow into it, must overflow to others," he said. "In Cranmer's day, there were terrible times, terrible times of conflict between religions. We see them today and Cranmer knew them within the Christian faith. His fate was to die at the stake. He was burned in Oxford for heresy. He wasn't the only one. It was common practice in those days. How, you say, can there be such brutality amongst people who claim to possess Christian faith? It's a question worth asking."

He told the congregation that the church has an important and vital role "to ask the right questions about root causes and to make a voice known. A voice of peace, not a voice that gives way to everything, not a voice that appeases, but a voice that speaks out clearly and confidently with the message of Christ."