The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has concluded a pastoral visit to Jerusalem, where he met with the Anglican Archbishop, Hosam Naoum, and other Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem. The visit took place amidst the on-going Israeli-Hamas war and days after an explosion damaged al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, part of the health ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.
During his visit, Archbishop Justin paid courtesy calls on the Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Theophilos III; the Latin Patriarch, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa; and the Palestinian Bishop of the Episcopal Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land, Bishop Sani Azar.
The latter visit took place at the Augusta Victoria Hospital, a ministry of the Lutheran World Federation. The hospital and the LWF had recently signed a partnership with the Diocese of Jerusalem and al-Ahli Arab Hospital for a new cancer treatment centre in Gaza.
During his visit, Archbishop Justin led prayers at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City – the holiest site in Christendom: it is believed to be the site of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He also led an evensong service at Saint George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem, in the presence of the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches. Finally, Archbishop Justin presided at the usual Eucharist service at the cathedral yesterday morning (Sunday).
Speaking as the visit got underway, a spokesperson at Lambeth Palace, the official London offices and residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, explained the purpose of the visit, saying: “this a crucial time for all of us to show solidarity and care to those impacted by this war.
“At heart of the Christian faith is the idea that the church is one body. When one part of the body suffers, we all suffer. Being alongside our fellow Christians, to listen, share and support is central to our faith. We are praying constantly for all who suffer in the Holy Land.”
During his visit, Archbishop Justin had what he described today (Monday) as a “deeply personal and painful meeting with a brave and remarkable group of Israeli relatives of hostages and victims of the heinous terror attacks by Hamas on 7 October.”
He also urged care in the use of language used to describe the ongoing conflict.
Archbishop Hosam described the visit as “good”, saying: “we all were greatly encouraged and blessed.”
The Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, issued a joint statement welcoming the Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit, saying:
we join with him in expressing, in the strongest possible terms, our condemnation of the the Israeli airstrikes that exploded without warning at the Orthodox Church compound of Saint Porphyrios in Gaza on the night of October l 9th.
“These blasts led to the sudden and catastrophic collapse of two church halls around the scores of refugees, including women and children, sleeping within. Dozens found themselves instantly crushed beneath the rubble. Many were injured – some severely. At last count, 18 have died, nine of whom were children.
“In condemning this attack against a sacred place of refuge, we cannot ignore that this is but the latest instance of innocent civilians being injured or killed as a result of missile strikes against other shelters of last resort. Among these are schools and hospitals, where refugees had fled because their homes were demolished in the relentless bombing campaign waged against residential areas in Gaza over the past two weeks.
“Despite the devastation wrought upon our own and other social, religious, and humanitarian institutions, we, the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches, nevertheless remain fully committed to fulfilling our sacred and moral duty of offering assistance, support, and refuge to those civilians who come to us in such desperate need. Even in the face of ceaseless military demands to evacuate our charitable institutions and houses of worship, we will not abandon this Christian mission, for there is literally no other safe place for these innocents to tun.”
Citing Matthew 25: 35-36, the church leaders say: “our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to minister to the most vulnerable. And we must do so not only in times of peace. The church muust especially act as the church in times of war, for that is when human suffering is at its greatest.”
In their statement, they called on the international community to “immediately enforce protections in Gaza for Sanctuaries of Refuge, such as hospitals, schools, and houses of worship.” And added: “and we call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire so that food, water and vital medical supplies can safely be delivered to the relief agencies ministering to the hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians in Gaza, including those operated by our own churches.”
The conclude their statement by calling upon “all warring parties to de-escalate the violence, cease from indiscriminately targeting civilians on all sides, and operate within the international rules of warfare.
“Only in this way, we believe, can the groundwork be laid for an eventual diplomatic consideration of longstanding grievances so that a just and lasting peace ca finally be achieved throughout our beloved Holy Land – both in our time and for generations to come.”