JERUSALEM — The Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, has made an impassioned plea for Christians to strengthen their presence in the Holy Land, warning that the Christian community here is at risk of becoming a vanishing minority.
His comments came one day after violence erupted again in Jerusalem.
On July 29, about 15 Israeli officers and 30 Palestinians reportedly were injured in violent clashes at the Western Wall.
The clash occurred after the Jewish fringe group called the Temple Mount Faithful arrived at the Western Wall hoping to lay a 4.5-ton stone that they proclaim as the cornerstone for a third Jewish temple that would supplant an elevated Muslim compound.
In response, Palestinians on the platform above the Western Wall hurled stones on the Jews praying below, provoking a battle with Israeli police.
Speaking at a press conference July 30 at the close of a four-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Archbishop Carey said Christians should act as a bridge between rival Palestinian and Israeli groups battling over religious as well as political turf.
“I want to say to Christians around the world to come back to Jerusalem and flood this place with your joy and your singing,” Archbishop Carey said. “Here I was in Bethlehem yesterday, in the heart of the tourist season and we were the only people there.”
Archbishop Carey, leader of 70 million Anglicans worldwide, said he was “shocked and disturbed” at the violence and economic hardships in the region that are driving many Christians to flee the area.
The archbishop called on the Christian minority — most of whom are Palestinians — to remain in the Holy Land and for followers of the faith abroad to make pilgrimages in large numbers.
“We want to urge you [local Christians] to stay put,” he said. “I [also] want to tell Christians around the world to come back to Jerusalem. Come back in your tourist buses and flood Jerusalem.”
Archbishop Carey said that he empathized with the plight of the Palestinians, who have faced long closures of their areas and other restrictions on their movements because of Israel's stringent security measures.
The Anglican archbishop said that “security at any price will not do,” adding, “We are frightfully concerned [about] Christians from the Holy Land leaving in despair, and we have to say it is because of frustration, a daily sense of humiliation.
“The situation facing the churches is very serious, it's compounded by problems such as the economic situation in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza [and] added to by the inability to move freely.”
During his visit, Archbishop Carey met Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, and the president of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat. He called on both leaders to tone down what he called their “dehumanizing” rhetoric and to work to end to the current violence that has taken more than 650 lives in the past 10 months.
Local Christian leaders agreed that a “lack of vision” among political leaders has led to increased tensions and violence.
“We are seeing a lack of total vision on both sides which is creating a cycle of violence and we can't see what the next step will be,” said Father Raed Abusahlia, chancellor of the Latin patriarchate.
“We are now seeing a dramatic slow death for everybody on both sides. We are against war and violence on both sides. It is a waste of time, energy and blood,” he said.
Father Abusahlia also expressed concern over the growing extremism on both sides, saying it would make it harder to reach any kind of agreement or reconciliation. He called for an immediate cease-fire on both sides.
Ramzi Zananiri, executive director of the Near East Council of Churches Jerusalem, said, “There is a higher sense of animosity. We are not heading toward peace, we are heading toward something else.”
Father Abusahlia called for nonviolent resistance to replace the current violence.
The cycle of violence has placed so much hatred and animosity into the hearts of both peoples that it will take a long time indeed to overcome it and reach any kind of reconciliation, he said.
Said Father Abusahlia, “It is in the best interest of both Israel and the United States to resolve the conflict as soon as possible.”
(From combined news services)