An “all star” team headed up this Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation’s (HCEF) 10th International Conference workshop on “Christian Grassroots Advocacy and Solidarity: Leadership for Serious Engagement,” which was held Saturday, October 25, 2008.
Fr. Drew Christiansen, Editor-In-Chief of America Magazine and HCEF Co-founder and Advisory Board member, moderated this informative session of three speakers that included Ambassador (ret) Warren Clark, Executive Director of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP); Stephen Colecchi, Ph.D., Director of the Office of International Justice and Peace at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB); and Rev. Robert Smith, Director of the Europe and Middle East Desk at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s Global Mission.
The workshop described the activities that support Holy Land Christians, which are available through the HCEF’s Holy Land Christian Support Network (HCSN). Attendees learned the elements of forming an activist ecumenical committee to coordinate work in the media, churches and schools, whereby civic representatives and religious leaders create awareness of Palestinian Christian suffering and develop effective programs that contribute to the improvement of their living conditions in the Holy Land.
In his segment, USCCB's Dr. Colecchi commented, "It is my conviction that the single greatest thing that we can do to contribute to the improvement of the living conditions of Christians in the Holy Land is to promote a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis-a peace that provides security and recognition for Israel and a secure, viable and independent state for Palestinians.
"I have seen first hand the terrible consequences of the conflict for both Israelis and Palestinians. I have seen fear on both sides of the wall and the particularly devastating economic consequences of security policies on Palestinian communities where poverty runs high."
Meanwhile, Rev. Smith gave an enlightening presentation of the ELCA's efforts to raise awareness through grassroots networks, with a particular focus on its Peace Not Walls campaign: " The Peace Not Walls campaign is structured around the three points of awareness-building, accompaniment, and advocacy. In other words, the campaign works at grass-roots levels to share timely information, to walk side-by-side with persons in the region, especially Palestinian Lutherans, who work for a just peace in the region, and to direct the resulting energy into creative and constructive engagement with elected officials and policymakers."
Rev. Smith concluded with the challenges that U.S. Christians face, Christian Zionism ranking high among them: " Christians in the United States are faced with constant efforts by politics, culture, and ideology to collude with and subjugate Christian theology and ethics. To more effectively assist and promote the grassroots work being done by our churches, we must develop effective methods of identifying and counteract the forces at work within society, and thus within our churches. This need is nowhere greater than in Christian efforts to work toward just peace in the Holy Land."