Communications and Public Relations Office
The Episcopal/Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem
Former President Jimmy Carter on a Peace Mission to the Middle East met in Jerusalem on Saturday June 13th, at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in the Old City with a group of Church Leaders from the Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land, and a core group from the World Council of Churches (WCC Geneva, Switzerland) Palestine and Israel Ecumenical Forum. The core group was locally led by Mr. Yusef Daher, the Inter Church Center Executive, and the Rev’d Canon Naim Ateek, the SABEEL Director, both of Jerusalem.
The meeting with Christian leaders “was the suggestion” said Mr. Daher “of the Right Rev’d Suheil S. Dawani, the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, and coincided with the WCC Core Group’s visit to the region“. Bishop Dawani, had recently participated in a Carter Center conference in Atlanta, Georgia, of Christian Leaders in America hosted by President Carter on May 14th – 15th the signature theme of “Towards a New Christian Consensus: Peace with Justice in the Holy Land”.
In Jerusalem, President Carter was hosted for the meeting at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in the Old City by His Beatitude Theophilos III who welcomed the former U. S. President and Noble Peace Laureate to the “Mother Church” that “embraces all initiatives that call for peace and justice in the world generally, and in our beloved Middle East Specifically” and went on to say in speaking for his colleagues and in recognition of the Carter initiatives,” we firmly believe, now exists the possibility for the conflict and hatred to be turned into durable and justice peace“.
Bishop Dawani in his comments stressed the need to stem the outflow of Christians leaving their historic homeland through emigration and the consequent loss of the moderating balance that Christian community has traditionally provided over the centuries. Today, the Bishop stressed, “the Christian community seeks to focus its renewed energies and resources on housing, Healthcare, Education and Social Service Institutions, all of which need governmental, NGO and interagency developmental support as that of U.S. AID” and towards this, the Bishops added “these institutions are a natural grass roots presence, and in their non-sectarian services, promote respect for other people’s convictions, uphold interfaith dialogue and seek communal harmony – and we all warmly welcome your (Carter) initiatives for peace in the region.”
President Carter responded in reaffirming his commitment to that important task, of Peace, reconciliation and expressed his rising hopes for this in what he saw in President Obama’s statement in Cairo. He spoke well of his meetings in Lebanon with several Leaders of different faiths during the recent national legislative elections there, and of his prayerful hope for the coming week’s meetings in Gaza. The President also expressed his understanding of and encouragement for the role that the historic Christian Community can and does play in Peace initiatives and interfaith harmony.
Canon Naim Ateek commended the President for his affirmation of democracy by his presence at national country elections in regions of conflict. In this process of democratization in governance, there needs to be a built-in Dr. Ateek stressed, of a shared respect for both the political aspirations as well as the religious convictions of minorities in the electorate, and especially where Christians find themselves in sensitive minority placement among the three Faiths.
As President Carter was leaving, the Patriarch asked the group to join him for “a pleasingly special and memorable sight” on the Veranda with its magnificent vista of the Old City. In the twilight of that day, he pointed to the picturesque historic interfaith presence in three Holy Shrines symbolized by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Minaret of the Mosque of Omar, and the rebuilt Dome of the Old City’s Synagogue in the ancient Jewish Quarter – almost touching each other – three Abrahamic communities living faithfully – “what had been, what should be now, and our hope for the bright future”.
With the President, himself a devout evangelical Churchman who teaches Sunday School in his small Baptist Church congregation in Plains, Georgia “40 Sundays of the Year“, and deeply touched by the physical sight in this admixture of the three collegial Faiths, Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan then pointed to a fourth building on the horizon, the late 19th Century majestic white Bell Tower of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer.