Bishop Munib Younan returned to Jerusalem on February 16 after a three-week journey that took him to Italy, Norway and the United States of America. The bishop was participating in four specific activities which emphasized peace, justice and partnership.
Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan
of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan (ELCJ).
The ELCJ has its headquarters in Jerusalem and is working in
Jerusalem, Palestine, Jordan and Israel.
February 27, 2002
Grace and salaam in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Bishop MunibYounan returned to Jerusalem on February 16 after a three-week journey that took him to Italy, Norway and the United States of America. The bishop was participating in four specific activities which emphasized peace, justice and partnership.
1) Assisi, Italy: On January 24, 2002, a Day of Prayer for Peace was held in Assisi, in the spirit of St. Francis. Bishop Younan, representing the Lutheran World Federation along with the LWF General Secretary, joined many other religious leaders from around the world, responding to the invitation of Pope John Paul II to make a pilgrimage of peace. Following are excerpts from the pope’s message to the gathered leaders:
“Peace! Humanity is always in need of peace, but now more than ever, after the tragic events which undermined its confidence and in the face of persistent flashpoints of cruel conflict which create anxiety throughout the world….(I stress the) two pillars upon which peace rests: commitment to justice and readiness to forgive.
“Justice, first of all, because there can be no true peace without respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, respect for the rights and duties of each person and respect for an equal distribution of benefits and burdens between individuals and in society as a whole. It can never be forgotten that situations of oppression and exclusion are often at the source of violence and terrorism. But forgiveness, too, because human justice is subject to frailty and to the pressures of individual and group egoism. Forgiveness alone heals the wounds of the heart and fully restores damaged human relations.”
Bishop Younan remembers that the day was windy and cold, and that the pope remarked that the Holy Spirit was generously bestowing itself upon the gathering for peace. The bishop was very pleased with the day and its message, describing it as a strong demonstration of peace and justice to the world.
Following is a brief writing of Pope John Paul II for the occasion:
“Violence never again!
War never again!
Terrorism never again!
In the name of God, may every religion bring upon the earth
Justice and peace,
Forgiveness and Life,
2) Norway, the Diocese of Borg: Bishop Younan met with Norwegian partners for peace and justice in the Middle East. Specifically Bishop Younan visited with Bishop Ole Kvarme, Bishop Gunnar Stalsett and Rev. Stig Utnem, deepening the relationships the ELCJ has with the Norwegian churches and people, and especially with the Diocese of Borg.
Bishop Younan visited with the Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bundevik, a meeting which was arranged by the Representative of the Norwegian Government to the Palestinian Authority. Bishop Younan and Prime Minister Bundevik exchanged information and together emphasized the importance of interfaith dialogue, the Middle East peace process and the continued involvement of Norway in this process. At a press conference, the prime minister called Bishop Younan “my advisor” in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the peace process. In turn, Bishop Younan stated that he was always available for advice on this subject and that he could see the Norwegian prime minister cared deeply for Palestinian Christianity and the continuation of Christian witness in Jerusalem, Palestine and Israel.
3) United States of America, Interfaith Partner Presentations
Bishop Younan partnered with Rabbi Ron Kronish and Dr. Muhammed Hourani in many interfaith presentations in New York and Illinois. The three religious leaders and scholars from Israel and Palestine, representing Christianity, Judaism and Islam, planned the events, making contacts in the U.S. for their presentations.
Bishop Younan and his colleagues made their presentations in synagogues, churches and a college, as well as visiting in private homes. Many of the presentations were made in the New York City area, including the largest Jewish synagogue in the city, Temple Emmanu-El.
At every opportunity, Bishop Younan spoke about the root cause of the injustice and violence in Palestine and Israel, namely, the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. “Our aim is peace. That means the occupation must be ended,” the bishop said. “The occupation is a sin against God and humanity. It is destructive and demoralizing first for the occupier, Israel, and then for the Palestinians who are being occupied. When the occupation is ended, the violence will also end,” the bishop emphasized over and over.
In an afternoon meeting in a synagogue in Scarsdale, New York, a twelve-year-old Jewish girl who was studying for her Bat Mitzvah asked the three presenters a question: “Why do religions use the Bible or their sacred writings to justify violence?” Bishop Younan told the girl, “I honor the Old Testament and I believe it has within it a human hand and a divine hand. I see the love of God described and displayed in the Old Testament; I am always seeking the divine, which takes me to Christ. I believe it is the human hand that writes about God ordering the death and destruction of women, men and children, but God never orders people to kill or use violence. The God I know is the God of sacrificial love and life, not of dissent, violence, death and destruction.”
Comments, questions and media coverage continued in each place the three presenters visited, including Worcester, Massachusetts, North Park College in Chicago, and Glencoe, Illinois. The visits in Illinois were organized by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the American Jewish Committee.
Bishop Younan and his colleagues were warmly welcomed everywhere, including the New England Synod of the ELCA, a companion synod with the ELCJ. The bishop visited with Bishop Margaret Payne and her staff.
For many American Jewish people, it was the first time they had ever seen or heard a Palestinian Christian. They came to hear this different voice and perspective. Bishop Younan described how the people in every place thanked the group of presenters for speaking with authentic voices and giving the people hope. This was true even when some of the comments and questions were at radical odds with the message of peace and cooperation given by the three presenters.
4) United States of America, the Bishop’s Visits to Michigan, Indiana,
Minnesota and Washington, D.C.
Upon completion of the interfaith presentations, Bishop Younan traveled to Detroit, Michigan, to visit the Southeast Michigan Synod, also a companion synod of the ELCJ. There he met the Arab community as well as Bishop Robert Rimbo and other pastors. The mayor of Dearborn and his deputy offered a Lebanese breakfast for Bishop Younan, and the bishop also visited the ELCA Abundant Life Arabic Church in Dearborn.
Bishop Younan then traveled to Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana, where he visited his son Andrea who is studying there. The bishop preached on Sunday, February 10, in the university chapel.
In the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, Bishop Younan spoke at Luther Theological Seminary and several Lutheran congregations. A benefit concert was held at Calvary Lutheran Church, presented by The Sacred Voice, a chamber choral group that sings only to benefit mission causes. A net amount of nearly $5,000.00 was designated for use in the music programs of the five Palestinian Lutheran schools, where Muslim and Christian students learn together.
At a group meeting following a dinner hosted by Bishop Craig Johnson of the ELCA Minneapolis Area Synod and Interim Bishop Paul Werger of the St. Paul Area Synod, Bishop Younan spoke on the topic “Holy Land Healing: What Believers Can Do.” He said, “Peace, justice and reconciliation must kiss each other,” and stressed the importance of believers around the world being committed to both prayer and presence on behalf of those seeking justice in the Palestinian-Israeli situation. The bishop urged visits to the region by internationals from the faith communities and pushed for advocacy to press the United States government toward a more balanced policy.
Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson of the ELCA made a moving response to Bishop Younan’s call for solidarity with Palestinian people. Bishop Hanson called Bishop Younan a prophet in the mode of Micah and pledged ELCA support in the struggle for a just peace. Similarly, at Luther Theological Seminary, President David Tiede placed Bishop Younan in the company of the Apostle Paul because of Bishop Younan’s powerful witness to U.S. Lutherans. He said that the seminary’s resources would be available to the Lutherans of the Holy Land.
Moments of great enjoyment occurred when Bishop Younan was declared “an honorary Minnesotan, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto. Though still without vote, he has voice, lots and lots of voice.” The declaration allowed and encouraged Bishop Younan to speak to any leaders who serve Minnesotans, in both church and state. The document was issued “without authorization by a group of presumptuous Minnesota Lutherans.”
Bishop Younan then traveled to Washington, D.C., where he spoke with religious and political leaders, including Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone and his staff. Senator Wellstone chairs the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. The bishop also met with an advisor to Secretary of State Colin Powell to discuss the same issues of a just peace and reconciliation which he had spoken about in all his presentations.
Bishop Younan stated at the close of his messages, “I have come here to you in the USA, the most powerful country in the world. God has granted the USA freedom and liberty not to preserve in the States but to allow small nations, oppressed nations, to enjoy what God has allowed you to enjoy. I have come to challenge you with love. My question to you is: Are you ready to enter into a covenant in which you commit yourselves to work for justice, peace and reconciliation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict together with all people of living conscience and good will? Are you ready to pledge yourself, saying, ‘Better the pains of peace than the agonies of war, violence and occupation’? Then let us together commit ourselves by saying to ourselves and the world: Peace, shalom, salaam.”
On January 21, 2002, the First Alexandria Declaration of the Religious
Leaders of the Holy Land was signed in Egypt. Christian, Muslim and Jewish
leaders signed the document which called for “a religiously sanctioned
cease-fire, respected and observed on all sides.” The document stated
that the signers “pledge ourselves to continue a joint quest for a just
peace that leads to reconciliation in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, for
the common good of all our peoples.” A permanent joint committee was
appointed to carry out the recommendations of the declaration.
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