Church leaders to visit the Holy Land to promote peace

23 Apr 2008

23 April 2008

Church leaders to visit the Holy Land to promote peace

The leaders of Ireland’s four main churches are to visit the Holy Land next week from­ Tuesday 29 April until Friday 2 May 2008 to express a desire for peace in the area and offer Christian hope in a situation where continuing hostilities are causing increased hardship for ordinary people.

Cardinal Seán Brady, Roman Catholic Primate, Reverend Roy Cooper, President of the Methodist Church, Dr John Finlay, Presbyterian Moderator and Archbishop Alan Harper, Church of Ireland Primate are responding to the urgent need for solidarity with local Christians and will bring a message of peace from the Churches in Ireland. 

The leaders’ visit will focus mainly on Bethlehem and Jerusalem where they will meet local church leaders and representatives from the Palestinian Authority and Israeli Government and as well as seeing at first hand the relief and development work that is being undertaken by partners of Christian Aid and Trócaire.

The leaders will also take part in a joint service with local Christians at the Shepherds’ Field near Bethlehem on the theme of ‘keeping watch; a service of hope for peace’ and visit the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem.

Cardinal Brady, who visited the area last January, and who may accompany the Latin Patriarch on a pastoral visit to Gaza during this trip (possibly Wednesday 30 April) recently described the situation as one of terrible tension and trouble:

“The situation in the Holy Land and the continuing hostilities are causing great hardship to both Palestinian and Israeli, and to Jew, Muslim and Christian in both jurisdictions. There is a sense of absolute desperation and that hope is running out. It is in this kind of situation that voices of moderation need to be heard; that actions of kindness and solidarity need to be undertaken; that all the people of faith in God need to join together and work together for peace.”

Archbishop Harper sees the visit as one of listening to and experiencing the difficulties of others: “This is an opportunity to show the solidarity of churches in Ireland with people living in the Holy Land and especially the Christian community. By sharing our experiences of living through troubled times and listening and observing we hope to share an authentic message of peace and reconciliation which will offer hope in this awful situation.”

Dr John Finlay hopes the reporting of the visit will create better understanding of the Middle East situation in Ireland: “For many of us we only think of the Holy Land as it is portrayed in the Bible and pay little attention to what is happening there at present. By experiencing today’s Holy Land for ourselves, establishing new links, building on existing contacts and recounting what we see and hear to others, we hope that our churches will be able to make appropriate gestures of solidarity.”

Reverend Roy Cooper thinks the visit will be an encouragement to all they meet: “As well as showing solidarity, all our churches are involved in supporting the practical action of relief and development work being carried on in the area by local agencies with the help of our partners, Christian Aid and Trócaire. Through our visits to various projects we want to broaden our understanding and show our support and encouragement for all that is being done to help those who are suffering in a very difficult situation.”

The leaders are encouraging prayers for their visit and the situation in the Holy Land to be said in churches this Sunday.


Please see resume of itinerary below.

Tuesday 29 April

After travelling from Belfast to Tel Aviv on Monday, the Four Church Leaders begin their official engagements in Jerusalem on Tuesday 29 March with briefings from officials representing the United Nations and UK and Irish Governments. After meeting Church representatives at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute the leaders will travel from Jerusalem through the Bethlehem Checkpoint and into Manger Square. They will be welcomed by representatives of the Greek Orthodox Church, the Franciscans and the Mayor of Bethlehem and will take part in a time of prayer in the Church of the Nativity. 

Following lunch the leaders will visit Dheisheh Refugee Camp, one of 59 such Palestinian camps dispersed throughout the West Bank and home to over 11,000 people, before joining with other local Christian leaders, representatives of relief organisiations and the Lutheran Choir at about 6.00pm for ‘Keeping Watch’ worship at the Shepherds’ Field Caves. After hosting a Bedouin Tent meal for participants in the service the church leaders will spent the night in Bethlehem.

Wednesday 30 April

Cardinal Brady may join the Latin Patriarch in a pastoral visit to Gaza though this can only be confirmed closer to the time. 

The other leaders will remain in Bethlehem and during the morning will visit Bethlehem University, The Holy Family Maternity Hospital, the Bible College and the YMCA Beit Sahour project.

After lunch with representatives of local Palestinian Christian organisations the leaders will return to Jerusalem to meet with the leader of the Lutheran Church in the Holy Land, the Roman Catholic and Greek Patriarchs and the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem as well as visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

In the evening the leaders have been invited to attend a special ceremony at the Yad Veshem Holocaust Memorial on the eve of Israeli Holocaust Memorial Day.

Thursday 1 May

After an early meeting with the Grand Mufti, the leader of the Muslim community in Jerusalem, and a visit to the Western Wall, the leaders will meet with the Israeli Ministry for Religious Affairs and at about 1.30pm with Minister Isaac Hertzog, minister for Welfare and Social Services whose grandfather, Yitzhak Hertzog, was the first Grand Chief Rabbi of Ireland 

The leaders then travel to Ramallah to meet with representatives from the office of President Mahmound Abbas and members of a special committee on Christian Affairs.

On returning to Jerusalem an evening meeting is planned with a panel from the Israeli Human Rights Movement.

Friday 2 May

Following breakfast with Irish and UK representatives there are meetings with various church groups and a time for reflection in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the evening the leaders are expected to attend a Synagogue service at 6.30pm followed by a meal with Rabbi Levi Kellman. 

At 5.30am on Saturday the leaders depart for Tel Aviv and return to Belfast via London for 3.00pm.


Further information:
Martin Long, Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm, Communications Officer (087 233 7797)