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Diocese of Ottawa women experience ‘life-changing’ trip to Israel and Palestine

By Tali Folkins on January, 20 2017

Members of the diocese of Ottawa’s Women’s Conference and Pilgrimage to Jerusalem gather on top of the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Dome of the Rock and the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo: Susan Lomas

Last November, 25 lay women from the diocese of Ottawa spent nearly two weeks in the Holy Land, part of an effort to deepen the existing partnership between that diocese and the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. (For more photos, click here.)

Among other things, the women witnessed Anglican ministry in Israel and the occupied territories, some of it in places where Jesus walked—Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth.

But it’s above all the hospitality of the people they met—not only to visitors, but to their fellow human beings—that they’ll remember most, says organizer Catherine Chapman.

“We have so much to learn from them as Canadian Christians and Anglicans in terms of what they are able to do with so little in resources,” she says. “Their ministry of hospitality is extraordinary. They are so open and giving.”

For example, Chapman says, the diocese runs St. Luke’s Hospital, in the West Bank city of Nablus. Nablus—formerly a predominantly Christian city—is now mostly Muslim, and Christians make up only about 1.5 per cent of its population, so that the hospital’s patients are now almost entirely Muslim. Yet the hospital remains funded largely by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.

The diocese also funds other hospitals and more than 30 schools.

Archbishop Suheil Dawani, Shafeeqa Dawani and Fr. Ibrahim Nairouz join women from the Anglican diocese of Ottawa in a tour of St. Luke’s Hospital in Nablus, Palestine. Photo: Susan Lomas

The idea of the trip—the women’s conference and pilgrimage to Jerusalem—originated at the diocese of Ottawa’s 2013 synod, Chapman says. The two dioceses had been in a formal partnership for about three years when Archbishop Suheil Dawani, of the diocese of Jerusalem, was invited to attend the synod with his wife, Shafeeqa. In an address to the diocesan synod, Chapman says, Shafeeqa Dawani spoke eloquently about the need for Canadian Anglicans to actually visit her diocese and meet its people in order to understand it. She and Chapman, who is the wife of John Chapman, bishop of Ottawa, soon began to plan a conference for the women of the two dioceses, to be held in the Holy Land.

Response to the idea in her diocese, Chapman says, was overwhelming.

“Within about a day, I had more women than I could possibly take, who wanted to come,” she says.

The women who were eventually selected ranged in ages from 26 to 79, and represented a good cross-section of the diocese, Chapman says. Most participants paid the costs of the trip themselves, but the national office, including the Anglican Foundation of Canada, helped defray the costs for some who would have found it a significant financial challenge.

In the end, organizers concluded that a series of on-the-ground visits and discussions would serve the purposes of the trip better than a formal sit-down conference, Chapman says, and that is the structure the pilgrimage ultimately took.

“They certainly wanted—and I wanted—us to see as many different ministries and parishes, and meet as many people, as we possibly could,” she says. “We probably went to 15 different hospitals, schools and churches while we were there, and every place we went they would have groups of 10 to 15 people or more who were there to meet with us.”

Fr. Ibrahim Nairouz speaks to delegates from the Anglican diocese of Ottawa during their visit to St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Nablus, Palestine. Photo: Susan Lomas

The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, a member of the Anglican Communion, includes parishes in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. But because so many of these areas are in conflict, the group was able to visit only Israel and the West Bank. From November 5-18, the women visited, among other places: St. George’s Anglican Cathedral and St. George’s High School, Jerusalem; the Princess Basma Centre for Rehabilitation; Bethlehem; St. Philip’s Church and St. Luke’s Hospital, Nablus; St. Matthew’s Church, Zababdeh; and Nazareth.

Travelling separately, Chapman also visited the diocese of Jerusalem’s annual Majma, or synod, in Jordan, bringing greetings from Bishop Chapman and Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.

Trip participants, Chapman says, told her they were overwhelmed by the experience and by the hospitality of their hosts. Some said they found the trip “life-changing.” All the women who took part, she says, have committed to sharing their experiences with their parishes and others in the diocese.

The partnership between the two dioceses, Chapman says, has already produced concrete results. Recently, she says, the Jerusalem diocese’s Princess Basma Centre for Rehabilitation, which specializes in treating children with autism and other disabilities, signed an agreement with the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) and the diocese of Ottawa that should help the Jerusalem hospital expand its services. This fall, two doctors from CHEO visited the centre on a visit sponsored by the diocese of Ottawa.

In 2010, General Synod founded the Canadian Companions of the Diocese of Jerusalem, a program meant to build connections between Canadian dioceses, parishes and individuals with the diocese of Jerusalem. Three years later, it established Jerusalem Sunday, an initiative to set aside the Sunday after Ascension as a day for Canadian Anglicans to learn more about the diocese.

This Easter, the primate will visit the diocese of Jerusalem with members of the advisory council of the Canadian Companions. 

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By Tali Folkins| January, 20 2017
Categories:  News|National News

About the Author

Tali Folkins

Tali Folkins

Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal.  His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer

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