(This column first appeared in the January 2017 issue of the Anglican Journal. It has since been updated with new information.)
This was the title of a public address given by Suheil Dawani, the archbishop and primate of the province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, at McGill University in October. With much love for the Holy Land and its people, he described Jerusalem itself as knowing great measures of beauty and sorrow by comparison with the rest of the world. He reminded us that the beauty of the land lies not only in its history and in the holy sites dear to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but in the people themselves.
He reminded us that the sorrow of the land lies in its long history of one conquest and occupation after another. “It has,” he said, “been fought over for 2,000 years.” Its peoples know only too well the suffering and sorrows that come with war and religious persecution.
Suheil is held high in regard as a bridgebuilder among the heads of churches in Jerusalem and the leaders of all three Abrahamic faith traditions. His heart beats with a passion for reconciliation and a lasting peace, with justice for all. He is deeply respected for his perseverance in enabling the church to be a “moderating ‘What makes the Holy Land holy?’ and mediating presence.”
He sees much of the church’s ministry as offering place and welcome, education and learning, health care and rehabilitation. The diocese of Jerusalem is renowned for its schools, open to students of all faith traditions; and its hospitals and clinics, open to everyone in need of medical attention. Suheil reminds us that these ministry priorities are continually inspired by an abiding regard for the teaching and healing for which our Lord’s ministry is remembered in every account of the gospel.
In 1948, the Christian population in Jerusalem was about 27%. Today, it is less than 1%. In 1967, there were 30,000 Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem. Today, there are 6,000. Notwithstanding these statistics, the devotion of Christians in proclaiming the gospel of Christ in word and in deed remains undaunted. Many people in the land of the Holy One are grateful for their ministries in the name of Jesus—whether they call him Prophet, Teacher or Lord.
This month, I will travel to the Holy Land with the advisory council of the Canadian Companions of Jerusalem. The visit is in the interest of strengthening our church’s ties with the church there. It is an opportunity to meet with many whom Suheil affectionately speaks of as “the living stones” of the Holy Land. They are indeed among the great host of all those who “make the Holy Land holy” to this day.
UPDATE: With a heavy heart, I must report that this visit has been postponed due to strong travel advisories issued in December and continuing into the new year.