[Lambeth Palace] Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby was told by Palestinian church leaders June 28 that the time he spent with them had created “a new bond between you and the Christian community of Jerusalem and the Holy Land.”
Meanwhile, Welby said his first pilgrimage to the Holy Land as archbishop had reminded him of the essential “unity of Christians,” who despite any differences are bound together by the love of Christ.
The archbishop spent the morning at the holiest site in Christianity, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which contains both the place of the Crucifixion and the Tomb of Jesus. Earlier this week Patriarch Theophilus honored the archbishop by making him a ‘knight’ of the church.
Following the pilgrim visit, the archbishop met with Bishop Munib Younan, the Lutheran Bishop in Jerusalem and president of the Lutheran World Federation. In an “extremely good and helpful” meeting, the archbishop learned more of the experience of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, and its contribution to the witness and service offered to the whole community by the churches.
He then had the opportunity to be reunited, at the Monastery of St. Mark, with Syrian Orthodox friends who had traveled to Jerusalem’s Old City from Bethlehem to see him. They brought with them with the principal of a Syrian Orthodox school in Beit Jala whose opening the archbishop attended in 2006 while a canon of Coventry Cathedral.
After being welcomed at the Church of the Resurrection by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilus, the archbishop prayed at the place where Jesus’ body is believed to have been prepared for burial.
He then climbed the steps to the site of the Crucifixion, where during a short act of worship he spoke passionately of the essential unity of Christians, and the “simplicity” to which church leaders are called by the Cross of Jesus.
The archbishop said that when Christians make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, they do so to honor the simple act of love which Jesus offered on the cross. He added, “And when we do that, we are compelled as church leaders to a simplicity that says, ‘All this was done for me; what, Lord, shall I do for thee?’”
Addressing the archbishop, Patriarch Theophilus said: “Your pilgrimage and our short time with you here create a new bond between you and the Christian community of Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
“We look to you for your help and support as we seek to build here a new future for the human community in our region at a time of great difficulty and challenge,” he continued.
Patriarch Theophilus assured Welby of “our concern for you and your primatial ministry and the challenges that you face both in Great Britain and the Anglican Communion. Just as we know we can count on you, we wish you to know you can count on us.”
The Patriarch said the two leaders shared some challenges, since both must find ways for “the unique and diverse communities” of their countries “to live together peacefully with mutual respect.”
Later the Archbishop visited the Tomb of Jesus, where he spent time in private prayer, before saying farewell to the various Palestinian church leaders present, with whom he had spent much of the previous two days.
The Archbishop’s final stop in Jerusalem was at the Syrian Orthodox monastery of St Mark, where he was reunited with old friends from Bethlehem, as well as the bishop, clergy and other members of the Syrian Orthodox community. The friends, from the small Syrian Orthodox community in Bethlehem, were able to make the long-planned visit to Jerusalem despite Israeli restrictions on West Bank residents’ travel to Jerusalem.
They were joined by the principal of the Syrian Orthodox school in Beit Jala, which Archbishop Justin attended the opening of in 2006 while leading the reconciliation ministry at Coventry Cathedral, presenting them with a Cross of Nails.
The Mar Ephrem school, which the principal told Archbishop Justin has since expanded to include a secondary school, was set up to strengthen the Syrian Orthodox community in Bethlehem, which like all Palestinian Christians in the West Bank struggles in the face of social, economic and political pressures.
The school has help many Palestinian families in Bethlehem to access education for their children. Its mission is to “educate the young in a healthy environment that cherishes and caters for the spiritual, psychological, mental, physical and social aspects and that “comprehends love, peace reconciliation and democracy with the full understanding of human rights.”
One of the friends, who has hosted Archbishop Justin in Bethlehem several times, said: “We did not forget him. He helped us a lot, and he has a done a lot to help people in this land.”