Top ecumenical Christian leaders met with the president of the Palestinian Authority Thursday to encourage steps toward bridge-building in the Middle East.
The National Council of Churches USA General Secretary, Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, and the Chief Executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, James Winkler, were among religious leaders who met with president Mahmoud Abbas, after his White House Rose Garden press conference with President Bush.
During the religious leaders gathering, Edgar told Abbas of his deep sadness when he saw the wall that separates Israeli and Palestinian neighborhoods, according to the NCC press. Walls separate, bridges heal, he told Abbas.
Following the meeting, Edgar said he was excited about the opportunity to meet with President Abbas and also look forward to the day when we will be able to meet with Prime Minister Sharon. It is extremely important that we continue to work and pray for peace in the Holy Land. In spite of the conditions we remain hopeful that peace is possible.
Other denominations and organizations represented included the Armenian Orthodox, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and World Vision.
Meanwhile, on May 24, the NCC's governing board also issued a letter to Abbas and Sharon expressing "deep concern" for the well-being of Israeli and Palestinian people as well as hope for a peaceful and just solution to the conflict. Edgar delivered copies of the letter to Abbas and to the Israeli Embassy.
The following is the full text of the letter, as released by the NCC
Greetings in Peace, Salaam, Shalom!
On behalf of the Governing Board of the National Council of Churches USA, I write to you out of our deep concern for the well being of the people who live in the Holy Land. Many years of conflict have passed, and yet we still remain hopeful that peace may one day come to the land where we, along with the Christian communities in Israel and Palestine, confess God visited creation in the person of Jesus Christ.
In all these years of conflict, the National Council of Churches USA, which is composed of 36 churches that collectively represent nearly 50 million Christians, has advocated for a peaceful resolution that includes the Palestinians right to their own state, as well as Israels right to exist with security. We continue to see a viable two-state solution as the only equitable resolution to this conflict. And we continue to condemn any and all violence that prevents the attainment of this goal.
Earlier this year, a National Council of Churches USA delegation of religious leaders visited Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah, and other places in Israel and Palestine. Delegation members agreed with many observers that, despite the disheartening conditions under which Israelis and Palestinians now live, there is indeed a glimmer of hope for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. With this in mind, we support Palestinian leadership in calling for an end to suicide bombings against Israeli citizens, and we applaud Israeli disengagement from Gaza, as first steps toward such a resolution. Indeed, we consider the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories since 1967 to be at the heart of this enduring conflict.
As a result of the visit to Israel and Palestine, the National Council of Churches USA extended invitations to both of you to meet with US religious leaders when you visit our country, so that we might better understand our respective positions. We are pleased to have the opportunity for Rev. Robert Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, and other church leaders to meet with Mr. Abbas later this week in Washington. We continue to hope for a meeting in the near future with Mr. Sharon.
Please understand that, as people of faith, we seek peace and justice for all people in the Middle East. We are cognizant of the difficulties that stand in the way of peace, but we nonetheless believe in the words of the Prophets that the pursuit of justice is the duty of all those who call upon the Lord.
Those with political authority and those in positions of religious leadership have a special responsibility to work for peace with justice.
May God strengthen us all to live up to this responsibility, for the sake of all Jews, Christians, Muslims, and people of other faiths who live in the Holy Land.
Bishop Thomas L. Hoyt, Jr., President
National Council of Churches USA