The charity, Friends of the Holy Land, was established in 2009 to support vulnerable Christians in the Holy Land and celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The Archdiocese was therefore very honoured to have them hold their Scottish service to mark this milestone in St Andrew’s Cathedral on 15th November.
The service was an ecumenical one with representatives from the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church present, and the keynote speaker Archbishop Suheil Dawani of the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem. The music of the service was provided by the St Mungo Singers, with Dr Noel Donnelly on harp.
After the introduction and welcome by Archbishop Tartaglia to the guests, and the Liturgy of the Word, Archbishop Dawani gave the first reflection. He began with greetings from Jerusalem and a strong invitation, almost a plea, for pilgrims to come and visit the Holy Land to see for themselves the challenges and the joys of this land. Referring to the reading from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans (8:18-39), he suggested that perhaps no part of creation has groaned more for redemption than the region which had witnessed Jesus’ ministry.
For 10 years, the Friends of the Holy Land have sought to support the continuation of Christ’s ministry of healing and preaching the Good News. They look to sustain a worshipping community of faith where this is becoming harder. Christians are now less than 2% in the West Bank but the churches light Christmas lights to say “we are still here and we are not going away”, and they continue to welcome pilgrims.
The Christians work for reconciliation in the Holy Land. They may be small in number, said the Archbishop, but they can be a great force for living in peace, building bridges, and the Christian churches maintain good relations among themselves. Finally the Christian community shows its presence by its deeds, providing hospitals, clinics and schools. Their work is supported by Friends of the Holy Land in prayer and with financial aid, helping to keep the light of Christ shining and proclaiming a message of hope and healing, peace and reconciliation.
Bishop Bill Nolan of Galloway Diocese which has been supporting Friends of the Holy Land, gave the second reflection. Drawing attention to the psalm which had been sung – psalm 121 – he pointed out that this was a psalm for those going up to Jerusalem. Going to Jerusalem can involve quite a climb, particularly if coming from Jericho, but for most pilgrims now it is an easy one in an air-conditioned bus. But the checkpoint on the road is a visible sign of the division in the Holy Land.
Getting through the checkpoint is easy for pilgrims but not for Palestinians and Arabs. Without the right papers, they are not allowed into Jerusalem. He recalled an Orthodox Christian lady and her daughter who had hoped to go up to Jerusalem for Easter but they did not receive the necessary papers. The division is even deeper than just a physical one. Many Palestinians don’t talk to Jews (and vice-versa).
The Christian community is diminishing, as we had been told, and he appealed for pilgrims to go to the Holy Land to meet the Christian population, not just to see the sights. The Holy Land is not a “holy theme park”. Efforts should be made to support the Christian community when we visit. He concluded with the reflection that Jerusalem is holy for all three Abrahamic faiths but currently it is a place of division and we need to pray for it to become instead a place of unity for them.
In the Intercessions which followed, we prayed for all the victims of violence and persecution in Israel, Palestine and throughout the world, and recalled the ministry of forgiveness, reconciliation and peace-making with which we are entrusted by God.
As the service concluded, the representatives of each church lit a candle from the Paschal Candle as a sign of the witness of the churches in the Holy Land, as the choir led the singing of the Taizé chant There is One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. Mr Jim Quinn Chairman of the Friends of the Holy Land thanked everyone for their support and Archbishop Dawani presented a Jerusalem Cross to Archbishop Tartaglia as a memorial of the visit.
Afterwards in the Eyre Hall, there was the opportunity to talk and ask questions over refreshments.