Archbishop Justin prays at Israel's Yad Vashem
"This is not a place for words but for tears and remembering," said the Archbishop of Canterbury, as he paid his respects at Yad Vashem, Israel's memorial to the millions of Jews who died in the Holocaust. Yad Vashem is a phrase from Book of Isaiah: 'Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name (Hebrew: יָדושֵם) better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off' (Isaiah 56:5).
Archbishop Justin is touring the Holy Land and surrounding countries, expressing solidarity with all who strive for peace. In Egypt he assured both Christians and Muslims that all who strive for peace and reconciliation in the region 'are not forgotten'.
In Cairo the Archbishop met with His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, the head of Coptic Orthodox Church, and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb, among other leaders. Visiting Egypt at the invitation of the Most Rev'd Mouneer Anis, President Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Archbishop told Egyptian Christian leaders that 'the prayers and solidarity of the Anglican Communion' are with them.
Archbishop Justin was pleased to hear from the Pope and his colleagues how, since the Pope’s inauguration, the Coptic Church is responding to the challenges in contemporary Egyptian life. He offered his support for the new council of churches in Egypt, which draws together the strength and vision of all the Churches.
Pope Tawadros said: “We must build our dialogue and studies on love and crown them with prayers; we must also prepare our people to love, accept and work with each other in the spirit of unity found in John 17,” which contains Jesus’ prayer that his disciples may all be one.
Following what he called a 'warm and joyful meeting', Archbishop Justin said: “We had a very wide-ranging discussion, coming back several times to the question of how the Church can flourish and grow in prayer, in love for one another and in teaching of the scriptures to our contemporaries. It’s important that we find a way of enabling our affection for one another to be transformed into effective shared witness.”
The Archbishop also met with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheik Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb in Cairo, Egypt, in which they affirmed the importance of the ongoing dialogue between the Anglican Communion and Al-Azhar at such a critical time for Egypt and the wider region. Archbishop Justin expressed his appreciation for the way in which the Grand Imam and Al-Azhar have spoken up for rights of all the people of Egypt. He later said that the Grand Imam 'is someone whose heart is committed to the work he does in interfaith dialogue – which he’s extremely good at – and a deep concern for all the people of the region, whatever their background'.
Prayers and warm words are one thing. But the reality is that Christians are being systematically cleansed from the Middle East - including the Holy Land - by those whom we call Islamists but who call themselves Muslims. Dialogue and understanding are crucial for resolution, but, as the Archbishop noted in a recent tweet, there is 'little sign of hope' unless 'leaders have power of love not love for power'.
Yad Vashem and the Wailing Wall are perpetual reminders of thousands of years of Jewish persecution, suffering and death. Unless hearts can be changed and minds can be turned from the belief that Christians are less than pigs, we can surely expect another holocaust.
"Only our shared humanity is the way to peace," says Archbishop Justin. Finding ways of living together after the 'great traumas and tragedies of so many years' is 'a huge challenge'. "But there is no other way than finding each others’ humanity, recognising it, and seeing in it the image of God,” he added.
The key to peace is Jesus, who demands justice, which requires security for all the people of the region. We can talk about harmony and acceptance, and pray for affirmation and reconciliation. But ultimately the solution must be political: people have to decide and act. As Martin Luther King Jr said, "Peace is not kept by force, but by understanding. It is manifest through compassion, where the power of love is the greater than the love of power."
The key is indeed the power of love. Archbishop Justin is right to observe:
As a small but strong presence here in Jerusalem and the region, the Anglican Church has a profound and important role to play. Our embrace of God in Jesus Christ allows us to serve both the divine and the human in equality important ways. God is both transcendent and immanent in our understanding of the holy. And we are rightly dedicated to the glorifying of God and serving of humanity. Our rightful place in the temple is balanced with our rightful place in the city square. Since 1841, the Diocese of Jerusalem has glorified God and borne witness to the love of God for all people through our institutions of learning and healthcare. For more than 160 years Anglican presence in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East has been an extraordinary force for good. And more importantly, we are merely at the beginning of a bright future – capable of even greater and more effective ministry in all these important areas, including peace and reconciliation.