Jerusalem, Saturday 12th April 2003

Archbishop’s pastoral letter to the Christians of the Middle East

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has issued a pastoral letter to Christians in the Middle East. Dr Williams read out and presented the letter to the Rt. Rev. Riah Abu  El-Assal, the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem during a dinner with the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem. Dr Williams is paying a brief visit and will preach at the Palm Sunday service at the Cathedral Church of St George the Martyr in Jerusalem.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Even ten years ago, few people would have thought the day would come when the peace of the world would depend so directly on the peace of Jerusalem.  But for the last few months, with all the suffering and fear they have brought, it has been so painfully clear that without peace and justice for all the peoples of the Holy Land there is small hope of lasting reconciliation in the wider world.

Jesus, says the Apostle, makes peace by the blood of his cross (Col. 1.20).  No-one else makes that lasting peace between God and humanity and between one human community and another.  All we say as Christians about peacemaking must ultimately point us to that deepest and strongest ground for hope, and we must never cease in our witness to this. But from the work of Jesus we may also conclude that God’s way of peacemaking has something clear to say to all human attempts at reconciliation.

Peace never comes without cost; so the deepest enemy to peace is always the spirit of grasping and clinging to what makes us feel safe – while the truth is that we shall only be safe when others are not frightened of us, when others do not feel silenced, despised or suffocated by us. Again and again, we have to return to the question, ‘How do we speak to each other words of hope that will take away the fear?’

Meanwhile, those who love violence continue to keep the wounds open.  Disproportionate, indiscriminate force, applied not only by weaponry but by constant harassment; the insane butchery of terrorism, dressed up as heroism – these things serve only to keep the door firmly closed to any hope of taking away fear.

And now, with the repercussions of military action in Iraq still echoing around the region, new fears have been aroused in the hearts of many. Yet Christ says, ‘fear not’ to his disciples.  We can only hear this by taking a risk; we can only say it in his name by taking a risk.  This Easter, we pray, for the sake of the whole region and the whole world, that those who hold power may know how to take the risk of giving it away for the sake of greater peace; and that those who have no power may take the risk of stepping out of helpless resentment into something new.  And we pray very specially that God will touch the hearts of all our leaders, in the Holy Land and in the wider world, so that they will feel strong enough for such a risk.  Only so will the power of the resurrection be once again visible among us.

We are praying specially for Bishop Riah and all other Christian leaders, that they may continue to be touched with the strength of the Risen Christ, even in times when despair seems almost unavoidable. We pray too that the leaders of the great faiths in the region may continue to give steady witness that violence is not the only option, and may work with passion for the good of the Land which we all call Holy.

May God stir up in all of you endurance in your sufferings and courage to go on seeking renewal in justice and peace.