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NCC Announces April 16-27 Visit to Middle East
In the Works for Several Months, the Visit is "All the More Urgent" in Light of Current Crisis

April 3, 2002, NEW YORK CITY - Following an interfaith service of prayer for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, held here Tuesday morning (April 2), the National Council of Churches confirmed plans for an ecumenical delegation visit to the Middle East.

The April 16-27 visit, already in the works for several months, is "all the more urgent" in light of the deepening crisis, said Dr. Bob Edgar, NCC General Secretary.

"We go at the invitation of the Middle East Council of Churches," he said, "to offer pastoral support for Christians in the Holy Land; seek ways churches in the United States and the Holy Land can collaborate to promote a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians; encourage Christians, Jews and Muslims working for peace, and bring our ecumenical witness for peace and justice to U.S., Israeli and Palestinian political leaders in the region."

The traveling group’s agenda is to take in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel/Palestine. Dr. Edgar and NCC President Elenie Huszagh (Greek Orthodox) of Nehalem, Ore., will lead the 15-member delegation from the NCC’s Protestant and Orthodox member communions.

Interfaith Prayers for Middle East PeaceTwo members of the delegation participated in this morning’s interfaith prayer service - Dr. Edgar (at left in picture) and the Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr., Senior Minister, The Riverside Church, New York City (standing in picture).

At the service -- hosted by the National Council of Churches -- Christian, Jewish and Muslim prayers for Middle East peace were accompanied by calls on the U.S. government to bring its full moral force to bear for a solution to the worsening Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Several religious leaders, including Dr. Edgar and special guest Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., Rainbow PUSH Coalition President, urged President Bush to send his senior diplomat, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, to the region.

"It’s crucial that Powell be sent to press for an immediate cessation of the violence and for commencement of face-to-face negotiations for peace," Dr. Edgar said. Agreed the Rev. Jackson, "We must intervene with the highest level of leadership. The stakes warrant it. We cannot do it with low-level envoys."

The recent historic, unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution calling on Israel to withdraw its troops; the Saudi proposal for a full Arab-Israeli peace, and the plan for negotiations proposed by former Senator George Mitchell all offer a way forward, Dr. Edgar and others said.

The Interchurch Center Chapel filled for the half-hour service, during which seven Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders led prayers. At a news conference following the prayer service, they and others offered their comment and counsel on what Dr. Edgar characterized as an "increasingly dangerous cycle of violence and aggression."

Participants in today’s prayer service and news conference also included the Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr., Senior Minister, The Riverside Church, New York; Mr. Naeem Baig, Secretary General, Islamic Circle of North America; Rabbi Marcelo R. Bronstein, Congregation B’Nai Jesurun, New York; the Rev. Jean Stromberg, Executive Director, U.S. Conference, World Council of Churches; the Rev. John L. McCullough, Executive Director, Church World Service, a ministry of the National Council of Churches’ 36 Protestant and Orthodox member communions; the Rt. Rev. Canon C. Christopher Epting, Ecumenical Officer for The Episcopal Church (who shared a statement from that communion’s Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold III), and the Rev. Dr. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America.

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