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U.S. Church Leaders Embark on Middle East Visit April 16-27

April 16, 2002 - A delegation of prominent U.S. Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican church leaders will visit the Middle East April 16-27. Planned for several months, the trip is "all the more urgent" given the deepening crisis, said the delegation’s leader, the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches.

The NCC - whose 36 member denominations comprise 50 million adherents - organized the visit by invitation of the Middle East Council of Churches and Jerusalem church leaders. Co-leader with Dr. Edgar, a United Methodist, is Elenie Huszagh, a Greek Orthodox layperson from Nehalem, Ore.

Acknowledging the security concerns, the delegation nevertheless intends to fulfill as much of its planned itinerary as possible. "We intend to meet with our Christian partners in both Israel and Palestine," Dr. Edgar said.

"We go to offer pastoral support for Christians in the Holy Land; seek ways churches in the U.S. and Holy Land can promote a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians; encourage Christians, Jews and Muslims working for peace, and bring our ecumenical witness to U.S., Israeli and Palestinian political leaders," he said.

Confirmed the Rev. Riad Jarjour, General Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches, by phone Monday (April 15) from Beirut, Lebanon, "We are expecting the delegation as scheduled. Now is really the time that you should come. Your visit is exactly what needs to be done, and will be meaningful and fruitful."

The group will meet with clergy in each country and expects to meet with several high-level political officials, including Syrian President Bashar Al Assad and Lebanon’s Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri --- who will have just returned from Washington, D.C. The delegation also intends to meet with Israeli and Palestinian government officials and with the U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem, and hopes to visit Israeli and Palestinian wounded and bereaved.

The group’s first full day in the region (April 18) will be spent in Istanbul, Turkey, in meetings with three top Orthodox leaders: His All Holiness Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, spiritual leader of more than 250 million Orthodox Christians worldwide; His Eminence Mor Filuksinos Yusuf Cetin, Metropolitan, Patriarchal Vicar of Istanbul and Ankara (the Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan of Istanbul and Ankara for the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch), and His Beatitude Archbishop Mesrod II Mutafyan, Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul.

The group is to go on to Beirut (April 19-20), Syria (April 21-22) and Jordan (April 23), then spend April 24-27 in Israel/Palestine.

Delegation members are: Rev. Janet Arbesman, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Scottsdale, Ariz.; Bishop Vicken Aykazian, Diocese of the Armenian Church, Washington, D.C.; Mark Byron Brown, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Washington, D.C.; Dr. Edgar; Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr., Senior Minister, The Riverside Church, New York City; Rev. Joseph Rice Hale, United Methodist Church, Waynesville, N.C.; Mrs. Huszagh; Rev. Robert S. Jones, National Baptist Convention U.S.A., Inc., West Chester, Pa.; His Eminence Cyril Aphrem Karim, Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch for the Eastern United States, Teaneck, N.J.; Rev. William Shaw, President, National Baptist Convention U.S.A., Inc., Philadelphia, Pa.; Rt. Rev. Arthur Edward Walmsley, The Episcopal Church, Deering, N.H.; Rev. James Wetekam (United Church of Christ), Media Program Director, Churches for Middle East Peace, Washington, D.C., and Mr. James Edward Winkler, General Secretary, United Methodist Board of Church and Society, Washington, D.C.


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