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NCC Delegation Arrives in Middle East on 12-Day Mission
Meets Orthodox Church Leaders in Istanbul, Turkey

By Jim Wetekam*

(Photo Captions Below)

More Stories, Photos About the Delegation's Visit

April 18, 2002, ISTANBUL, Turkey - Embarking on a 12-day journey to visit those people affected by the violence occurring in Palestine and Israel, 14 American church leaders spent the first day of the journey in preparation and by meeting with Orthodox Church leaders in Istanbul, Turkey.

The U.S. delegation, headed by Dr. Bob Edgar (United Methodist), General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (NCC), and by Elenie Huszagh (Greek Orthodox), the President of the NCC, Huszagh, Ecumenical Patriarchreceived first the advice and blessing of His All Holiness Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and spiritual leader of more than 250 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.

Discussing the situation in the Middle East, Patriarch Bartholomew, who mid-week had sent letters to both Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told the American church leaders, "We bless your mission to the Middle East because it is a mission of peace and solidarity...We are hopeful that you will be able to contribute essentially to the settlement of the critical situation there."

He cited an interfaith meeting of religious leaders convened last week in Turkey that called for reconciliation and peace, and condemned terrorism and the violation of human rights. The Ecumenical Patriarch urged the U.S. delegation "to speak the truth" when in Palestine and Israel and spoke of his particular concern for those trapped in the Church of the Nativity.

Mrs. Huszagh, an American Greek Orthodox Christian from Oregon, commented on the significance of the meeting: "Meeting with His All Holiness helped to focus our efforts and prepared us through a better understanding of the diversity of peoples and traditions in the region. To stand with him, to hear of his work for the people of the Middle East, and to pray with him gives impetus for the task ahead." The meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch culminated with those present saying the Lord's Prayer in all languages represented. "He reminds us," Mrs. Huszagh continued, "that from our diversity of languages, we speak with one voice for peace."Edgar, Armenian Patriarch

The delegation traveled in the afternoon to meet with the leaders of the Syrian Orthodox Church and later in the evening with leaders of the Armenian Orthodox Church. The Syrian Metropolitan, His Eminence Mor Filuksinos Yusuf Cetin, Patriarchal Vicar of Istanbul and Ankara, welcomed U.S. church representatives in worship and with a lunch served to the Americans and the Syrian priests and laity assembled. The Patriarch took particular joy in greeting Archbishop Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim, Patriarchal Vicar of the Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church for the Eastern United States and a key member of the American delegation. Telling the group that he believed its mission had been inspired by God, Metropolitan Cetin of Istanbul stated through a translator, "We pray that the Holy City [Jerusalem] really will be a ‘City of Peace.'"

The evening meeting with the Patriarch of the Armenian Orthodox Church for Istanbul and all Turkey, His Beatitude Archbishop Mesrob II Mutafyan, also began with all joining in worship. Led by one of the delegation members, Bishop Vicken Aykazian, Executive Director of the Ecumenical Office of the Armenian Church in America, the Americans joined in dialogue with the Patriarch during a meal with numerous council members, deacons, and priests of the church. Telling the group that he had lived and studied in the Holy Land, Patriarch Mutafyan reminded all present that "this [the violence] has to that people can start confidence-building and resume talking to each other."

Earlier in the day, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew had reminded the group that he had met last month in Washington with President Bush and Secretary of State Powell. The Patriarch expressed his concern for the American people in the wake of the September 11 disaster. "Last month I visited Ground Zero and I prayed...and I Huszagh, Kirillos, Winklerspoke on the meaning of our common prayer." This led Dr. Edgar of the NCC to conclude, "So it is in prayer that we Americans come now to express our concern for, and our solidarity with, the peoples of the Middle East."

The U.S. delegation leaves on Friday, April 19, for Beirut, where the group will be hosted by the Middle East Council of Churches and have meetings with religious and political leaders, including Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The group will then continue on to Syria and Jordan and has scheduled meetings with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad and King Abdullah of Jordan before arriving in the West Bank and Israel on April 23.



Top: Elenie Huszagh, President of the National Council of Churches, discusses a point with His All Holiness Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and spiritual leader of more than 250 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, while other members of the U.S. church leaders delegation look on. 

Middle:  The Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul and All Turkey, His Beatitude Archbishop Mesroh II Mutafyan, met with Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the NCCCUSA, and a delegation of American church leaders on April 18, 2002, in Istanbul, Turkey.

Bottom: Huszagh; Kirillos, Metropolitan of Seleucia, and Jim Winkler, an NCC delegation member, at dinner April 17 following arrival in Istanbul.

*Story and Photo Credit: Jim Wetekam, Media Program Director, Churches for Middle East Peace

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