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In Lebanon, NCC Delegation Meets with Prime Minister,
Interacts with Christians, Muslims in a "Town Hall" Meeting

By Jim Wetekam*

More Stories, Photos About the Delegation's Visit

April 20, 2002, BEIRUT, Lebanon – Continuing a rapid pace through the Middle East, a delegation of fourteen persons visiting the region on behalf of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (NCC), held eleven meetings with key political and religious leaders in Lebanon. The meetings, over the course of two days (April 19-20), focused primarily on questions related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, terrorism and Christian-Muslim relations.

On its first night in Beirut, the group heard a variety of opinions from Muslim and Christian leaders in a "town-hall style" meeting convened by Lebanon's Islamic-Christian National Dialogue Committee. In addition to Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, and evangelical Christian leaders in Lebanon, the delegation met with Sheikh Abdel Ameer Kabalan of the Islamic Shi'ite Council and with Sheik Dr. Mohammad Rashid Kabbani, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon.

The time in Lebanon included dinner for the delegation at the residence of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, who had just returned from Washington and his meetings with President Bush. Responding to the events of September 11, as did many speakers in Lebanon, Mr. Hariri said, "We condemn this terrorist act. We think these people are inhuman criminals."

After discussion of topics related to the attack on the United States, the Prime Minister turned to events occurring now in Israel and Palestine. Referring to the events of the past few weeks, he stated, "[Mr.] Sharon did not only destroy the Palestinian infrastructure and kill civilians. He damaged the philosophy of peace...and the damage he made to this may be even more important. He committed a crime against humanity."

This theme was echoed by other leaders in Lebanon. As the delegation headed on Sunday by land to Syria, it made one final stop in the Bekaa Valley to meet Elie Ferzli, Vice-President of the House of Parliament. Mr. Ferzli, a Christian, spoke about the diversity of Lebanon and current relations between Muslims and Christians. He explained, "We believe that in Lebanon this coexistence succeeded in achieving its goals."

Followed by the Lebanese media at nearly every juncture, the delegation found that Lebanese officials and religious figures were clear in their condemnation of terrorism. However, these people asked, too, that Americans try to understand the root causes from which such terrorism can develop.

The Rev. William Shaw, President of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc., among the largest African-American denominations in the U.S., assessed a portion of what the delegation heard in Lebanon: "A major challenge confronts our country to see and understand another perspective on terrorism. What is seen [in the U.S.] is almost totally through the prism of 9-11. But the problems pre-date 9-11 and cannot be judged solely through the perspective of 9-11."

The NCC delegation -- led by NCC General Secretary Bob Edgar and President Elenie Huszagh -- left New York April 16 and met with Orthodox Christian leaders in Istanbul, Turkey, April 17-18.  From Lebanon, the group goes on to Syria (April 21-22) and Jordan (April 22-23), then Israel/Palestine (April 23-26, departing April 27).

The group is being hosted by the Middle East Council of Churches (the Rev. Dr. Riad Jarjour, General Secretary) and Jerusalem church leaders.  The NCC's 36 member denominations comprise 50 million adherents.

-end-

*Jim Wetekam, Media Program Director for Churches for Middle East Peace, is a member of the NCC delegation.


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