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Christian leaders worldwide united in calls for end to Mideast violence

New York City, July 20, 2006--Christian leaders representing millions of Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and Roman Catholic faithful are joining the National Council of Churches USA in calling for an end to the violence in Lebanon and Israel. Church leaders, many of whom have personal relationships with Middle East church officials, are also offering continuing prayers for those caught up in the spiraling violence.

"The escalating violence and regional dimension of the conflict is alarming," said Churches for Middle East Peace in a letter today to President Bush. "It is urgent that you call on all the parties to restrain from using force and, rather, to trust a diplomatic process."

CMEP's letter referred to a July 7 statement from Patriarchs and heads of local Christian Churches in Jerusalem. "The violence and aggression of this present moment is without proportion or justification," wrote the Orthodox, Protestant, Catholic and Anglican leaders nearly two weeks ago. "It is against law and reason to keep going in the way of death. The moral imperative is clear. Stop all the violence. Stop the killing. Protect the life and dignity of the people. Begin negotiations. Break this murderous chain of violence in which we are ensnared," wrote the Jerusalem church leaders.

Pope Benedict XVI today called for "an immediate cease-fire" to allow humanitarian aid to get to the innocent victims of the violence.

"In reality, the Lebanese have the right to see the integrity and sovereignty of their country respected, the Israelis the right to live in peace in their State, and the Palestinians have the right to have their own free and sovereign homeland," the pope said in a release from the Vatican Information Service. "At this sorrowful moment, His Holiness also makes an appeal to charitable organizations to help all the people struck by this pitiless conflict," his statement read.

The Holy Father also "proclaimed this Sunday, July 23, as a special day of prayer and penance, inviting the pastors and faithful of all the particular Churches, and all believers of the world, to implore from God the precious gift of peace."

"The Middle East Council of Churches," in a July 18 statement issued from Beirut, Lebanon, "calls upon the Churches worldwide to intervene firmly with their governments, urging them to exercise pressure for an immediate cease-fire in order to end this dangerous escalation of violence which threatens the whole region. It also calls on all to assist relief efforts by sending the necessary aid to the displaced families."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, left, in a letter yesterday to the leaders of Christian churches in the Mideast said, "My condemnation of this resort to violence is unequivocal. I offer you every support in your efforts to bring it to an end and allow Lebanon to be, once again, a living message of co-existence and solidarity between different religious communities."

The National Council of Churches USA and its partner relief agency, Church World Service, last Friday (July 14) called for an immediate end to the current violence. And they called for humanitarian aid to the innocent victims in Lebanon, Israel and Gaza. The NCC also voiced its support of the recent G8 leaders' statement on the Middle East violence.

"These extremist elements and those that support them cannot be allowed to plunge the Middle East into chaos and provoke a wider conflict," said the leaders of eight of the world's most powerful nations. "The extremists must immediately halt their attacks."

Last Sunday's statement was welcomed by Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, NCC's associate general secretary for international affairs and peace.

"We were glad to see that the G8 leaders...calling on all parties to stop the fighting, including Israel as well as Hezbollah and Hamas, and to see that their actions not lead to further destabilization of the region," Kireopoulos said on Monday echoing the sentiments of Christians in the region.

Other religious leaders in the United States this week expressed continuing concern as the violence seemed to wage on unchecked.

"The escalation of the conflict moves the Middle East further away from a just and lasting peace for which we have been praying and working," wrote Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson in a July 17 pastoral letter to his Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

"I continue to call on the international community and the U.S. administration to do everything possible both to negotiate an immediate stop to the violence that has caused the killing and suffering of innocent people and to urge all parties to resolve the conflict through dialogue."

The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America was holding its annual summer conference in Atlanta when the recent hostilities broke out. A caucus of their membership on July 14 said, "Although we condemn the actions of Hezbollah, the principle of proportionality has been violated by Israel in its attacks upon Lebanon, which constitute the heaviest bombing of that country in 24 years, since Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The targeting of a civilian population is not in keeping with the values of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, and must not be accepted. It is not defensive behavior, but is an offense against the high principles of all of these religions."

"We join others who deplore the escalating violence in Israel, Gaza and Lebanon," Houston, Texas Methodist Bishop Janice Riggle Huie (left) told the United Methodist News Service, "and urge parties to mediate the conflict and end the mounting casualties among the innocent." The President of the United Methodist Council of Bishops said, "We also join those who urge President Bush to use the strength and authority of his office, with the support of other leaders, to bring the parties together for mediation."

"The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has long been committed to working for a just peace in the region. Over the last fifty-six years we have consistently expressed our concern for peace between Israel, the Palestinian people, and the Arab states," wrote Clifton Kirkpatrick, right, at top) stated clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in a letter to President Bush.

"The people of the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, are groaning under the burden of war and desperately desire peace," Kirkpatrick wrote July 14. "We implore you to not allow the extremists of the region to dictate the reality and final outcome of this situation. What is needed now is a sane and diplomatic voice, which the United States can provide. Please use all diplomatic means available to you to restrain the violence and calm the situation--for the sake of Israel, the United States, and all the peoples of the Holy Land and the wider region."

A litany was offered yesterday by John H. Thomas, (right, below) general minister and president, United Church of Christ, entitled, "A Prayer for the Middle East at a Time of War." It concludes: "While leaders in Tel Aviv and Damascus, Tehran, Washington, and southern Lebanon pander to ancient fears, claim the mantle of righteous victim, and pursue their little empires in the name of gods of their own devising, the people of Lebanon and northern Israel are made captive to fear, true victims whose only advocate is You. Save us from self-justifying histories and from moral equations that excuse our folly. Search our hearts for our own complicity. Spare us from pious prayers that neglect the prophet's angry cry. Let us speak a resounding 'no' to this warring madness and thus unmake our ways of death, so that we may be made more and more into your image."

See also: NCC and CWS say Middle East Violence is futile

NCC News contact: Dan Webster, 212.870.2252


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