There is a warm buzz in the church. Happy reunions. Friends and colleagues reunited. It is a time for goodbyes for some. It is a time of being welcomed for others. Nearly 150 people gathered in St Anne’s Basilica in East Jerusalem to pray for a just peace, for an end to the 50 years of occupation and for the solidarity to be able to live side-by-side in Palestine and Israel. It is time for the ecumenical accompaniers in group 67 to hand over to those in group 68.
The prayer begins with words of welcome from Josef Buholzer, the new superior of the White Fathers and the local coordinator of the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (WCC-EAPPI) Zoughbi Al Zoughbi, as well as a recorded greeting from Bishop Munib Younan from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land: “Accompaniment is an instrument and tool of the holy communion through which we are compassioned to be God’s witnesses for justice, peace and reconciliation.”
In his welcome, Younan added, “Witnesses of hope in a hopeless situation. Witnesses of love in a world that ignores God. Witnesses of truth in a world of propaganda and lies”.
Zoughbi said in his introduction that it is an important moment to gather in the church and pray and thank those who have been accompaniers for three months and welcome the new people who are taking over. Zoughbi addressed the accompaniers by saying, “Thus you are our oxygen in life that keeps our hope alive, enhances our sanity, baptizes our commitment , empowers our walk, clarifies our talk, contextualizes our faith and incarnates our vision and mission. Being an accompanier involves devoting a period of one’s life to living in a large global family. Coming, seeing, reflecting and acting.”
A special mission as accompanier
Marianne Ejdersten, WCC director of Communications, provided a greeting from the WCC leadership. She said, “We are all peacemakers. Our task is to work for a just peace in the Holy Land. Peace without justice is not a sustainable peace. The World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel was started 15 years ago and will continue until we have achieved the goal of creating a just peace, with Israelis and Palestinians living side-by-side on equal terms.”
Ejdersten highlighted the bravery of the accompaniers. “You who choose to leave your home, your families and friends, and your normal job to act as accompaniers for three months are brave people. You are good role models. You are posted here to listen, talk and report, to live side-by-side, building bridges and using non-violent methods.”
Ejdersten concluded, “Working with human rights involves being vulnerable, and sometimes it is difficult to carry out the task. It is important not to give up despite all the difficulties, and also to seek new solutions and have the courage to continue even though the darkness of hopelessness can take over. The presence is important for the local people, for Palestinians and for Israelis.”
A special thanks was given in the prayer to the World Council of Churches and the accompaniers from the local churches and to the local religious representatives Hamed Qawasmeh from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rabin Yehiel Grenimann from Rabbis for Human Rights, and local priest Ashraf K Tannous from the Lutheran Church. The global partners were represented by Hania Kassicieh from the Swedish Study Center, Fr Aris Shirvanian from the Armenian Orthodox Church, Nora Carmi from the Orthodox Community, Rev. Paraic Reamonn from St Andrew Church, Jessica Lindberg from the Church of Sweden and Angleena Keizer from the Methodist Church in the USA.
Group 67 and group 68 alternately read out a text for the mission: “A time to plant and time to reap. A time to let go and a time to keep….May all our lives be beacons of justice, peace, love and hope. Let it be so. Amen. Inshallah”.
The final prayer and the blessing were led by the local representatives Josef Buholzer, Nora Camri, Loren McGrail, Fr Emmanuel from the Armenian Orthodox Church and Archimandrite Meletuis Basel from the Greek Orthodox Church.
The members of group 67 return home to their countries and continue their work by sharing stories about life in the Holy Land. Group 68 resumes work in the local communities. The work will continue until a just peace has been achieved in Palestine and Israel. The WCC Executive Committee processed in the end of November a plan for just peace in Palestine and Israel 2018-2021.
It is the fifteenth year of the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (WCC-EAPPI). Nearly 1,800 volunteers from more than 30 countries have been posted for three months each to live in local communities and monitor human rights violations. The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme is led by the World Council of Churches (WCC), on behalf of local churches and together with 120 partners from around the world. The mission element itself is an important part of the task: being sent on a mission by the local churches, the various religious representatives, to act locally as accompaniers. They live together in various communities. They take part in everyday local life. They worship together. They create a safer life for many people, according to a study conducted in the past year.
The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme has 120 partners from around the world. These include both Israeli and Palestinian partner organizations at the local level. The local reference group has representatives from three religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam.