Monday, July 02, 2012

Interfaith leaders work toward Middle East peace

And now for some GOOD news...

[Episcopal News Service, Beirut] A landmark three-day Christian-Muslim peace conference concluded on a hopeful note here by issuing an appeal to religious leaders and institutions to collaborate on promoting human rights, self-determination, peaceful co-existence, and non-violence, particularly in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

“There are over five billion Christians and Muslims throughout the world, and although we do not speak for all of them, we are here to say that violence has no place in the teachings of Mohammed nor Jesus. We are here to say that no one, no one has the right to take the life of another in the name of God,” said the Rt. Rev. John Chane, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, in announcing the agreement to the more than two dozen delegates representing Episcopalians and Anglicans; Roman, Armenian, Melkite, and Maronite Catholics; and Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims.

The meeting, second in a planned series of four, broke new ground on several fronts including the presence of high-ranking Shi’ite ayatollahs who flew from Iran to meet with an international Sunni delegation led by Mufti Malek Shaar of Tripoli and North Lebanon, along with Vatican officials and Catholic leaders, including Patriarchate Emeritus of Jerusalem Michael Sabbah and Archbishop emeritus of Washington Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, and the 103rd archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt. Rev. and Rt. Hon. George L. Carey.

The Shi’ite delegation’s leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad-Ali Taskhiri, praised the “beautiful moments of the past two days, moments of compassion, understanding, and freedom. We are all sons and daughters of God, children of God. I felt in these moments that religious leaders have a great role they could play in society. They could be the greatest players to help society reach very high places.”

The conference, “Christians and Muslims Building Justice and Peace Together in a Violent, Changing World,” was headquartered in a just-opened seaside hotel in newly reconstructed downtown Beirut, an area left in rubble after Lebanon’s civil war. The delegates met in the city’s rebuilt Maronite cathedral and deliberations took place next door in a modern mosque built as a powerful symbol of mutual tolerance – and yet a reminder of the ever-present threat of Middle East violence. The mosque was under construction when its patron, then-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was assassinated nearby in 2005, and conference-goers walked by his adjacent tomb several times a day to and from their meetings.

The opening session included hundreds of Lebanese religious and government officials, representing the nation’s sectarian polyglot. Public sessions were attended by former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel, a Maronite Christian leader whose brother and son were both assassinated while holding political office, as well as by former Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

Summit participants found many areas of common cause, including the need to promote freedom of religion and religious education, to halt Christian emigration from the Middle East, to include greater roles for women, and to condemn the “massacres and bloodshed” in nearby Syria, where they sought “to grant the Syrian people their rights to live in dignity and self-determination.”

Please read the rest of the story at Episcopal News Service here.

– Eileen Read is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles.

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