Primate’s Middle East pilgrimage fosters partnership

On his first solidarity visit to the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem Aug. 22 to 30, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the Primate, soaked up the area’s rich history and deepened relations with the living church there.  As he put it when he preached at the Jerusalem cathedral, “While I come as a first-time pilgrim to the Holy Land, I come with a commitment to be a partner in the Gospel.”

Bishop Dawani and Archbishop Hiltz celebrate the Eucharist at St. Philip's Church, Gaza City. ANDREA MANN
Bishop Dawani and Archbishop Hiltz celebrate the Eucharist at St. Philip’s Church, Gaza City. ANDREA MANN

In an interview two days after his return, Archbishop Hiltz had colourful stories of his time in Israel and the Palestinian territories. He travelled with Dr. Andrea Mann, General Synod’s global relations coordinator, and the two blogged about their trips to Jerusalem, Gaza, Nablus, and Bethlehem, and other places. The diocese extends over Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, and Israel.

It was a productive visit, the Primate said. He and Ms. Mann discussed possible church-to-church partnerships with Bishop Suheil Dawani, including healthcare and education ministries where Canadian Volunteers in Mission and Theological Student Interns could participate. They also discussed a closer partnership with St. George’s College, Jerusalem, and how Canadian churches could help the diocese raise funds for medical equipment.

During his visit, Archbishop Hiltz formally invited Bishop Dawani and his wife Shafeeqa to attend General Synod 2010 in Halifax, and they accepted. The Primate said, “My hope is that between now and General Synod some things will actually happen in terms of the relationship, and then when we get to General Synod we can celebrate.” This solidarity visit was in response to a request from the 2007 General Synod.

Archbishop Hiltz also noted that this new partnership will include talking to Bishop Dawani about how best to advocate for peace in the region. He said General Synod might eventually issue a specific statement—like the recent resolution from the full-communion partners Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada—but only after consulting with the bishop.

Pilgrimage highlights

While in the diocese, Archbishop Hiltz toured traditional holy sites, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Mount of Olives. Perhaps not surprisingly for a man with Nova Scotian roots, his favourite spot was the Sea of Galilee, where he waded deep into the water and wanted to stay the day.

“We stood there and I kept thinking to myself, this is the same water by which Jesus walked. This is the same water where he called the fishermen. This is the same water he made breakfast by,” said the Primate. “It was just such a holy moment for me to stand in that water and take it all in.”

As always, Archbishop Hiltz’s pastoral eyes carefully absorbed things about the people he met, from a sick child with a scarred face to a peppy nursery school coordinator, who announced an open invitation for newly retired, energetic Canadian volunteers to visit her school.

But he especially remembers one moment at the diocese-supported Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City. When he met the staff, one Anglican woman said she longed for the rare opportunity to take communion, so Bishop Dawani led the group to the adjoining St. Philip’s Church—a damaged building with a hole in its roof from an Israeli missile.

“There were about nine or 10 of us there,” Archbishop Hiltz said.  “There was plaster all over the floor, dust everywhere, the altar was dirty, but we just laid out a linen cloth, put the bread on the plate, the wine in the chalice, and the liturgy was the Eucharistic prayer. Period. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of the Eucharist that I’ve ever had.”

“We get all caught up sometimes in the validity of things, the order of things,” he continued, “But this was absolutely beautiful and sacred. I looked down at the woman who longed to have the sacrament, and she was beaming.  What the [hospital] staff said to us was that the church’s commitment to remain here through the ministry of this hospital means so much to the people. It’s what gives them some sense of hope.”

The Primate is optimistic about the Canadian church’s continuing presence in these ministries. He paraphrased a departing thought from Bishop Dawani: “We’ve sown a whole pile of seeds this week, and now it’s up to us, with God’s help, to water those and let them bud and blossom into a beautiful partnership between the church in Canada and the Diocese of Jerusalem.”

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