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Archbishop Completes Middle East Tour

Saturday 31st January 2004

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has completed a six-day tour of the diocese of Jerusalem in the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East.

During the course of the trip, made at the invitation of the Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt Revd Riah Hanna Abu El Assal, Dr Williams visited Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories.  The Archbishop met political community and religious leaders, including HM King Abdullah II of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the President of Israel, HE Moshe Katsav and the Palestinian President, HE Yasser Arafat.

During the visit, Dr Williams was shocked and saddened to learn of the suicide bomb attack on commuters in Jersusalem in which ten people died. The incident was raised at his meeting with President Arafat and the Archbishop was gratified to learn of the condemnation of it by the Palestinian Authority.

At the end of the trip, Dr Williams said that he had drawn strength from the efforts of churches and other groups and individuals in the search for peace.

"Despair would be a natural response to the lack of long term hope for a solution to the problems of this region. Small, local initiatives are continuing, however, and the ongoing contacts between people who have the courage to set aside fear and mistrust are producing some small signs of hope. Peace with justice for all the peoples of the Holy Land may not look at all near, but it is still the hope of most who live there – as it is the prayer of all of us who care about its future.

"The Christian churches in the Holy Land are heavily involved in the sort of institutions that make a real difference to peoples' lives. I have visited hospitals, centres for the disabled, rehabilitation centres and schools which all bear very visible witness to the transforming love of Christ reflected in the lives of his followers."

Further highlights of the visit:

On Sunday evening 25th February Dr Williams was welcomed to the diocese at the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman by Bishop Riah Hassan Abu El Assal, the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem. The party spent Monday and Tuesday in Jordan.

On Monday 26th January, Dr Williams paid a courtesy call on HM King Abdullah II at his palace in Amman. The two discussed the situation in the Middle East and the part being played by Christian churches in serving as a bridge between faiths and faith communities.

In the evening, Dr Williams preached at a special ecumenical service at the Church of the Redeemer in Amman attended by over three hundred people. In his sermon, he warned that being driven by suffering and by the need for security were enslaving:

"...Christians who have learned from Christ how to grow beyond the slavery of security and suffering and weakness have a unique role in the world. They can ask the communities in which they find themselves, 'What do you love? Are you held together by things that corrupt your life together and guarantee only that you will never grow out of fear?' What questions could be more needful for the churches to ask in this region?"

On Tuesday 27th Dr Williams visited Bishop's School and Ahliyya School and the Holy Land institute for the deaf at Salt. A visit to one of the sites associated with the Baptism of Jesus was then visited on the west side of the Jordan river. The Archbishop saw the extensive excavations of the Byzantine churches.

The party crossed into Israel by way of the Allenby Bridge. After reaching Jerusalem and paying courtesy calls on the Patriarchs, the Archbishop preached at a service in St George's Cathedral. In his sermon he urged the duty of citizenship as a common concern for divided communities.

"If two neighbour communities can begin to become truly civil societies in which law and human dignity are taken absolutely seriously, there is the chance of growth towards a human fellowship in which the presence of God can become visible - a community which is becoming a temple, as Paul says, a place where the Spirit dwells."

Following the service Dr Williams was guest of honour at a dinner for the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem hosted by Bishop Riah at St George's Close in Jerusalem. During the meal Bishop Riah formally welcomed the Archbishop to Jerusalem. In his reply, Dr Williams paid tribute to the work being done in the diocese and commended the Christian leaders for their patience and for their contribution to the search for peace in the region.

On Wednesday 28th January, Dr Williams paid courtesy calls to the President of Israel, HE Moshe Katsav. The two had an extensive discussion on issues affecting the region and explored the work of the churches and the difficulties faced by all of the communities because of the current security situation. Meetings were also held with the Chief Rabbinate, Mr Avraham Praz, Minister to the Interior and with Mr Natan Sharansky, Minister for Jerusalem.

Dr Williams also met with the Executive of the Alexandria Declaration Group to discuss the group's continuing contribution to the peace process.

On Thursday 29th January, Dr Williams visited St George's School and the Princess Basma Rehabilitation Centre in Jerusalem.

In Bethlehem he visited the Church of the Nativity and the Bethlehem Peace Centre before travelling to Ramallah for a meeting with President Yasser Arafat. The issue of the suicide bombing in Jerusalem that morning was raised and the Archbishop was gratified to learn of the Palestinian Authority's condemnation of it. The two went on to discuss the problems of the region as they affected the Palestinian community.

The Archbishop and party then travelled to Nazareth and stayed at St Margaret's Guest House of the Jerusalem Diocese. The Archbishop was guest of honour at a private dinner.

On Friday 30th January the Archbishop visited the St Margaret's Primary School and the Bishop Riah High School in Nazareth. He then journeyed to the church of the mount of the Beatitudes for a service of Holy Communion. The party went on to the shores of Lake Tiberias before journeying to Ben Gurion airport and leaving for London.

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