Sunday, 22 July 2007

Palestinian Christians

Going to a church where you don't understand the language is always an interesting experience. The thing is, with communion services you can usually get the gist of what's going on and understand the important stuff. There was something special about sharing in communion at the Lutheran church in Ramallah - taking communion in the land where the first communion took place and with the right kind of bread! With a few helpful words from Palestinians in our group, I was also able to follow the readings. I was really pleased to find a hymn book, thinking that I might be able to follow the music at least - especially as it had the notation. That was until I realised that like its script, Arabic music notation also reads right to left rather than left to right. Reading music backwards was going to beyond me!

Christians in Palestine are a minority, but an important one. Internationally, they're a group that's often forgotten. North-east of Ramallah is the town of Taybeh, the only totally Christian community in the West Bank. (Mentioned in the Bible as Ephraim.) Out of the town has come a determined movement for peace, led in part by Father Ra'ad. There is also a level ecumenism in the town that's unusual - the community decided to agree dates for celebrating the important festivals together, not allowing the differences between the Roman and Orthodox calendars to divide them.

Another initiative has been the development of a peace lamp factory. Father Ra'ad's original aim was to sell 100,000 lamps and have them in 100,000 churches as a focus for prayers for peace. Now, as peace still seems far-off, it will continue to produce the lamps until it arrives.

Taybeh is also home to a couple of commercial ventures. Its olive oil now has the fairtrade mark and is sold by a chain of 2,500 French supermarkerts. Taybeh beer is the only Palestinian beer, and is produced in the town.

Father Ra'ad left us with two appeals:
(i) To tell people in our home countries to come to Palestine and see it for themselves.
(ii) To pray for peace in solidarity with Palestinian Christians. And to speak the truth without taking sides.
This last point I think is one everyone on the conference finds difficult. How can you not take sides when you see the injustice? But the important thing is always to clarify the situation as clearly as possible, and not demonise whole groups of people - to state clearly where the wrongdoing lies without making sweeping judgements.

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