Saturday, 5 March 2011

Bishop Suheil

One of my most memorable Advent Sunday’s was spent in St George’s Cathedral Jerusalem while on sabbatical in 2008. The Bishops service was led by the Bishop of Jerusalem Suheil Dawani and the sermon was preached by Rt Revd Michael Jackson, recently elected Archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough. It was a moving service, the highlight being the singing and praying in Arabic and English at the same time. I had the opportunity to chat to Bishops Suheil and Michael after the service while we enjoyed an excellent cup of coffee and macaroons.

Yesterday I read with sadness Stephen Bates’ report that Bishop Suheil has had to take legal action against the Israeli authorities who have refused to renew his residency visa for Jerusalem and required that he and his family leave the country. The authorities have accused the bishop of ‘acting with the Palestinian authority in transferring lands owned by the Jewish people to the Palestinians and also [helping] to register lands of the Jewish people in the name of the church’. As yet, Bishop Suheil has received no details about the accusations nor who has made them. This type of accusation is not uncommon and it is rather ironic that at the same time Israel continues in its failure to stop the illegal building of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land.

Bishop Suheil is not the only church leader to have faced visa problems, the Greek Orthodox patriarch in Israel has in the past faced a similar problem and this indicates something of the context in which the Christian churches minister in the land of the Holy One.

In December 2010 the Jerusalem Post published figures released by the Central Bureau of Statistics that show Christian citizens of Israel make up roughly two percent of the country's population or 153,000 people out of the 7.5 million population. According to the report, 80.4% of the Christians in Israel are Arabs and the rest are immigrants that arrived in the country together with Jewish relatives under the Law of Return, including children who were born in the country. The majority of those under the second category of Christians reportedly arrived in Israel during the large waves of aliya from the former Soviet Union.

I continue to give thanks for my time in Jerusalem and the land of the Holy One and pray particularly for Bishop Suheil and those whom he shepherds during these challenging times.

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