Bahai News - Area Christians Will Pray For Mideast Peace
Area Christians Will Pray For Mideast Peace This Christmas
Spiritual Leaders Here Wish Holy Sites Could Be Shared, Free Of
This Christmas Day, St. Louis Christians are praying for the infants of
modern Bethlehem as they read about the birth of the child Jesus two
millennia ago in the little hilltop town.
"Bethlehem is such a powder keg now," said the Rev. Timothy Carson, pastor
of Webster Groves Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and president of
the Interfaith Partnership of Metropolitan St. Louis.
Carson will lead his congregation in prayers today for peace for all the
people in the land where Jesus walked. Carson will also preach about it
in his Christmas meditation.
The town, which began this Jubilee year of Jesus' birth with such hope
for peace, now shakes with violence. Children crossing Bethlehem's Manger
Square are afraid of gunfire. There has been violence at the site of
Rachel's tomb in Bethlehem. It's a site dear to the three great faiths of
the spiritual children of Abraham and Rachel: Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Children's choirs from around the world were planning to participate
in a long-planned Christmas Eve 2000 concert at Bethlehem's Manger Square.
"All of that was canceled," Carson said. "Tragic"
Hopes for a peace were first dashed in October when the Camp David talks
between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser
Arafat broke down over the issue of who should control Jerusalem.
Since then, violence in the region has killed more than 345 people,
mostly Palestinians. There has been destruction of Islamic and Jewish
places of worship.
The Christmas Eve concert is but one of many cancellations. Thousands of
tourists, including Christians and Jews from the St. Louis area, canceled
trips to the Middle East this fall.
Carson is concerned about more than the Christian Arabs in Bethlehem.
"I think that Christians should be concerned with justice and peace for
all, whether they are Palestinian Christians, Palestinian Muslims or
Jewish Israelis," he said. "In terms of Christian solidarity with other
Christians, there is great benefit to having many faiths in that place.
In my personal opinion, Jerusalem should be a holy city with protection
given for all people and not a national capital."
As president of the Interfaith Partnership of Metropolitan St. Louis,
Carson helped assemble 21 ranking regional spiritual leaders last month
to sign a call for "people of all faiths to join in prayers of peace" in
the Middle East.
Among those signing the statement and a prayer were the Eastern Missouri's
ranking Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Unitarian, Mormon and Baha'i
In many of those leaders' houses of worship, requests for prayers for a
Middle East peace may have gotten lost simply because Americans have been
focused on the U.S. national elections, Carson said. He hopes they will
be renewed this Christmas.
In Illinois, parishioners at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Madison have
heard stories about the Holy Land sites firsthand. The parish administrator,
the Rev. Ed Mundwiller, worked in the shrine of the nativity in Bethlehem
from Dec. 31, 1999, until late June 2000.
"It's a very hard land, that's been fought over for so long, for many
centuries by people of such deep conviction and deep faith," said
Mundwiller, who is a Franciscan friar and priest.
A chance for a peace settlement seemed good during Pope John Paul II's
historic visit to the Middle East in March, Mundwiller said. The pope
prayed at the wailing wall, the remnant of the destroyed Jewish Temple,
and prayed with people in Palestinian detention camps. He called for an
international force to keep Jerusalem independent and its holy sites open.
Members of Mundwiller's Roman Catholic order, the Franciscans, have
been "custodians" of many of the most important shrines associated with
Jesus' life since 1340.
They have observed conflict in the holy places for much of that time.
Even their founder, St. Francis of Assisi, was unsuccessful at trying to
forge a peace there in 1219 between Christians and the land's overseer,
a caliph in Alexandria, Egypt.
A year ago, Archbishop Justin F. Rigali, Belleville Bishop Wilton Gregory
and more than 300 other U.S. Catholic bishops approved a letter calling
on Israel to become more concerned about maintaining the Christian holy
places. Rigali and other Catholic bishops are concerned about the plight
and permanence of Christians in present day Israel, as is Mundwiller.
"I worked with many Christian Arabs and it has become very hard
economically for them," Mundwiller said. "They depend on Christian
pilgrims for their work. Now these pilgrims can't rent a car or get
car insurance to drive to Palestinian-occupied regions."
Israeli restrictions and licensing for travel agents, drivers and tour
guides make it difficult for Christians to hire Arabs as their guides.
Two weeks ago, Monsignor James Telthorst, pastor of the St. Louis
Cathedral Basilica, was preparing a Scripture reading from the fifth
chapter of biblical book of Baruch. The passage is assigned for Catholic
Masses for the second Sunday in Advent: "Jerusalem, take off your robe
of mourning and misery and put on the glory from God and be wrapped in
the cloak of Justice from God."
He read the passage just after he heard the news that people were throwing
rocks against each other on the Via Dolorosa, the winding narrow Jerusalem
streets down which Jesus carried his cross.
"In the Holy Land, people are in mourning on both sides, and both sides
have holy sites, and both sides have religious traditions and both sides
pray," Telthorst said in a sermon at the basilica. "And both sides
continue to distrust one another. One side's feeling threatened and the
other side oppressed. Hatred continues in the very city where the Light
(Jesus) was born and in the street where he walked on his way to the
Christmas is about welcoming the light in the midst of winter's darkness,
he said. Christ's coming is about the removal of mountains and the filling
of chasms and the change of heart, he said.
Today, St. Louisans of many faiths are praying for a change of heart among
the leaders so that there can be a just peace in the land of the first
©Copyright 2000, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Page last updated/revised 122500
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