Archbishop of Canterbury Makes First Visit to Israel

July 2, 2013

3 min read

The prophet Ezekiel also called Israel the centre of the earth, saying, “Thus saith the Lord GOD: This is Jerusalem! I have set her in the midst of the nations, and countries are round about her,” (Ezekiel 5:5) and later referring to the Jews as “…the people that are gathered out of the nations, that have gotten cattle and goods, that dwell in the middle of the earth.” (Ezekiel 38:12)

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby Visits Yad Vashem (Photo: Isaac Harari, Flash 90)

The Archbishop of Canterbury, one of the highest positions in the Anglican Church, visited Israel last week, just six months after rising to his honoured position.  When asked why he prioritized his visit there, he explained that Israel is the centre of the world in many ways, and is the cradle of three major religions.

“This is the cradle of the three great world faiths. It’s the cradle of our own faith, of Christian faith. It’s where Jesus lived and walked and died and rose again. It is in so many ways the centre of the world, in so many extraordinary ways. What possible reason could there be to delay?”

The Archbishop’s tour was not limited to Israel; he made appearances in Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian territories, as well. He met with several religious leaders, including members of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and representatives of the Chief Rabbinate.  He opened an Anglican diabetes clinic in Ramallah, prayed at the Western Wall and visited Yad Vashem.  He was hesitant when asked about his experience at the memorial museum, calling it “too much for words.”  He recently learned of his own Jewish roots and was given information about a distant relative who perished in the Holocaust during his visit to Yad Vashem.  He was met with criticism for not including Bethlehem or Nazareth, both important Christian religious sites, on his trip, but expressed his regret that he could not stay for more than the five days of his tour and visit more places.

[box type=”shadow” ]Read about Pope Francis’s meeting week with representatives of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations.[/box]

During his visit, Archbishop Justin Welby weighed in on the conflict in the Middle East.  “The clear policy of the church and my own very clear emotional feeling is that the State of Israel is a legitimate state like every other state in the world and has a right to exist in security and peace within internationally agreed boundaries,” the archbishop said. “Secondly, all the people in the region, without exception, from whatever background they come, whether it is Israeli, or Palestinian or any other, also have the right to exist in peace and security within properly agreed frontiers. Those are the two great principles by which disputes of the kind we’re seeing in this area are settled.”

In his address to Christian leaders at St. George’s Cathedral on Wednesday, he said, “Finding ways of living together after the great traumas, tragedies, of so many years is a huge challenge. And it will come when there is a change of heart. Bishop Suheil spoke so eloquently and so powerfully, and I want to echo his words: that where we seek power and security, we will find neither. The teaching of Jesus Christ is when we give our lives away, then we find what we seek.”

 Watch a short recap of Archbishop Welby’s visit to Israel:

Although he would not comment on John Kerry’s efforts to renew the peace process, he blessed those efforts, saying, “Obviously, anyone who is seeking to put together a settlement in this area — we must all wish them Godspeed and every blessing in what they’re doing. He’s clearly personally deeply committed. I don’t think anyone in this area has any illusions about the complexity of the task he’s undertaken.”

He expressed sorrow at the oppression Christians in the region are suffering at the hands of Islamists, but added, “…historically, the right response of Christians to persecution and attack is — it’s the hardest thing we can ever say to people, but Jesus tells us to love our enemies,” he said. “It’s the hardest thing when you’re violently attacked. It’s an indescribable challenge. But God gives grace so often for that, to love our enemies.”


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