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Letter from the Rector

I was at the ruins of Capernaum ten days ago on my recent pilgrimage. It is not far from Nazareth, but seems to have been the centre of Jesus' ministry in the Galilee. We hear today of those first disciples by the shore mending their nets. The house of Peter has been excavated, finding graffiti saying Peter's house. Above it is a church that looks like a flying saucer with a glass floor so you can see the ruins.

A trip to the holy land is first a spiritual experience. How could it not be, to walk where Jesus walked, to see where he was born, died and rose from the dead. Yet to be real it needs to engage with the reality of the land today. I got the chance to go on this trip for nothing, and was keen to go, because the organization I went with has great contacts allowing visits to places that most pilgrims cannot access. There were 40 of us led by four American bishops, with 5 English people. As Americans say, I am still processing, but I have some thoughts and memories that I hope will encourage reflection.

A fact we need to always remember is that 20 years ago 10% of the Arab population of the holy land was Christian, usually middle class, this is now 2.5% and falling, due to emigration. They are caught in the middle, not only menaced by militant Islam but also by the oppressive tactics of the Israeli government. The church in the middle east, from the Copts in Egypt to the Syrians and Iraqis, is being persecuted.

The big issue in the area is of course the state of Israel, proclaimed in 1948. In the 67 war Israel captured and kept the west bank of the Jordan river and the Gaza strip. Acceptance of the state of Israel in its 1948 form will be the key to any peace. However, half a million Jews have settled on the land conquered in 1967.

So I am going to tell you about some of the people I met:

Ruth Edmonds: house demolition activist, against collective punishment.

Rabbi Pasok: Orthodox Rabbi in Chicago, pro the state of Israel, but not extreme, anti-Netanyahu, bi-national, anti-Trump.

Saul: settler, bi-national, no sympathy for Palestinians, wants to rebuild temple.

Achmed: street urchin in Hebron, looked 9 but was 12, settler.

The Bishop of Southwark!

Rava: baby in a convent near Bethlehem.

Parents circle: Palestinian/Israeli - both lost children at Bethlehem uni: just like other students, educate women. Religion not the problem, but part of the solution.

To help us reflect more on these issues the Team Lent course will be on the subject of Christians in the Middle East, held on Wednesday nights at 8pm in St. Lawrence's Church.

With Best Wishes