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A Sharing of Roots

Mideast religions should work together, Jerusalem Bishop says

Mark Thompson-Kolar
The Ann Arbor News

Christians, Jews and Moslems must recognize a common heritage and work together to solve problems in the Palestinian Territories, said Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem Bishop Samir Kafity in a speech Thursday at St. Andrew's Church in Ann Arbor.

"We are born by God to be brothers and sisters of three faiths," the bishop said. "We are three Abrahamic faiths with common roots. It is important that we recognize and rediscover our common roots. It is important that we recognize and rediscover our common roots and common heritage and come together at the points that bring us together, rather than the points that diverge us from each other."

He claimed politicians amplify doctrinal differences between religious groups, and that deep down the various faiths share "common goals and common origins."

Lives of peace and justice are these common goals, he told the 50-person crowd.

In Judaism and the Old Testament, peace and justice are a recurring theme," Kafity said. "They are two lips of the same mouth for all human beings. It is beautifully proclaimed in Islam, which is built on submission to God."

The message of peace was in the earliest New Testament teachings as well, he said. About 390,000 Israelis, 6 percent of the population, are Christian. About 7,600 are members of his Episcopal diocese.

God loved the whole world, not just the Christian world," Kafity said. "Jews, Gentiles, Arabs and others have joined the universal fellowship of Christ."

He said cooperation in his diocese includes two orphanages, 13 schools and two hospitals to serve Palestinians of all religions who are under Israeli occupation.

The hospitals treated more than 50,000 patients in 1988, he said. During that time the Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza performed 515 operations to remove bullets from Palestinian protesters, most of whom are youths. It offers its services free of charge.

The bishop said the hospital receives money and doctors from many worldwide religious aid organizations, including the American World Service and the Presiding Bishops Fund for World Relief for the Episcopal Church. Ahli has an operating budget of about $106,000.

He said the protesters receive the wounds from Israeli soldiers, who shoot high-velocity and plastic bullets at them in retaliation for rock-throwing incidents.

The Palestinians throw rocks at the army because they are angry about the terrible living conditions they must endure, he said. Most Palestinians in refugee camps live on a United Nations quota of 10 cents per day. Four cents are spent on food, four cents for education, and two cents for health care, Kafity said.

Last year, Palestinians outside the camps were forced to remain in their homes during 123 days of curfew, he said, and the universities in Gaza have been closed for two years.

"We are placed there as spectators to people who are suffering. The church cannot be a spectator," Kafity said. We must have "absolute openness, not to all the Christian denominations only, but to all the fellow religions as well."

The speech was sponsored by the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice and the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan's Church and Society and National and World Mission Committees.

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