O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, … how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! – Matthew 23:37
These words of Jesus have been weighing on my heart this past week as I watch, like you, horrified by the images and stories on the news. The actions of Hamas, followed by the retaliatory strikes by the State of Israel into Gaza, have resulted in thousands of deaths, countless injuries, large-scale destruction – and widespread fear. War and violence fueled by hatred is always an abomination in all places, but it is especially grievous in the Land of the Holy One, the Prince of Peace.
For those of us who have had the privilege to go to Israel, as I did in 2019 and was intending to do so again later this year, it is deeply painful to witness these horrific acts. I well remember the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of my visit, and meeting the warm, wonderful people – Jews, and Palestinians both Muslim and Christian – who make up that richly vibrant and ancient country. This was punctuated by the presentations made by the director of the Princess Basma Center in east Jerusalem and by the operator of the pilgrimage and tour company at the annual general meeting of the Compass Rose Society in London this week. The society raises funds to support the Anglican Communion Office and the outreach ministries of the Archbishop of Canterbury. I serve as the vice-president of the International Board. We were moved by their personal testimonies and the good work of healing and peacemaking that they endeavour to live out in dangerous and difficult circumstances. Pray for them as they make their way home.
Quite apart from being heartsick about these acts of violence, it has been especially anxiety-provoking for me to know that three of our own priests from Toronto are there now. The Rev. Jeanette Lewis from St. Barnabas, Chester and the Rev. Shelley McVea of St. Saviour are on pilgrimage at St. George’s College in Jerusalem. The Rev. Canon Philip Hobson, our ecumenical officer, was also there with the Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue for the Anglican Communion. They report that they are at a distance from the worst of the fighting, but we are concerned about their travel as they try to get home safely. Please keep them all in your prayers.
Additionally, my thoughts and prayers are with Archbishop Hosam Naoum and many other friends in the Diocese of Jerusalem, with whom we in the Canadian Church have a special relationship.
I ask you all, as we do already every spring for Jerusalem and Holy Land Sunday, to keep the Land of the Holy One in your Prayers of the People this Sunday. As the Psalmist says:
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
‘May they prosper who love you.
7 Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.’
8 For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’
9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good. (Psalm 122:6-9)
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto