Christianity and the Middle East: Palestine Is Focus for Christian Women's 1994 World Day of Prayer

Article excerpt

Christianity and the Middle East: Palestine is Focus for Christian Women's 1994 World Day of Prayer

The 107th annual World Day of Prayer will be observed on Friday, March 4. Christian women Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox--in some 170 countries will hold ecumenical services of rededication to the movement's motto: "Informed Prayer and Prayerful Action." Although prayers of contrition and devotion toward one's own country and community are a regular feature of this annual event, each observance also involves an invitation to churchwomen from a different pre-selected country--Palestine for 1994--to plan a service of common worship "drawn from their own faith, hope, joy, struggles, concerns and sufferings."

Members of the Writing Committee normally are drawn from congregations in scattered parts of the chosen country in order to bring varying regional emphases to the final Order of Worship. Israeli restrictions on travel and meetings in occupied Palestine, however, necessitated that all the writers be selected from Jerusalem parishes. However, the Armenian, Arab/Greek Orthodox, Episcopal, Lutheran, Melkite and Roman Catholic writers represented have produced a varied but cohesive liturgy. Their draft--translated into as many languages as necessary--has been widely circulated throughout the movement's eight geographical districts for suggestions and emendations to make the final form as inclusive as possible.

"From the Holy City of Jerusalem, and in a spirit of reconciliation," says the Call to Worship, "the women of Palestine call again upon you, our sisters and brothers in every part of the world, to unite your prayers with ours. Pray for a just and peaceful solution to bring an end to human suffering, achieve security and ensure peace to all people of the region."

The September/October issue of the Washington Report included Deena Hurwitz's endorsement, as a progressive Jew with a strong empathy for the lot of Palestinian Christians, of the selection of Palestine. More recently, Rabbi Bruce Cohen of Interns for Peace, which trains poor Palestinian and Israeli youth for self-support, has hailed the fact that a portion of the World Day of Prayer offering will go to the Israeli Isha L'Isha hot line for women victims of violence in Haifa. He sees in this a welcome shift "from conversation to constructive action"--a comment totally in keeping with the World Day of Prayer motto.

Because, however, some American Jewish individuals and organizations had voiced objections, Church Women United set up a Sept. 13 forum at New York's Interchurch Center to air and deal with these concerns. Religious News Service had reported that there were strong feelings in certain Jewish circles against the whole idea of treating Palestine as a nation. This, however, had been succinctly dealt with in the World Day of Prayer Leader's Guide, which notes that more than 100 U.N. member states have recognized Palestinian statehood.

"Our message of hope for peace, justice and love should prevail throughout the world."

Another point, promoted by Rabbi Lori Forman, interreligious program specialist for the American Jewish Committee, was that, though the World Day of Prayer Leaders' Guide contains a letter (see box) from a Christian mother in Palestine to some concerned Israeli women about the destruction of Palestinian homes, family life, property and security by the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, there was no comparable reference to "the suffering caused to Israeli women by Palestinian terrorists." Apparently it was not enough that the Palestinian Christian writers had simply included the comprehensive statement that "the long and tragic history of the persecution of the Jewish people has, all too often, been at the hands of Christians." Nor did the critics seem to recognize the importance of responding to that same paragraph's climactic sentence: "Let us pray our times of worship, dialogue and action will bring us to a time of peace in which Jews, Christians and Muslims can live in peace and freedom. …