Peacemaking in the Holy Land: Challenges and Hope

Russell Testa In the Headlines

As the world keeps an eye on activities abroad and in our nation’s capital, and Franciscans pray for long-term peace in the Middle East, the director of the Province’s Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation sees signs of hope. Just two weeks after the Order’s English-speaking Conference joined with other religious leaders in expressing concern for the situation in Syria by sending a letter to President Barack Obama, he provides an update about specific peacemaking initiatives.

A variety of events is bringing cautious optimism to Provincial leaders and others concerned with peace in the Middle East.

When the Holy Name Province Chapter passed a proposal in 2005 calling for “pre-emptive peacemaking,” it was not always clear what direction implementation of this goal would take. Since then, there have been peacemaking training programs and advocacy work regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, chair of the HNP Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Directorate, and several friars and lay partners in ministry have made peace pilgrimages to Israel and Palestine. Just this spring, Gene Pistacchio, OFM, and a group from Boston’s St. Anthony Shrine traveled to the Holy Land to become familiar with the people and culture of the countries of the Middle East.

In the experience of this past work, there are signs of hope and remaining challenges for peace in the Holy Land and surrounding areas.

New Chance of Peace in Israel-Palestine
Many are cautiously hopeful that the new round of peace talks birthed by the efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry between Israel and the Palestinian Authority might lead to a more sustainable peace. Franciscans remain active in their advocacy for peace through their membership with Churches for Middle East Peace.

The English-speaking Conference of the Franciscan friars is an active member of CMEP. Recently, CMEP executive director, former ambassador Warren Clark, offered an insightful and cautiously optimistic review of the prospects of the upcoming talks between Israel and Palestine.

There are still many who fear the unknowns that might arise out of such a peace deal. Many of these individuals are members of Congress. To encourage elected officials to give these talks a chance and not delay them, we recommend that you let them know your wishes by sending a message through CMEP’s Action Alert.

Challenge of Syria
At the same time that there are glimmers of the possibility of peace between Israel and Palestine, Syria remains in bloody conflict. Now, the U.S. has expressed its consideration of supplying weapons to this conflict.

Recently, the president of the Order’s English-speaking Conference joined with other religious leaders to write President Obama and express concern for this and other stances that could lead to even more bloodshed. In the July 31 letter, they write, “We urge you to direct your Administration’s full diplomatic energies toward an inclusive, negotiated, political solution that provides a foundation for an inclusive society in Syria that protects the rights of all its citizens…”

The complete letter is available on the blog of the ESC-OFM website in a post titled “Conference Joins Other Christian Groups Calling for Action on Syria.” 

— Russell Testa, director of the HNP Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in Silver Spring, Md., is chair of the Churches for Middle East Peace board. Information about the Province’s peacemaking efforts can be found on the JPIC in Action page of the Justice and Peace section of the HNP website.