Thursday, 18 April 2024

World Day of Prayer 2024

Few in the world can be ignorant of the plight of innocent people in Gaza over the last few months. On 7th October Hamas shocked everyone by attacking Israelis at a pop festival and in a kibbutzim near the Gazan border. Atrocities were carried out and hostages taken. The unexpected ferocity of the Israeli retaliation has caused the deaths of more than 22,000 people in Gaza, 8,000+ of whom are children. This is the backdrop for the 2024 World Day of Prayer service on 1st March.

In 2017 the Christian women of Palestine were asked by the World Day of Prayer International Committee to write the service for 2024 based on the Gospel text of 'I beg you, bear with one another in love' (Ephesians 4:2). The stories they tell relate to the time before and since 1948 when Palestine passed from British control to become a nation of relocated European Jews and indigenous Palestinian people. Palestinian people refer to this time as the 'Nakbar' or Catastrophe. As more and more Jewish settlers arrived on Palestinian soil they moved out Palestinians in a bid to grab land. Previous to this Jews, Christians and Muslims had co-habited peacefully together in rural and urban communities. Many thousands of people from both sides died in combat as the new nation of Israelis fought to establish themselves. Many wars have taken place in the years between then and now as existing Palestinian land was reduced in size because of illegal settlement (international law recognises this action as illegal) and Palestinian freedoms were restricted. Palestinians in Gaza and on the West Bank have been surrounded by security walls which impede their freedom of movement to attend hospital appointments, go to work or visit family (who often live on the other side of the wall). Israel now controls what goes in to and out of these walled-in areas including water, power, food and medicine. When under threat the Israeli Government can order 23-hour curfews. Yet, despite this, in 2017 the Christian women of Palestine understood and appreciated Christ's teaching of love towards all people and wanted to share this with the wider world.

It is very difficult to remain objective at times like this. Our hearts go out to all those who have suffered on both sides after the attack of 7th October. Our prayers are prayers of peace that a long-term solution can be found. We ask for God to intercede and soften the hearts of those in authority so that they may begin helpful conversations. We thank God for the peacemakers and those on both sides who strive for a happy outcome: (for further information about bi-national projects follow the link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab%E2%80%93Israeli_peace_projects).

On 1st March 2024 women from all Christian denominations around the world will meet to pray for the women who are represented in the service material. At this moment in time, we do not know of their circumstances. We do not know if they are still alive, if their homes are still intact or if their families have been affected by bombing or social unrest. They use the olive tree as a symbol of peace and the parts of the tree - roots, branches, leaves - to explain the characteristics of the story-tellers. Olive trees are precious to Palestinians as they provide essentials for life (food, oil) and denote the ownership of land which, for some, has been in family hands for millennia (or at least before the writing of legal documentation). Olive trees can live for hundreds of years.

By the time of the service, WDP England, Wales and Northern Ireland pray that the present conflict is at an end and plans are being discussed by the international community for a two-state nation where human rights are guaranteed for all. We invite you to pray alongside us for a peaceful settlement.
I include here a meditation by our past President, Elizabeth Burrows. In 2008 she was an ecumenical accompanier escorting Palestinian people through checkpoints as they went to school, work, hospital visits and family reunions.

The Writing on the Wall - Bethlehem 2008
Twenty-six feet
Eight metres
Of dark grey pre-cast concrete
Strangles the city,
Chokes its heart,
Destroys the spirit of its inhabitants.
The Wall
Built for security?
But walls do not bring security,
Walls do not bring peace.
Freedom brings peace,
Peace brings security.
Look at the writing on the Wall:
'Only fear builds walls.'
'There are no just or unjust wars; wars are just stupid.'
'I don't want to feel hate.'
'An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.'
'Victory is to win without picking a fight.'
'I will always have my dream.'
'We ain't losers 'coz in wars there are no winners.'
'Nothing lasts forever.'
Twenty-six feet
Eight metres
Of dark grey pre-cast concrete
Strangles the city,
Chokes its heart
But it cannot destroy life
Or hope
Or justice
Or joy.
'Nothing lasts forever.'
One day 'the wall will fall,'
Freedom will come,
Bringing justice, peace, security in its wake.
(Used with permission)

Sr Maureen Colbert
Moravian Representative on the World Day of Prayer National Committee

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