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Faiths unite for peace in the Holy Land

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Auxiliary Bishop Richard Umbers, Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay from the Maronite Eparchy, Archbishop Amel Nona from the Chaldean Catholic Diocese and Bishop Daniel from the Coptic Orthodox Church. At the interfaith prayer service at St Mary’s Cathedral. Photo: Patrick Lee/Catholic Weekly
Auxiliary Bishop Richard Umbers, Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay from the Maronite Eparchy, Archbishop Amel Nona from the Chaldean Catholic Diocese and Bishop Daniel from the Coptic Orthodox Church. At the interfaith prayer service at St Mary’s Cathedral. Photo: Patrick Lee/Catholic Weekly

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has called on people of all faiths to unite in a shared commitment to promoting peace and building bridges of interfaith understanding in a world struggling with the horrors of war, especially in the Holy Land.

The archbishop was speaking at an Occasion of Common Lamentation and Prayer for Peace at St Mary’s Cathedral on 6 December, hosted jointly with the chair of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference’s Commission for Christian Unity and Inter-Religious Dialogue, the Bishop of Bathurst, Michael McKenna.

The evening of prayer, silent reflection, bell-tolling, candle lighting, solemn music and scripture readings brought together people from many different faith traditions, united in solidarity to lament the horrors and heartache of wars around the world and to pray for a just and lasting peace.

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Church leaders from the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches were particularly well represented at the event, including archbishops and bishops from the Greek Orthodox, Coptic, Maronite and Chaldean churches.

The sheer brutality of war can often lead believers to question their faith in God, but it is in these dark times, we can indeed find peace in place of turmoil, Archbishop Fisher said.

“Visceral hatred, unspeakable brutality and unbridled violence throw into question our very being and that of God himself. For some, it strikes a terminal blow to their faith in both.
“Divine order and justice, God’s omnipotence and benevolence, all are brought into question by the horrors of terrorism and warfare.

“How can God allow the innocents to suffer? How can human beings do so?

“We lament the loss, then, not just of loved ones and neighbours, of health and security, of order and future, but also of our own innocence, our faith in God and humanity, our trust in providence.

“War kills our ability to relate to the other as a brother or sister, our sense of a common humanity with common hopes and needs, our solidarity with the universe.”

Archbishop Fisher drew upon the example of the Prophet Jeremiah, who called upon the Lord in his despair and the Lord indeed heard his appeal for help.

“The prophet could say assuredly that God is always with us, that each night He carries us through the darkness and each morning enables our renewal,” he said.

“Our hope is not ultimately in human peace processes, important as these are; it is hope in the God who can change hearts, put forgiveness where there is vengeance, peace in place of turmoil, love instead of hate.”

The archbishop’s message resonated with Jerusalem-born Costandi Bastoli, who attended the prayer event as the Lieutenant-Emeritus and Founder of the NSW Lieutenancy of the Equestrian Order of Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

Migrating to Australia over 50 years ago, Bastoli still has friends and relatives in Jerusalem and enjoyed a pilgrimage to the Holy Land which was dramatically cut short in October by the current conflict in Gaza.

“To see the Catholic Church, particularly the Archdiocese of Sydney, organising an event like this reminds all Christians in the Holy Land that we are not forgotten as people of all faiths join us in calling for peace and justice and lasting comfort from the Lord,” he said.

“These are very uncertain, frightening and anxious times. But as Christians, we must never lose hope in the Lord who made heaven and earth and is the God of justice. He will not leave us in this mess forever”.

Alongside Bastoli was Dr Shafiq Khan, the founder and managing director of Al Faisal Colleges, a group of Muslim schools in Sydney.

He praised Archbishop Fisher and the Catholic Church for its leadership in helping to build bridges between people of faith in such difficult times.

“We certainly need more peace-makers in our world not only at this time, but at all times and I certainly hope we can see more events like this to unite our faiths together in prayer which is a powerful source of hope and of reconciliation,” Dr Khan said.

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