Israel Moved by Christian Art

Go back and visit the holy places.” This is the appeal of the teachers of Tel Aviv University during a conference on the beauty of Christian art in the Holy Land. Present among the speakers, for the first time, the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa.



The Disquieting Treatment of Christians by the Palestinians

In the voluminous commentaries on the Middle East today very little attention has been given to the sad fate of Christians in the Arab and Muslim countries. Even less attention has been paid to the contrast between the treatment of Christians in Israel and their treatment in Arab countries. In Israel Christians have religious freedom and their numbers have increased. In Arab countries the religious freedom of Christians is restricted and their number has been reduced because of harassment, fear, and persecution. It is well to remember the words of Martin Luther King: “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”

Christians have been a presence in the Middle East for two millennia. Hundreds of churches and monasteries were built after Constantine legalized Christianity in 313. Yet after the Islamic conquest in 638 Christians have been subjected to Arab and Muslim rule for centuries. Their status in the Ottoman Empire was that of dhimmis, non-Muslims who were protected but who were second-class citizens. In this millet system based on religious affiliation, Christians were tolerated but they were also in a state of perpetual humiliation, even of subjugation.

Population statistics today are questionable and census is difficult in the various countries of the Middle East, and demographic trends and accuracy of religious affiliation are political issues and must be treated with caution. However, it is evident that under Muslim rule Christians became a minority in the area of Palestine. In recent years the Christian population has declined not only numerically, but also as a proportion of the overall population. This decline has been due to a number of factors: Christian emigration, a higher Muslim birthrate, poor economic conditions, the rise of Islamist groups especially Hamas and Islamic Jihad, growing insecurity, the use made of Christian towns such as Beit Jala as a base by Palestinian fighters for sniping against Israeli areas in Jerusalem, and Christian concern about their fate in the political future.

Critics of Israel have argued that the departure of Christians from the area of Palestine is due to the “Israeli occupation.” No doubt measures taken by Israel for security reasons have caused some economic difficulties and led to some departure. But the general accusation ignores the reality that two-thirds of Christian Arabs left the areas between 1949 and 1967, the period when Jordan occupied and annexed the West Bank, and Egypt controlled Gaza, years before Israel controlled those areas.

The discriminatory treatment of Christians by the Muslim majority and the consequences of continuing Arab hostility towards the state of Israel have led to increasing migration from the West Bank and Gaza, the areas controlled by Muslims. Christians in those two areas now account for only about 40,000, 1.5 per cent of the total. The towns of Ramallah and Bethlehem, which depended on the Christian tourist and pilgrim trade, both lost their Christian majorities. In 1995, the number of Christians in Bethlehem was two-thirds of the population; today it is now less than 20 percent. According to the1947 census held by the British there were 28,000 Christians in Jerusalem; in 1967 after 19 years of Jordanian rule there were 11,000. By contrast, the number of Christians in Israel has increased from 34,000 in 1949 and 120,000 in 1995 to over 150,000, now numbering about nine percent of the Israeli Arab population, and two percent of the total population in all of Israel…

Discrimination against, hostility towards and intimidation of Christians by Palestinians has taken a number of forms…

I’m glad this is being spoken of! Continue reading here.



Pastoral Letter from Archbishop Hepworth (17 Feb 2012)

A Pastoral Letter from Archbishop John Hepworth, released on the blog the English Catholic today:

Pastoral Letter

Archbishop Hepworth

In recent months, a deep division has been created in the Traditional Anglican Communion.  Bishops and Vicars General have threatened others with expulsion. Clergy and laity have been bullied and threatened.  A minority of the bishops plan to meet shortly in South Africa with the openly published agenda of expelling all those who are at the various stages of discernment of the offer of the “fullness of Catholic Communion” contained in the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Benedict XVI.

This bullying reached new levels with the publication of letters from Canon Gray in England and Bishop Marsh in the United States, cancelling arrangements into which they entered that created a tolerant environment during this process.  In the past few days, these events among others have greatly concerned me:

  • A priest of many years standing in the United States who is licensed to the Patrimony (created to protect those discerning their future in the light of the Ordinariate) has been refused permission to conduct the funeral of a long-standing friend because “he has applied to become a Roman Catholic”.
  • Father Brian Gill, a founding member of the TAC and our leader for many sacrificial years in England, who has been on holiday, wrote “On arrival back I found the disgusting circular letter from Fr. Ian Gray in which he wrote: Those of you who have submitted personal dossiers and may now wish to reconsider your position to return to the TTAC/TAC should do so by contacting me directly in writing by February 3rd 2012.
  • Bishop Marsh of the United States has circulated a letter to clergy who have been transferred to Bishops Moyer and Campese assuming that neither they nor their bishops still belong to the TAC.
  • Bishop Garcia of Puerto Rico has been told by Bishop Marsh that he is no longer considered a member of the TAC because of his positive attitude to the Ordinariates.
  • Meanwhile, it has emerged that Bishop Marsh is a high-ranking member of a virulently anti-catholic Lodge of Freemasons, and claims to have successfully influenced Roman Catholic authorities to reject the TAC and its bishops as a credible ecclesial communion.
  • Obviously in collusion, several Bishops and Vicars General are moving to attempt the illegal and uncanonical expulsion of their fellow bishops and clergy who are considering the Ordinariates on the grounds that they are “seeking to become Roman Catholic”.  In so doing, they effectively remove themselves from our Communion

Neither I nor those under attack can any longer allow this conduct to continue unchallenged.

Anglicanism has always aspired to tolerance.  Even the persecution of Catholics in England was balanced by tolerance and respect in missionary regions.  Anglo-Catholics and Evangelical Anglicans sustained a mutual respect and restraint in spite of vigorously asserting their positions.  Opponents found this a weakness.  Those of us who experienced it found it a strength.

Whether the destructive forces of the past fifty years have ended the possibility of tolerance in the wider Anglican world is a matter for prayer now and the judgement of history in the future.  We seek the truth that is in Christ Jesus, knowing that we must live in the moment of time in which we have been created.  For us that is a fractured church, a turmoil of conflicting theology, and the power of resurgent hostile creeds.  Science has created new boundaries of sinfulness that test us – power over life, the abundant access to information and entertainment, the global competition for the necessities of life, and the battles between scientific leaders and the idea of God.  It is not an easy time to be a good Christian.

I make clear the basis of conflicts within our own Communion:

  • Continuing Churches have a long history.  Some have been glorious, others are better forgotten.  They can never be permanent.  They must continue to relate to the Church from which they withdrew, to influence it for good, to make clear the reasons for their withdrawal “into the desert”.  To permanently split from the Church is schism.  To go into the desert to heal the Church is heroic.
  • There is only one Church, one Body of Christ, one Vine.  Every ecclesial group must be able to show evidence of its oneness with the Body of Christ, the Church.  As soon as a group becomes permanently and comfortably alone, unacknowledged by any other part of the Church, believing itself to be the only perfect form of Christianity, and accepts and even welcomes that isolation, it has slipped into the schism of the sect.
  • There is only one truth given once and for all by Christ.  The Church seeks to expound that truth in every age and to apply it to problems that are new, and to those things that have been challenges in every age.  It is not what the individual thinks; it is what the Church teaches.  The great ecumenical conversations of the past century acknowledged this fact and sought to define both the teaching authority of the Church and the truth that is taught.
  • The past century has been a time of massive expansion of human conflict and of the instruments that undergird human conflict.  The permanent expansion of the instruments of conflict has created a world that is tolerant of conflict and human destruction.  Anglican Churches have adopted too readily the destruction of human dignity in all its manifestations – family, livelihood, vocation, community – to achieve ideological victory.  The far more difficult pathway of tolerance and love has been lost.
  • The Apostolic Letter of the Pope to Anglicans has reignited dormant bigotry and anti-Catholicism, has forced people (even bishops) to examine the true nature of their faith and to assess the importance of the Catholic teachings that they cannot accept.

The present attempts to expel those who are working (often with exquisite difficulties) to test a vocation to fuse Anglican heritage with Catholic Communion, newly available and still in infancy, is not to be tolerated.

The minority of our leaders (Bishops and Vicars General) who intend to meet in South Africa have announced their intention to expel and depose others in our Communion, actions we have not experienced for many years, but which have been a tragic hallmark of Continuing Anglicanism.  They intend to change the Concordat that has ordered our common life from the beginning, abandoning the requirement to submit changes to the clergy and laity in the Synods of our Provinces.  And they propose to interfere in the affairs of member Provinces, creating spiritual, canonical and legal havoc that will only have one result – the diminution of our apostolate and the betrayal of those who have trusted us.

Even more significantly, they propose for the first time in our common life to expound doctrine according to their personal beliefs, abandoning the tests of common faith whether Anglican or Catholic.  I note that the two leaders of this minority in the United States have never attended a meeting of the College of Bishops and have never experienced our corporate life.

The majority remain loyal to the ideals that have sustained us to this point.  They remain true to their oaths and promises on doctrine and discipline.  They are determined to protect their people and minister to them as they make decisions and undergo processes that cannot be hurried any more than outcomes can be foreseen.

These bishops and senior clergy, in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Latin America, the Torres Strait, Australia, Africa and India are determined to continue their ministry, to respect the ecclesial bonds that exist between them, to sustain their Christian friendship even as some of them succeed (with their clergy and people) in being pioneers of Ordinariates that will grow, if they are of God.  They intend to deepen their bonds that are already solid with the mutual support of decades of working together.  They reject in advance any attempts to interfere with their jurisdiction, their ministries and the people committed to their care.  They too will shortly meet to celebrate their bonds of Christian commitment, and will take steps to protect their ecclesial identity.

The basis of that collegial identity will be:

  • The Concordat of the Traditional Anglican Communion which, with its disciplined commitment to good order, has served us well.
  • New structures to enable close bonds of friendship, scholarship and spiritual support between those who have joined an Ordinariate and those who aspire to join.
  • A commitment to foster and develop the Anglican tradition within the doctrinal framework of Catholic teaching, as set forth in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the doctrinal standard of the Ordinariates.
  • A commitment to each of the processes that have been established to heal the schism between Canterbury and Rome.
  • A commitment to the theological education of laity and clergy as a primary preparation for reconciliation between the churches.

Each of us has had moments of deep frustration and disappointment with the implementation of the Apostolic Constitution.  There are very valuable lessons to be learned for the ecumenical future of the Church.  It faces a world that will only become more hostile.

In the meantime, the loyal majority of TAC bishops wish to assure the Roman Catholic authorities with whom they are working of our collegial respect for the Holy Father, our belief in the teachings contained within the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that is one of the foundations of Anglicanorum Coetibus, and therefore our reaffirmation of the Portsmouth Petition to the Holy Father.

+John Hepworth


Bible Archaeology

The Upper Room and the Approaching Lent

The Upper Room

For us Christians the Upper Room is at the heart of our life. There is the place where our Lord celebrated the Last Supper, there he knelt down to wash the feet of the Twelve, there he instituted the Sacrament of the Mass, His Body and His Blood with us and for us till the end of time, there the Apostles were ordained, there the Priesthood of the new and eternal Covenant established and from there the Lord left to enter into his passion. There too the gathered Church received the Holy Spirit on the glorious day of Pentecost. In that room all promises were fulfilled and the Church was sent to proclaim the Good News to all the world. There too, according to an ancient tradition, Our Lady ended her earthly life.

Some years ago negotiations between the Holy See and the State of Israel about that Room were taken up. The idea is that the Upper Room is passed on to be part of the Christian Catholic Patrimony so that the pilgrims can celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass once more, in that same place where the first Mass ever was celebrated by the Lord himself.

The last Mass to be celebrated there was in the year 2000 when by special concession Blessed John Paul II was allowed to celebrate. This was not conceded to the Servant of God Paul VI in 1964 nor to the present Pontiff in 2009.

Blessed John Paul II preparing to celebrate Mass in that Holy Place

The issue seems to be one that is inherent to the Holy Land. Jerusalem is sacred to three faiths and many of the Shrines are within proximity. For the Middle Eastern temperament this is a cause of anxiety and tension. The Upper Room is an example if any was needed. Upstairs is the room we mentioned so sacred for us. Immediately below is a synagogue where the Jews venerate the tomb of King David.

The presence of a Judeo-Christian community in this place is most ancient. The Synagogue of the Christians on Mount Sion, according to archeologists and first hand sources, was one of the few buildings in Jerusalem spared by emperor Hadrian when during the second Hebrew revolt of the 2nd century AD raised Jerusalem to the ground…

Read more over at the Sevenoaks Ordinariate.