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Christians in the Holy Land are “a butterfly between two hands,” bishop says

Hand holding a ragged blue butterfly
Photo: Leigh Anne Williams
By on January 26, 2024

As new horrors of the war in Israel and Gaza unfold each day, Bishop Shane Parker told a January meeting of Diocesan Council for the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa that he is listening carefully to his colleague Archbishop Hosam Naoum of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East to try “to determine what is genuinely helpful to say.”

“The tremendous loss, cost, the death of civilians in Gaza boggles the mind,” he said, observing that reportage on the conflict is unbalanced. “We’re seeing as much about 25 IDF [Israeli Defence Forces] soldiers being killed as we are thousands of civilians.”

“Outrage is easy to express,” the bishop said, noting that it doesn’t have a lasting impact.  “And, it is very confusing to know what to say because the ground is shifting all the time. …This is a land that has many external influences and agendas being worked out, let alone the multiplicity of agendas within Israel itself, not to mention Palestine.”

The calculus of this is that saying something, whatever your intention is, will be taken to fuel polarization and division, the bishop said, and yet “to say nothing sounds like we don’t care.”

He emphasized that “we are deeply concerned for the fate of Christians in the land of the Holy One, who are in large part Arab, in large part Palestinian, and whose very existence is threatened by the machinations of what is going on right now.”

“So, my strategy, my heart, my prayers are very much informed by our siblings, the Christians in the land of the Holy One,” he said. On his numerous pilgrimages to the Holy Land, the bishop recounted that Christians have described the precariousness of their situation like this: “‘We are like a butterfly between two hands. Depending on what those hands do, we can be safe, or we can be crushed instantly.’ The butterfly that is our siblings is not in a good place,” he said.

Bishop Shane said he goes back to what Archbishop Hosam has told many who have come to the Holy Land on pilgrimages, and commends his advice to all who care and want to see an end to the terrible suffering on all sides: “Please don’t divide us further. Listen, understand both narratives, as confusing as that is, and pray for the peace of Jerusalem. And don’t forget the Christians who remain here. We are the living stones.”

Earlier in the conflict Archbishop Hosam joined the other patriarchs and religious leaders in calling for peace, and Archbishop Linda Nicholls, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, echoed his words in her New Year’s Day address: “As custodians of the Christian faith, deeply rooted in the Holy Land, we stand in solidarity with the people of this region, who are enduring the devastating consequences of continued strife. Our faith, which is founded on the teachings of Jesus Christ, compels us to advocate for the cessation of all violent and military activities that bring harm to both Palestinian and Israeli civilians.”

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