Christians mourn Arafat’s loss to Palestinians; see risk, opportunit

Ecumenical News International, Switzerland
Nov 12 2004

Christians mourn Arafat’s loss to Palestinians; see risk, opportunity

Michele Green
Ramallah, West Bank (ENI). Christian leaders in the Holy Land have
expressed sorrow at the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and
said they would be present at his funeral in Cairo and burial in

In reactions from around the world, some church leaders noted that
Arafat’s death presented both opportunity and risk to the peace
process in the region.

Hailing Arafat as the man who put the Palestinian people on the world
map, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the most senior Roman Catholic
cleric in the region, said his death due to an unknown illness at a
hospital in France on Thursday “was a great loss to the Palestinian

“He succeeded in the recognition of the rights of the Palestinian
people so today everyone, all the governments even Israel, is
convinced that one day a Palestinian state must be created for the
Palestinian people,” said Sabbah, the first Palestinian to head the
Catholic Church in the Holy Land.

He said Arafat had tried to help Palestinian Christians by attending
Christmas services at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and
also by taking political measures to assist the stature of the
dwindling number of Christians in the Holy Land.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state, said: “The
holy father [Pope John Paul II] prays to the prince of peace that the
star of harmony will soon shine on the Holy Land and that the two
peoples dwelling therein may live reconciled among themselves as two
independent and sovereign.”

Anglican Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal from St George’s Cathedral in East
Jerusalem, said, “The death of Yasser Arafat is a great loss
certainly to the Palestinian people but also to all who are after
peace with justice.” He noted, “We as members of the Christian
community feel the same loss if not more because of his real concern
for the Palestinian Christians, institutions and holy places.”

Bishop Arris from the office of the Armenian Patriarch in Jerusalem
said the Armenian community had always respected Arafat as the
elected leader of the Palestinian people. “He has always been a good
listener to the Christian requests and seemed to be the voice of
moderation in this regard,” he said.

Members of all the local churches said they would send high level
delegates to Arafat’s military-style funeral in Cairo and burial at
his battered compound in Ramallah on 13 November.

“Yasser Arafat was a man who will be remembered in radically
different and often contradictory ways,” said Lutheran World
Federation President Bishop Mark Hanson and General Secretary Rev.
Ishmael Noko in a joint statement.

“For many, he was the personification of the Palestinian struggle for
self-determination and independence, a freedom-fighter, an heroic
leader, a father figure,” they said. “For others he was an implacable
foe, an obstacle to peace. For Palestinian Christians, he was a
strong supporter of their religious rights and freedoms, and always
attentive to their place and their importance in the Holy Land.”

The Lutheran leaders said although the consequences of Arafat’s death
were unpredictable, it presented “opportunity as well as risk”. They
called on the Israeli and Palestinian leadership to grasp the
opportunity to renew active commitment to dialogue instead of

They also called on the US government and the other members of the
Quartet – the United Nations, European Union and Russia – involved in
shaping an international policy towards resolution of the
Israel-Palestine conflict, to re-engage in the search for peace.

Peter Weiderud, director of the World Council of Churches’ commission
on international affairs said: “In solidarity with the Palestinian
people, the World Council of Churches will continue to work for human
rights, sustainable livelihoods, medical care and basic freedoms, in
the days and years that lie ahead and until there is peace.”

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress