"Friends in holy places," ENS Weekly bulletin inserts for Palm Sunday, March 28, describe the work of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and its relationship with the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem as together they serve the minority Christian population in the Holy Land as well as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
Friends in holy places
Americans and others offer support for Christians in the Diocese of Jerusalem
In the land where Jesus walked and Christianity began, the Christian population has fallen rapidly in recent decades until it is only about 1.5% of the people of Israel and Palestine.
But the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, founded in 1841, serves some 7,000 Episcopalians in Palestine, Jordan, Israel, Syria and Lebanon -- a territory of more than 121,000 square miles. Although Episcopalians and Anglicans are a small percentage of the population, the diocese sponsors two major hospitals, a full service health clinic, 16 schools and a number of institutes for the deaf, the blind, the elderly and the mentally and physically disabled. All of these institutions are open to all, regardless of religious or cultural background. The diocese is centered at St. George's Cathedral in East Jerusalem. The Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani was installed as 14th Anglican bishop in Jerusalem in April 2007.
The Diocese of Jerusalem has several companion relationships with dioceses in other parts of the world, but all members of the Episcopal Church are invited to join the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, a non-profit, non-political partnership with the Church in the Holy Land. Membership is free and open to anyone interested in the welfare of the Anglican/Episcopal community there.
Since 1996 the American Friends have donated over $20 million of free medical, school and infant supplies, as well as cash gifts to the Diocese of Jerusalem. In 2009, AFEDJ provided a van for disabled children at the Basma Centre, gave scholarship aid to children at the Arab Evangelical School in Ramallah, built new classrooms in Nazareth and bought Braille machines for the blind in Irbid, Jordan. It also delivered supplies to Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, the only hospital available to the war-afflicted people there. Also in 2009, AFEDJ launched a new initiative asking children all over the world to pray and give for the welfare of children in the Holy Land each year on St. Nicholas Day, Dec. 6.
For 2010, Bishop Dawani has asked AFEDJ to focus on education ministries, including scholarship aid, teacher training and other projects, with a special emphasis on education for peace.
"Education has a special importance in building bridges of knowledge and connections between nations and civilizations," Dawani says. "It is a tool to reveal justice and to get the real picture of a situation regarding how people live."
AFEDJ also encourages pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and lists opportunities for such journeys in its newsletters and website.
The American Friends was founded in 1989 by Bishop Peter Lee of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and Bishop Samir Kafity of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. Their partnership invited Christians from the USA and around the world to "Remember the Forgotten Faithful of the Holy Land," the Arab Christians who have preserved the Christian presence in the Holy Land for centuries. Today, Phoebe Griswold leads the organization as president; executive director is Anne Lynn. Its board includes bishops, priests and laypeople from the United States and other nations.
For more information about AFEDJ -- a tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization incorporated in the state of Florida -- visit its website at www.afedj.org. For more about the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, visitwww.j-diocese.org.