By Hadassa, Musalaha Participant
When visiting Canterbury Cathedral in sixth grade during a school trip, I could never have imagined that one day I’d find myself in the West Bank, in a room full of local women sharing about reconciliation with the Archbishop’s wife.
However, life throws funny surprises at you sometimes, especially in this part of the world, so this is exactly what happened in early May when I was asked to join a diverse group of Musalaha women from Israel and Palestine for an important meeting. For security reasons we were not told who our guest of honor was going to be, other than that she was from England and we should make absolutely sure to be on time and dress the part.
Only a couple of days before the meeting did we learn that we were about to meet Mrs. Caroline Welby, wife of the Most Rev and Rt Hon Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Church. The couple was traveling the Holy Land on a 10-day trip to meet with spiritual and political leaders, visit churches, local communities and NGOs, and hold interfaith meetings.
A quick search on the Internet taught me enough to realize that the Archbishop must be a very special man in more ways than one. For starters, he made it very clear even before his visit that he didn’t come to Israel to push a political agenda when he told the BBC that he comes, “to pray, to share, to encourage,” as, “you cannot, in a place as complicated as this, go and lecture people.”
Not a stranger to reconciliation himself, he made a historic move in inviting his personal friend, the UK’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, to join him on the trip. The two prayed side by side for peace at the Western Wall, visited the Yad VaShem Holocaust Museum together and paid tribute to the British student Hannah Bladon who had been murdered in a terror attack the month before. The Archbishop and his wife continued to visit a Kibbutz, listened to the life story of a Holocaust survivor and met with Palestinian farmers affected by the Israeli separation wall. He even made time to visit the Gaza strip - what a rare opportunity for Musalaha to be included in this busy schedule for a “Celebration of Reconciliation” in Beit Jala!
Accompanied by her local host, Mrs. Shafeeqa Dawani, the wife of the Archbishop in Jerusalem, Mrs. Welby met our group with her team including Canon Sarah Snyder, the Archbishop’s Advisor for Reconciliation, and Kat Brealey, Presence and Engagement National Programme Coordinator.
I must admit that I expected the meeting to be more formal than spiritual and was positively surprised when we were asked beforehand to each prepare a bible verse that connects us to the work of Musalaha. Reflecting on the scriptures was very enriching as we all shared different insights about well-known verses like Ephesians 2:14, Matthew 5:9 and 2 Corinthians 5:18-19.
Our time of fellowship included a worship session with songs in Hebrew, Arabic and English and a time of sharing about our role as women in areas of conflict. Mrs. Welby provided heartfelt words of encouragement and Canon Snyder shared a message of the cross and how it reconciles us not only with Jesus, but also with others through Him and His sacrifice.
The atmosphere throughout the meeting was one of shared spirituality and sisterhood while still allowing room to talk about the challenges we are dealing with in the region every day. I felt that a conversation with Mrs. Dawani was especially significant. As the Archbishop in Jerusalem’s wife, she is a person of influence in the Palestinian church but other than by name hadn’t heard of Musalaha. She spoke honestly, raising important questions about the challenging nature of the call to reconciliation, particularly for those in her own community who risk harsh criticism for engaging with Israelis. She listened intently as Musalaha staff Hedva Haymov, Shireen Awwad Hillal and others, responded to her questions from their own experience of these trials.
After we had officially closed the meeting with a recitation of The Coventry Litany of Reconciliation, our guests stayed for refreshments and personal conversations. I found myself talking to Kat Brealey who encouraged me, saying that even though we might not always see that we’re getting anywhere, we are doing important groundwork. Like Archbishop Welby said in his speech at the Peres Center for Peace a couple of days after our meeting, “We have to be willing to spend years at this. Reconciliation is a mixture of event – which gives momentum – and patient work, which brings the change of hearts deep down.” For when the time for a peace agreement comes (please God!), people like us, whose hearts are already in it, will be needed no less than today to reach out to our fellow sisters and brothers here.