Holy Land bishop receives Niwano Peace Prize in Tokyo with call to confront extremism

(Photo: ELCJHL/Ben Gray)Holy Land Lutheran Bishop Munib A. Younan accepting the 34th Niwano Peace Prize from Rev. Nichiko Niwano, honorary president of the Niwano Peace Foundation, during a ceremony on July 27, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan.

Palestinian Lutheran Bishop Munib A. Younan has received the Niwano Peace Prize, issuing a plea for greater engagement of faith leaders in confronting extremism and "the sick ideologies which pervert our religions."

The bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land became the 34th recipient of the prize, which is sometimes viewed as akin to the Nobel Prize for religious leaders seeking peace, during a July 27 ceremony in the Japanese capital Tokyo.

In his acceptance speech, Younan insisted that leaders of all faith traditions should confront the extremists in their midst "through a witness of robust moderation, rejecting that extremism is somehow the measure of faithfulness."

The Niwano Peace Foundation recognized Younan for his tireless work toward interreligious dialogue among Christians, Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem and around the world, for long-standing commitment to moderation, and compassion to all sides involved in conflicts.

"As a strong believer in the power of dialogue, you have persistently worked to create spaces where people of different faiths can meet in peace and develop mutual trust," the foundation stated in its citation for the prize.

The honorary president of the Niwano Peace Foundation, Rev. Nichiko Niwano presented the award to Younan.

The Lutheran World Federation for which Younan served as president from July 2010 to May 2017 was represented by General Secretary Rev. Martin Junge.

The new LWF President Archbishop Musa Panti Filibus sent a congratulatory message to the Holy Land church leader.


During his visit to Tokyo, Bishop Younan, met on July 24 with local Catholic and Lutheran communities to speak about his most recent meeting with Pope Francis in October, Vatican Radio reported.

Their encounter came during a joint commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in the Swedish cities of Lund and Malmo.

In his acceptance speech, Younan said, "Moderates are not wishy-washy. The moderate is not a person without identity. If we are going to challenge extremist theologies and the extremist politics they support, we must reclaim the center within our respective traditions."

The ELCJHL bishop described the alliance between political interests and religiously sanctioned extremism as a dangerous trend today.

He cited examples from his own region, the Middle East, he noted that no single religion has a monopoly on extremism.

Jerusalem, Younan said, is challenged daily by extremism from Jewish settlers who with politicians' support "seize land in the name of the Bible; [...] by Muslims who think the darkest interpretations of Islam are the only way to confront an opponent [...]; and by Christian Zionists who come to our city to view it as an Armageddon playground where their visions of the End Times will one day unfold."

Such voices, he noted, promote an apocalyptic war not only in the city but in the whole world.

At the Tokyo ceremony, the LWF general secretary Rev Martin Junge paid tribute to Younan's constant efforts for peace in a world marked more than ever by unrest, fragmentation and rupture.

Junge lauded the Palestinian bishop, who was educated in Finland, for carrying out this ministry in the difficult context of the Holy Land, where many of his neighbors have given up hope of achieving peace or reconciliation.

"He [Younan] has remained steadfast to his calling, drawing from the deep wells of faith. He advocates and speaks out, meets and talks, challenges and encourages for the sake of peace."

LWF President Archbishop Musa Panti Filibus expressed the Lutheran communion's joy over what he described as the well-deserved recognition for the Palestinian bishop.

"You have been a strong voice denouncing the underlying causes for conflict and violence, and sharing your vision about building peace with justice in that very context in which the Prince of Peace came to transform the world," said Filibus, archbishop of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria.

Filibus prayed that the awarding of the Niwano Peace Prize would promote peace in the Holy Land, thereby encouraging others toward reconciliation worldwide.

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