World churches head meets Israeli president, calls for ceasefire, freedom of religion, humanitarian care

(Photo: © Peter Kenny)Jerusalem minarets and spires on Feb. 14, 2016.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog has formally received World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Jerry Pillay to discuss the current situation in Israel and Palestine and the war in Gaza.

They met on Feb. 20 in Jerusalem in what the WCC described as "a very frank, fair, and cordial conversation."

The two leaders agreed on the importance of working towards a ceasefire and the role of religions in helping to create a world in which peace, security, and safety exist for all people, said the WCC head.

Pillay expressed his concern about the loss at that time of more than 27,000 lives in Gaza, most of them women and children.

He reiterated the WCC position that violence and wars are not the way to seek solutions and stressed the need for dialogue to end the war and to create a better future for all people in Israel and Palestine.

"As a worldwide fellowship of churches, we continue to express our compassion and prayers for the ending of the war, the healing of deep wounds, and respect for human lives and rights," said Pillay, a South African Presbyterian and theologian.

"We understand the complexities and challenges in this context and know that it is not easy to find workable and just solutions, but we must; we cannot think that violence will enable peace—it will not."

Pillay urged all parties and powers concerned to seek an immediate ceasefire and enter dialogues to establish just peace, safety, and security in both Israel and Palestine.

"We call on the international community, especially political leaders, to support these endeavors and to act urgently," said Pillay.

The WCC general secretary also raised issues related to the freedom of religion and religious practices, citing a recent report on further restrictions to be imposed by the Israeli government during the Muslim celebration of Ramadan.

Pillay also referred to information shared with him during a meeting with Heads of Churches in Jerusalem about "disrespectful treatment by some young Israeli extremists."


The WCC said the Israeli president acknowledged that such disrespectful treatment is happening and is undoubtedly unacceptable and is being addressed.

Pillay also spoke about the concerns related to humanitarian aid to prisoners and hostages and received assurances that the Israeli government and organizations are currently attending to these.

The world churches' leader reiterated the need for religions to boldly proclaim an alternative message of peace and hope as we seek to heal and reconcile a broken and suffering world when there is war and conflict.

The WCC is a grouping of more than 500 million, mainly Anglican, Orthodox, and Protestant churches. The Roman Catholic Church is not a WCC member but serves on some of its bodies.

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