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Israel, Jews, Islam, Muslims, and European Christians
In recent months several synagogues have been attacked in France. Jewish people have been beaten in Belgium and Germany. The assailants appear to be immigrant North Africans, reacting to Israel's brutal incursions in the occupied territories. Regardless of the genuine horror with which European Jews have by and large reacted to these policies, they have been confused with Israel.
How should Christians react to these mind-bogglng developments? As Bishop in Charge of the American Churches in Europe, I decided to create a fund which I first named the 'Synagogue Reconstruction Fund.' I had hoped that Europe's many mosques would be spared. When some Front national throwbacks to the treason of Vichy attacked a mosque in Châlons-en-Champagne, I re-named it the 'Houses of Worship Reconstruction Fund.'
One thing that prompted this gesture is the fact that we in the American churches here know the fear of being targeted. We regularly receive State Department alerts, which we take very seriously. One recent alert even named a specific church! We have responded to the threat of terrorism by staying open. While being prudent and taking reasonable security measures, our rectors have courageously decided—with my full support—not to give way to fear and stop our worship of the One who once walked that martyred land.
So we know how the Jewish folks who have seen their synagogues burnt to the ground feel. We too fear the attacks that the Muslims of ChČlons-en-Champagne suffered. Thus the fund is a small gesture of solidarity among people of faith, caught up as symbols in wars not of their making. It is also an important gesture for the significant numbers of Europeans who belong to the sixteen parishes and missions of the Convocation. It has been a long time since we were just Americans in Episcopal churches here.
There have been interesting reactions. Most were of the type that confused my call for funds for synagogues with support for Israel. 'Why don't we do something for the Palestinians?' I was asked. I replied that this is not about Israel or Palestine. It is impossible to square Israel's actions with the Torah, just as it is impossible to make the Quran approve suicide bombers, especially killing non-combattants. The Alexandria Declaration, issuing from the group chaired by Archbishop Carey, has made that clear.
Another reaction was from French Jewish leaders who were incredulous that Episcopalians would raise money for them. I have a feeling our Muslim friends will be equally surprised. In Europe, the state takes care of such things, not the church.
One issue which we will have to address is the problem of immigration in Europe. Americans know all about debates on illegal immigrants. It is not surprising therefore that some Europeans have begun to be as conservative as Americans on the issue. The governments have not addressed the question, fearing accusations of racism. As a result, there are large unassimilated immigrant populations in European countries. One way the Convocation has already begun to minister is through the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center in Rome, the only place in that city for a refugee to go in the daytime. St. Paul's-Within-the-Walls hosts that ministry. The huge numbers of Ecuadorians fleeing to Europe from the economic disaster in their country has resulted in the Latin American Ministry, also domiciled at St. Paul's. This vibrant Latino mission of about 125 is now presenting two aspirants for ordination!
Our other churches have responded in different creative ways, but there is still much more to do. I am confident that the 16 parishes and missions of the Episcopal Church here will not shy away from our share of the work. It is our hope that Episcopalians Stateside will continue to support our ministry, especially as we continue to address the issues of Europe, our mission field.
Bishop Whalon welcomes comments or questions about this article. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.