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South African Christian leaders to spend Christmas in Bethlehem in solidarity with Palestinians

South African Christian leaders to spend Christmas in Bethlehem in solidarity with Palestinians
From left: Frank Chikane, President of the Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Foto24 / Denzil Maregele) | Dean of St George's Cathedral Reverend Michael Weeder. (Photo: Leila Dougan) | Rev Rene August, an Anglican priest. (Photo: Screenshot from Facebook) | Rev Susan P Wilder, in her role with the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (US). (Photo: Facebook @Grace Presbyterian church)

Reverend Frank Chikane and St George’s Cathedral Anglican Church Dean Michael Weeder are among the group of prominent clerics who have arrived in the Holy City as part of a solidarity mission with Palestinians.

South African Christian religious leaders are part of a global delegation that will spend Christmas in Bethlehem in solidarity with Palestinian Christians from the conflict-ridden region.  

The group — made up of international clerics, will also spend time in Jerusalem and meet released Palestinian prisoners as well as families of Israeli hostages. 

Some of the delegation includes South African clerics such as Reverend Frank Chikane, General Secretary of the Council of African Independent Churches Archbishop Thami Ngcana; Michael Weeder, Dean of the St George’s Anglican Cathedral in Cape Town; Ds Riaan de Villiers, a Dominee of the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk, Groote Kerk, Cape Town; and Reverend Rene August, an Anglican priest, and a veteran of the anti-apartheid movement. 

“We’re here to bring about hope that we can all work towards peace in Jerusalem. We’re here to keep the hopes alive of a human solution based on justice, dignity and security for all. For lasting peace for all, for Jerusalem,” said Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, the General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC), who is also part of the group. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Middle East crisis news hub 

In a trip organised by Kairos Southern Africa in collaboration with Kairos Palestine, the global group of Christian leaders travelled via Amman, Jordan and arrived on Wednesday 20 December. Kairos Palestine will host the delegation in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. 

Some of the international clerics include Reverend Dr Chris Ferguson, pastor of the United Church of Canada (UCC); Reverend Susan Wilder, Presbyterian Church; and Reverend David Wildman, Methodist Church, who are both from the United States. 

Rev Dr Chris Ferguson

Rev Dr Chris Ferguson, pastor of the United Church of Canada. (Photo: Flickr/LWF/Albin Hillert)

The group will meet Christian Palestinians and Palestinians of other faiths in territories occupied by Israel, including the Gaza Strip, as Christians celebrate their holiest day on Monday. 

The group will also visit holy sites of Abrahamic faiths, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque and meet with church leaders, Christian and civil society organisations and human rights groups. 

On 7 October, Hamas attacked and killed around 1200 people in Israel and kept 240 people hostage. In response, Israel retaliated against Hamas through aerial bombardments, ground offensives and imposing a siege. Thus far, nearly 20,000 Palestinian people have been killed, according to Gaza health officials and people providing humanitarian aid. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: UN vote on Gaza delayed another day amid talks to avoid US veto

The trip, according to Mpumlwana was “an act of solidarity in their state of siege both in Gaza and the West Bank,”. He told Daily Maverick: “The SACC stands for a solution based on justice, dignity and security for all, for lasting peace, the peace for Jerusalem”. 

The group, he said would “pray with the people here in the land that God in Christ became part of the human experience was crucified and died, but rose again so that there is hope again beyond the crucifixication experience”.

Manger Square, Bethlehem

Manger Square is seen on 18 December, 2023 in Bethlehem, West Bank. Regarded by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem is usually bustling with foreign tourists at this time of year, with streets full of holiday decoration and vendors selling ornaments and festive figurines. (Photo: Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

Importance of Bethlehem 

According to the SACC, “Bethlehem, being the birthplace of Jesus, is of course deeply significant at this time”. 

Making parallels between the time of Jesus’ birth and the current situation in the Middle East, the church said it was “hard to ignore”. 

“Then, the land was under occupation by the Roman Empire. Now, the occupier is the state of Israel. Then, King Herod carried out a genocide of boys under the age of two. Now, Israel is carrying out a genocide of Palestinians in Gaza which is now spilling over to the West Bank, and more than 8,000 children have been killed,” said the church in a statement during the announcement of the visit. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Love and solidarity in time of the Israel-Palestine war

In Bethlehem, Palestinian Christians have cancelled festivities and public Christmas celebrations due to the ongoing conflict.

Dean Michael Weeder of St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town told Daily Maverick that someone had said during a meeting upon their arrival: “The Holy land and the people of the Holy Land of the Abrahamic faiths of Christians, Jews and Muslim — it is a mosaic and a work of art. If you take away one portion of that art, then the beauty of it is marred, scarred”. 

He added: “It was such a telling reference and an illustration of the woundedness not only of the occupied Palestinians but what it does to the psyche, the thinking, the spirituality, the soul of the occupier”. 

Weeder’s church has a history of involvement in the anti-apartheid movement. In recent weeks, the church has hosted various interfaith services and vigils, including a memorial for Dr Ahmed Abassi, a Gift of Givers worker who was killed in Gaza after coming from morning prayers. Weeder himself has been on a fast for a free Palestine. 

Ds. Riaan de Villiers from Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk told Daily Maverick it became important for him to understand what real peace was in the world — and how justice needed to be sought. 

“And coming from a tradition — the Dutch Reformed Church who were biblically and theologically justified with ideologies such as apartheid, and used it for oppression,” he added. 

“I’ve also been challenged by the words of President Mandela who said our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinian people. Therefore it is important for me to be here amongst our Palestinian brothers and sisters to hear their stories, to hear and see what it means to live under Israeli occupation and oppression.”

From the West Bank, the delegation plans to head to the Rafah Border Crossing via Cairo to try to reach out to those in Gaza. According to the SACC, “it is our prayer that the relevant authorities will allow the delegation to be able to carry out their pastoral responsibilities and be there for the victims of the genocide as part of our ministry of presence and service to God’s people”. DM

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  • Kathleen Olivier says:

    Even the clerics use the popular narrative of occupiers and apartheid, so sad.
    Perhaps they will realize that the radical Jihadists and Islamic groups will not cease until they have reached their goal, namely death to all Jews and other unbelievers of their faith.

    • Denise Smit says:

      It seems we have three people voicing anti-Jewish hatred. They are trying to dominate the narrative. You are right Kathleena about radical Jihadist and Islamic groups of which Hamas is one

      • Paul T says:

        Well done Denise Smit. Singling people out and labelling them is a great way to silence criticism, especially when your arguments are not succeeding.

    • Nas Hodja says:

      So Hamas did not kill all the Christians in Gaza, who actually support the Palestinian resistance to get their own stolen land back?

      It is a huge fabrication that Hamas wants to ‘kill all the Jews’. They want to dismantle the Zionist Apartheid Settler-Colonialist State of Israel, to make a unity state free for all its people.

      George Habash was one of the first Palestinians to take up an armed struggle against Zionist occupation of Palestine in order to get their stolen land back.

  • dexter m says:

    From another man of Faith the Chief Rabbi of South Africa Dr. Warren Goldstein responding to Pope Francis on the killing of a catholic mother and daughter by IDF in Gaza Catholic Church compound. Quote ” By denying Israel the moral right to fight this war , by comparing its just war of self defense to the barbarism of Hamas, you repeat the sins the sins of Pope Pius XII , surreptitiously colluding with the forces of evil who seek to annihilate the Jewish people. He betrays his fiduciary duty as head of the Catholic Church to protect Christians throughout the world from the same murderous hatred directed against Jews , not realizing that we are in this war together “. As a catholic i agree with the Pope and he is living up to his responsibility , Hamas killing of civilians was murderous and so is the IDF killing of Catholic and Muslim Palestinian citizens ( 20 000 killed , bulk women and children , where is the morality in that ) . The Pope as a man of faith is speaking out against the killing of the all innocent and sorry we are not in this war together . Now if you said war against the original meaning of antisemitism then yes we are in that together. Its is disappointing to get this response from a Rabbi to the killing of the innocent.

    • Enver Klein says:

      Warren Goldstein’s comments begs the question: “Is he Jewish or is a Zionist?”. There is a stark difference between the two. According to Israeli Historian, Ilan Pappe, Zionists don’t believe in God’s existence, whereas Orthodox Jews pray to God.

      • John P says:

        A 60 second google search shows that the Religious Zionists are are extremely religious, believe that God is on their side and that they are following God’s instruction in settling all the land. There are/were also Socialist Zionists and Secular Zionists who don’t seem to feature much anymore.

  • dexter m says:

    I refer to Palestinians as citizens not civilians because as per Israeli politicians there are no civilians in Gaza.

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      … And no ‘innocent’ ones either ! That includes journalists, UN and other health workers also. That is why genocide and starvation is acceptable to them.

  • John Millar says:

    What a noble and gracious delegation compared to anything myANC could cook up including its president.

    • Enver Klein says:

      I just pray that the delegation will be safe during their time, Reverend Michael Weeder has received death threats for allowing protests in front of St George’s Cathedral and also the Christian mother and daughter who were killed by the Israeli sniper.

  • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

    A lot of people are out of touch with what is happening in Gaza, Palestinians are getting killed, women and children who were far from the October attack and they are not even eligible to vote if the argument is they voted Hamas we have completely lost our moral compass

  • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

    You are not alone, we are not alone, they are not alone, although the writing was on the wall, we were told well in advance by the Israel authorities and its allies that Israel has a right to defend it’s self and we should have known when Palestine was not mentioned big trouble was coming, a senior UN official resigned we still missed the signs it’s too late now, Israel is writing history that no one alive today will want to read because we agreed to be a content of that history, I don’t look forward to the world order that is being drafted, there will be no ceasefire no Gaza and no Palestine

  • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

    There is a man watching all these actions and the responses with unusual interest his name is Vladimir Putin, the western support for Ukraine is faltering, unusual flame throwers are appearing in Ukraine, NATO weapons were captured and they are now being jammed, America is distracted by all the noise of it’s actions in Israel and internal politics of trading immigration laws in return for support of a war they promised they are in for a long haul in between there are civilians who carry only a hope against a well armed Russia, hope never win wars, Iran next to Israel is acting in a similar pattern as it’s ally, north Korea is itching and probing, China is watching towards Taiwan, the UN has been exposed, the ICC is suffering the same fate soon it will be survival of the fittest with the most veto powers

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      What is puzzling for me is why the ICC has not yet issued a ‘warrant of arrest’ for Netanyahu … as they hastily did with Putin ? Is it possible they are waiting (giving him time) for him to slaughter thousands more children and wipe out an entire generation ?

      • Enver Klein says:

        Kanu, after Karim Khan QC, prosecutor of the ICC visited Israel, he stated: “Israel has trained lawyers who advise commanders and a robust system intended to ensure compliance with international law”. He also stated: “… the Hamas attacks were serious international crimes that shock the conscience of humanity”.
        He met with Israeli leaders and only briefly with the Palestinians in Gaza. Clearly been brainwashed or “paid off”.

  • Hypocrites. The Palestinians must surrender. Why keep fighting when your people are dying like flies.

  • Alkeb Grootboom says:

    This delegation would have done a much better job if they went up to the union building to call on the SA government to scrap racial laws and the gradual institutionalization of a new new Apartheid state in the southern part of Africa. To speak out against corruption and the states inability to prosecute. And then to voice their displeasure at thousands of SA’s going to bed hungry because there are no jobs. This delegation could mean so much for us here.

  • Citizen X says:

    I salute all the Christian leaders for going to Bethlehem and Wesbank. You are our ambassadors of peaceful, loving South Africans. Thank you for representing us on this mission. God be with you all.

  • Very important work. Keep up the solidarity with Palestine, sisters and brothers of SA…

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