Welby visit to Holy Land will span Middle Eastern faith and politics

THE Archbishop of Canterbury will spend 12 days in the Holy Land in early May, Lambeth Palace has announced.

He will travel to Jordan and spend time in a camp for refugees from the Syrian civil war, before moving on to the capital, Amman, where he hopes to meet King Abdullah.

He will then travel to Israel to stay as a guest of the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, the Most Revd Suheil Dawani. During that time, he will preside at an ecumenical service and be installed as an episcopal canon in St George’s Cathedral.

He will be focusing on “celebrating the gift of faith in the Holy Land and affirming St George’s and Bishop Suheil as centres of reconciliation”, a senior Lambeth Palace source said.

Travelling with Archbishop Welby will be his wife, Caroline, the Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Revd Michael Ipgrave, and the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, among others.

They will then travel to Galilee, spending time in Nazareth and visiting the holy places. On the sabbath, the Welbys will take a day off and retrace some of their steps from their honeymoon in Galilee more than 30 years ago.

Next, the Archbishop will travel to Bethlehem, where he hopes to meet the mayor, Vera Baboun, a Christian described by the Lambeth Palace source as an “extraordinarily charismatic and impressive figure, who is also a significant political force”.

Much of the Archbishop’s time will be spent listening to religious leaders, staff of NGOs, and politicians from all sides to learn more about the situation of Christians and others. “We want to shine a light on grassroots projects and people of hope,” the source said. “That in itself will be a Christian witness.”

Archbishop Welby also hopes to catch up with a carpenter from Bethlehem, Joseph, whom he met on a previous visit; but the Revd Mark Paulson, the Archbishop’s secretary for inter-religious affairs, said that he had searched for Joseph without success during a preparatory visit.

On the final few days, the Archbishop will focus on the political situation. He will meet the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Israeli President, Reuven Rivlin, and hopes to have a face-to-face meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

He will then make a speech on reconciliation and hold a press conference at the Peres Center for Peace, established by the former Israeli president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shimon Peres.

Archbishop Welby’s visit is his first since spending five days in the Middle East in 2013, shortly after taking office. Absent from his itinerary this time is Gaza. The Lambeth Palace source said that a visit to Gaza had been considered, but would have been too difficult to fit it into a tight schedule.

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