A Bishop Like Tutu

We're invited to meet Bishop Younan in his headquarters alongside the Church of the Redeemer in the Old City of Jerusalem and just round the corner from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It's over a buffet lunch, Palestinian style, of course. We're in 'occupied territory' here; he's Palestinian and his diocese is the Palestinian churches.

As president of the Lutheran World Federation he's a 'big' man, but slightly built and stooped, gentlemanly and softly spoken. I'm glad I'm sitting next to him as he speaks (just by accident that is!).

He explains a little of his diocese and its work, giving great emphasis to education as their principal 'mission'. He sketches a vision of helping young people to develop 'constructive nationalism' and to become better Christians if that's their background or better Muslims if it's that. But for all, a moderate form of their religion and respectful of others.

He movingly describes something of the life of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, recognising their essential lack of freedom, from that of movement to land ownership, the daily detentions (a little like stop and search in the UK?), the threat of the settlers, all seemingly the result of the Israeli government policy, intent on pursuing their aim for 'a greater Israel'. He speaks for nearly an hour; he refers to emigration of the Christian community (and why), and of the apparent hopelessness of the situation.

He's clearly committed to justice for all, the 'two state solution' back to the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem, a city giving full rights to three religions and two nations. 'Stop the occupation' is his big plea. He won't use the word 'apartheid'.

He's willing to take questions, so my hand goes up. I speak of my South African background, acknowledging the influence of the church in bringing about change there, and ask him what contact he has with the Vatican, World Council of Churches, Tony Blair Faith Foundation and The Elders. He's met them all, but with little confidence in Tony Blair (to put it mildly). He's especially encouraged by some significant developments of accord between the Vatican and the Lutherans. There's hope there, he said. It was he who signed the document with Pope Francis recently. He asks the churches of the world to 'accompany' the Palestinian churches on their journey.

I grab a little more salad and a cup of tea (flavoured with sage) - after all we're in Jerusalem. Afterwards I chat to some fellow travellers and tell them I feel as though I've met the Tutu of the Middle East.  He certainly made me think. I wonder whether there's anything more I can do. I just wish more people could hear what he told us today.