World Prayer Day Draws Ire with Its Focus on ‘Palestine’

On March 4, 1994, Christian women in tens of thousands of Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic churches all over the world will pray for "peace in Palestine."

Their prayers’ wording has elicited objections from Jewish groups, whose efforts to have the organizers integrate more balance into the services were unsuccessful.

March 4 will mark the 107th annual World Day of Prayer.

On that day, Christian women in local churches from North America to India, from Estonia to Papua New Guinea, will gather together to recite prayers and readings compiled by Palestinian Christians.

Five thousand local church groups in the United States also are expected to participate.

Liturgy for the annual observance and celebration is written by ecumenical Christian groups of women. The task is rotated between countries and regions, each of which chooses the topic and liturgy, which are then distributed worldwide for World Prayer Day.

The service for the 1994 observance, designed by Palestinian Christian women, focuses on Palestinian suffering.

Objections were raised by the International Council of Christians and Jews and the American Jewish Committee, as well as others.

"They don’t have to express love for the Jewish people, but there is no sense that the burdens of oppression fell on both Palestinians and Israelis," said Rabbi Lori Forman, interreligious affairs program specialist at the American Jewish Committee.

"We’re concerned that women will leave the services with no sense that there’s been tragedy on both sides," she said.

The services’ introductory reading says, "Our country, Palestine, was declared the State of Palestine in 1988 and recognized by over 100 members states of the United Nations.

"However, we have been suffering under occupation for almost three decades. For ourselves and our children, we seek a future where justice and freedom prevail and are the basis for attaining this Palestinian state."

‘LAMENTATION BUT NOT ACCUSATION’

The next section of the service compares the pain of Palestinian mothers to that of the women who followed Jesus on the Via Dolorosa.

"Whether it is down the winding alleys of the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem or the streets of other occupied cities, mothers follow handcuffed sons and daughters trying to comfort them with their tears."

Children in Palestine "who have been denied their right to self-determination express their wish for a free homeland. In the process, many of them are imprisoned, tortured and killed," the study reads.

The service also includes "A Mother’s Letter to Israeli Women and Mothers," by a Palestinian mother who wrote of being beaten by Israeli soldiers.

"By sending soldiers into Palestinian homes, the Israeli military authorities have put women into the front line of the struggle.

"Soldiers are not only in the streets of the villages, refugee camps and cities; they are breaking into our homes to beat, smash, humiliate and arrest. With or without reason, by day or by night," she wrote.

Last summer, when the prayers and readings were first put together, the women’s seminar of the International Conference of Christians and Jews registered its objections with the International Committee for the World Day of Prayer.

The International Committee reviewed the concerns and decided not to change any of the language.

Instead, it sent out a "letter of affirmation" to the national committees coordinating efforts in individual countries.

"We felt that the service was not problematic, and that it is an authentic voice of Palestinian women," said Eileen King, executive director of the International Committee.

"It is lamentation but not accusation," she said.

Simkha Weintraub, a Conservative rabbi who works for Arab-Jewish coexistence and who is director of public affairs for the New Israel Fund, met with King several months ago after learning of the service’s content.

"I wish the service had been changed," he said. "It was an opportunity to affirm the humanity of us all.

"It feels particularly tragic because women have been in the forefront of dialogue groups and the peacemaking effort," he said. "A great store of experience is not being utilized" on World Prayer Day, Weintraub said.

NEXT STORY