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Archbishop Justin Welby talks of 'profound sense of grief' as he meets Palestinian Christians

by Sam Hailes

Most Rev Justin Welby made the comments on Monday after viewing the impact of Israel's separation barrier on Palestinian Christians.

Christians in the West Bank town of Bet Jala told the Archbishop the barrier has split their communities in two and prevented farmers from accessing their fields.

One man told the Archbishop: "We are losing everything. There is nowhere to build now. My land has all been stolen, so what future do we have, what hope?"

Israeli authorities say the barrier is a temporary measure which has halted a spate of suicide bombings by Palestinians since construction began in 2002.

After listening to the stories of Palestinian Christians, Archbishop Welby said: "Anyone who listens to the ordinary people of this area will feel a profound sense of grief that, as always in these times, it is the weak, the poor who are shoved to the side. The emotional reaction is one of profound grief and sorrow."

While he admitted there were "limits to what the church can do", Welby promised to "speak and remind people of the need for justice and security" in order to maintain "a continuing Christian presence" in the West Bank. He praised local Christians for being "the glue that holds everything together".

He added there needed to be "justice and security for all" in both Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The delegation also visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and met the city's Christian mayor Vera Baboun. Speaking during the service Welby told local Christians: "You are never forgotten by us in these times of struggles and pain. We pray for you constantly and will continue to do so."

After hearing Palestinians' stories on the eighth day of his Holy Land tour, the Archbishop led those gathered in a prayer for peace: "God of justice strengthen the resolve of those who work for peace in the face of seemingly endless violence. Guide the leaders of the peoples of Palestine and Israel to know your will and to find solutions for a just peace for all your children.

"Shower upon all the people of this Holy Land the spirit of justice and reconciliation. That faced with so much suffering, anguish and loss they may know that the Christ of the cross and of the empty tomb stands with them in love and that his people care for them and remember them."

Welby met the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday night (pictured above). He is due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.

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