Historic 2013 Pilgrimage 

Clergy and peace activists from Europe, North America and Asia will meet in Jerusalem on May 14-19, 2013, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Jerusalem Declaration enacted through the Middle East Peace Initiative (MEPI).

MEPI was launched in 2003 by Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Universal Peace Federation (UPF), as a Track II diplomacy effort to bring a wide range of interfaith perspectives into the center of the search for peace in the Holy Land. Between 2003 and 2008, more than 12,000 clergy, scholars and government officials from around the world participated in MEPI pilgrimages.

Dr. Chang Shik Yang, International Chairman of UPF, announced that the 10th Anniversary Jerusalem Declaration Memorial Program “will provide the opportunity for each of our Ambassadors for Peace, women leaders, clergy and others from all generations to experience the vision of unity and reconciliation in Jerusalem. Together we will retrace the historic footsteps of Jesus, understand the heart and faith of Islam and gain deep understanding of the Jewish foundation upon which all Abrahamic faiths trace a common beginning in one God. We will remember Father Moon’s unchanging love for all faiths and his vision that the faith leaders, when united, have the key to ending the conflicts in the world.”

Participation in this pilgrimage is open to all. Those who plan to join are required to pay their own airfare and a registration fee of $900.00 for six days and five nights (including lodging, meals, organized tours and conference fees).

History of MEPI

Shelly Elkayam, poetess and researcher at Göttingen University and Hebrew University in Jerusalem, credits the MEPI pilgrimages with changing the hearts and minds of many in the region over a two-year period. She argues in her paper, A Religious Model in Action: Sun Myung Moon and the Middle East Peace Initiative, 2003 to 2005 that “these MEPI pilgrimages were an educational tool designed by a religious actor as a global model of peace building… and represented a new model of interfaith activism carried out during a ferocious war zone and was meant to bring the faiths together and serve the cause of world peace.”

“One of the most compelling aspects of Father Moon is his vision for resolving enmity and hatred, historical resentments and divisions, and creating peace through reconciliation and healing resentments through forgiveness,” explains Rev. Phillip Schanker, one of the original MEPI organizers. “We organized the first of many pilgrimages that evolved into the Middle East Peace Initiative,” recounted Rev. Schanker of the first MEPI pilgrimage in May 2003. “When we arrived there, we first visited Rome and followed the footsteps of Paul and Peter and the missionaries of early Christianity. And then we went to Israel itself. We went to Galilee where Jesus preached; went to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born; went to Nazareth, where Jesus grew up; and went to Jerusalem, where Jesus was crucified.”

MEPI participants later visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, other Jewish sites and were the first non-Muslim organization to be invited to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on The Holy Mount, which had been closed to non-Muslims since the Second Intifada. Then there was a reconciliation ceremony held together with rabbis, imams and pastors where the Jerusalem Declaration was signed. “With that declaration, each major group acknowledged its historical mistakes and repented for them and agreed to work together to realize peace and harmony,” said Rev. Schanker. He continued, “In a beautiful ceremony, Archbishop Stallings, who is now president of the American Clergy Leadership Coalition, had the foremost rabbis in Israel, including Rabbi Itzhak Bar-Dea of Ramat Gan.”

“For me, personally being half-Jewish and half-Christian in my ancestry, participating in the MEPI pilgrimage was one of the most meaningful and unforgettable experiences of my life,” Rev. Schanker concluded.

Elkyam concludes in her paper, “As an eyewitness – among thousands of others globally and locally – and a MEPI observer, my thesis is that the religious educational principle of ‘living for the sake of others’ has begun to permeate this land’s culture through the innumerable memorable interactions that changed the hearts of many people who to this day do not even know who Rev. Moon was and how much they owe him.”

Jerusalem Declaration

Rabbis and other Jewish leaders joined those on the pilgrimage at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on May 18, 2003 for a symposium devoted to Jewish-Christian reconciliation. Dr. Chang Shik Yang opened the gathering by calling for a revitalization of religion around the core understanding of God as the parent of all humankind. Dr. Eliezer Glaubach-Gal, a former Jerusalem city councilman, welcomed everyone to Jerusalem with open arms and blessings.

In his keynote address, Archbishop George Augustus Stallings said, “We came to Israel specifically to repent on behalf of Christianity and ask forgiveness from our Jewish brothers. We feel deeply grateful to our Jewish brethren for keeping the faith and serving as the foundation for the family of God. Yet, we as Christians have misunderstood and persecuted Jews. Under the sign of the cross, we conducted crusades, inquisitions, and pogroms. We blamed Jews for Jesus’ crucifixion when we ourselves are to blame because we glorified the cross. We have used religion to define and separate us rather than to help each other find our way back to God. We need religion not to separate us, not to define us or to divide us, but to help us find our way back to the same God who is Abba, who is Father of us all.”

“We must be bold enough and big enough to forgive each other,” Archbishop Stallings said. “We have been made in the image and after the likeness of God, whether we be Jew, Christian, or Muslim, and somehow we have to be restored back to that original position where we can see one another as God made us, just as Jacob saw the face of God in his brother. Jacob said to Esau, ‘I pray you, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God, with such favor have you received me.’”

The next speaker, Rabbi Itzhak Bar-Dea of Ramat Gan, Israel, described how Judaism sees Christianity as the younger brother who went away from home but has done a great and very important mission: to bring faith to people’s hearts. “Wherever there were nonbelievers, the Christian messengers came and brought faith in God,” he said. “In that sense I see great value in the work that has been done by Christians throughout history. I have deep respect for Christianity as being embedded in Judaism.” There is a prejudice against religions in general as being instigators of conflict. I yearn for the time when religions will become a driving force to bring world peace. I see a great blessing in our coming together as Christians and Jews.”

Between presentations, participants wrestled with the difficult issues of the day, such as how forgiveness can help people come together, and whether they have ever forgiven or loved a person from another religion.

Then, Archbishop Stallings read the declaration of repentance and reconciliation and turned to a prominent rabbi and invited him to join in signing it. For a Christian to ask a Jew to repent for killing Jesus is an insult to Jewish sensibilities. In a moment inspired by God, the rabbi replied: “I will sign it if my Muslim brother will sign it with me,” placing the declaration in a multi-faith context. A sheikh from Nazareth walked forward. The three men signed the declaration and embraced. Spontaneously, people rushed forward to add their signatures.