Lutheran Palestinian bishop wins Iowa Catholic peace award

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ROCK ISLAND, Illinois — Bishop Munib Younan told an audience in Rock Island it is “imperative that all religions teach their adherents to see the Image of God in those who are different.”

The Lutheran leader, who is Palestinian, made the comments at a Sept. 24 ceremony where he received the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award from a coalition led by the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa.

The bishop, who has worked closely with Christians, Jews and Muslims to foster dialogue and understanding, is the 49th recipient of the award given for vision and commitment to human rights, world peace and the nonviolent resolution of conflict. Past honorees include the Dalai Lama, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Three years ago, as president of the Lutheran World Federation, Younan signed a joint statement with Pope Francis promoting Christian unity. Last year, he received a Building Bridges of Understanding Award at Georgetown University for his life’s work in fostering greater understanding between faith groups. He is a retired bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.

“Your leadership in promoting respect for the dignity and culture of the people in the Holy Land and people all around the world reminds us that peace can overcome injustice,” said Davenport Bishop Thomas R. Zinkula. “You truly embody the words of Pope John XXIII in his encyclical Pacem in Terris as a ‘spark of light, a center of love, a vivifying leaven’ to your brothers and sisters around the world.”

Younan expressed humility and gratitude in accepting the award at Ascension Chapel at Augustana College in Rock Island, across the Mississippi River from Davenport. Recipients usually receive the award at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, but Augustana College, with its deep roots in the Lutheran Church, was a fitting venue for Younan, award organizers said.

“It is no longer sufficient to insist on human rights only for one nation, for one people, for one religion,” Younan said in accepting his award. He added: “Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it this way: ‘The Church is the guardian of the state. The Church is the conscience of the state.’ If this is so, then the Church and all its members are called to secure the human rights of all of us, as we are all made in the image of God.”

The bishop, 69, wove the 1963 encyclical of St. John XXIII into his talk, describing it as “Magna Carta of Catholic engagements in human rights.” He said he gleaned two theological ideas from the encyclical, mainly that peace is dependent on human dignity and human rights and also that the Church speaks to rights and concerns not just of Christians but for all people.

He advocated for a “nuclear-free world and gun-free states,” calling on world leaders to take immediate steps toward disarmament of all weapons of destruction.

The bishop also said politicians and groups are using fear to “create an atmosphere of mistrust among peoples and nations,” which has infected the world with secular populism and racism. He urged the Church to “counteract this disease by inoculating our youth and elected leaders with the Gospel of love.”

Younan, who was born in Jerusalem in 1950 to Palestinian refugees, continues to promote and believe in a two-state solution, “with Israel and Palestine living side by side based on the 1967 borders, in peace, justice, equity and reconciliation.” He said he continues to “promote and insist upon a Jerusalem that is shared between the three religions that call it holy — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — and that it must be a shared capital for both Israel and Palestine.”

After the ceremony, Zinkula said Younan “presented a challenging, heartfelt message to us about peace and justice and equality in our world,” and he added his admiration that the bishop continues to carry out his work in retirement.

Former Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba appreciated that an internationally known Lutheran leader paid tribute to the Catholic Church’s prophetic voice on the issue of human rights. “He’s obviously in tune with Pope Francis on the issues of peace and justice and reaching out to the marginalized,” Gluba said.

“I think our speaker did a great job speaking of social justice at the nexus of faith and real issues on the ground today,” said Lisa Killinger, president of the Muslim Community of the Quad-Cities in Bettendorf, Iowa.

“He spoke from his heart, from his personal experiences and passion,” she said.

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Arland-Fye is editor of The Catholic Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Davenport.


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