The leader of the state’s Episcopalians said his visit to the Holy Land has not been impeded thus far by escalating violence in the Gaza Strip.
During a telephone interview Monday from his hotel in Nazareth, the Rt. Rev. Ed Konieczny, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma, said he typically takes a group of people on a tour of the Holy Land every few years and this year was no different.
Konieczny said his group of 21 Christians — Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists — arrived in Amman, Jordan, on July 17.
He said they have visited Petra, Mount Nebo and St. George’s Church outside Amman.
The bishop said there was no hostility in Jordan, and the group crossed into Israel on Friday.
Monday, he said, they encountered Christians, Jews and Muslims who were all saddened by the escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip and the recent loss of life.
“My sense here is that the people are tired. They feel that the continued use of force is not the path toward finding peace,” Konieczny said.
Participated in prayers
He said he participated in prayers for the end of the violence, for those who have died and their families.
“They are praying for those in authority to set aside the use of force and to reopen the conversation for peace,” Konieczny said.
Meanwhile, he said while the violence in the Gaza Strip is on the hearts and minds of people he has visited, it has not seemed to disrupt the daily routine of life in the places where his group has traveled.
“People are going to work, businesses are open and people are worshiping and praying,” he said.
He said the group’s guides did make sure everyone was in the hotel inside a secure compound before the beginning of a planned peace rally Monday evening in Nazareth.
Konieczny said that although his group had no qualms about continuing their trip to the Holy Land, a local manager at one of the places they stopped told him that other groups from different countries have canceled their visits to the area.
He said one of them was a group of more than 2,200 youths from France whose government denied them permission to make their trip to the Holy Land that they had spent four years planning.
Impact on economy
The bishop said such cancellations are expected to impact the region’s economy in a big way.
“This is an area that relies heavily on tourism of pilgrims and this conflict has had a real impact on the economy of the region — miles away from any visible signs of conflict,” he said.
Konieczny said his group was scheduled to arrive in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
He said he is aware of other groups visiting Jerusalem and thus far, they have been able to visit religious sites of interest without difficulty.