Christians march across
Middle East to apologize for Crusades
___By Elaine Ruth Fletcher
___Religion News Service
___JERUSALEM (RNS)--Exactly nine centuries after the Crusaders breached the walls of Jerusalem's Old City, murdering thousands of Muslims and Jews and occupying Eastern Orthodox holy sites, hundreds of American and European Christians gathered here in July to commemorate the bloody battles and express a group apology.
___The meeting, in the presence of an Orthodox priest, a rabbi and a Muslim scholar, took place in the shadow of the same Old City stones that witnessed the slaughter centuries ago. It culminated a three-year trek along the original Crusaders' routes from Cologne, Germany, through the Balkan Pennisula to Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the West Bank.
___"The Crusades helped define the way Muslims, Jews and Christians see each other, creating the mythologies through which we still instinctively approach one another to this day," said Matthew Hand, the American co-director of the Reconciliation Walk project.
___"In the final analysis, it is this powerful mythological legacy that has compelled us not only to commemorate the anniversary but to confront aspects of the Crusader legacy that continue to negatively shape our world today," he said.
___Christian millennial expectations of the end of the world helped feed the fervor of the Medieval crusades, and the Reconciliation Walk is designed to highlight the dangers of such feelings emerging again on the eve of the second millennium, Hand added.
___"Our call is to remember, but while remembering, to consider carefully our own current views. Do we allow our zeal for the eternal fate of a soul to obscure that soul's present value to God? Do we harbor a millennarian vision that is willing to sacrifice Jewish, Muslim or Eastern Christian lives for the sake of an eschatological timetable?"
___The Crusades began in November 1095, when Pope Urban II called on western Christians to "liberate the Holy Land." On their march through Europe and the Middle East, the knights and warriors who are enshrined in European legend and myth left a swathe of destruction among local Jewish and Muslim communities. The Crusaders finally captured Jerusalem on July 15, 1099, slaughtering thousands of local residents who had sought refuge in the Holy City's mosques and synagogues.
___"The Crusaders breached the walls of this city bearing the cross but betraying its meaning," Hand said.
___In the course of the three-year reconciliation trek, core groups of Christians hiked and drove along the original Crusader routes through the Balkans and the Middle East, handing out leaflets with an apology statement to everyone they encountered. They hiked mostly in the spring, summer and fall--as the Crusaders themselves had done--and found audiences for their message both in remote village markets as well as in formal receptions with prominent clergy and politicians.
___"Everywhere we went we were pulled into homes off the streets by poor farmers and by city leaders alike," said Lynn Green, a London-based businessman and evangelical Christian who was one of the key backers of the project. Green had just completed a two-week trek from Mount Hermon, along the Israeli-Syrian border, through the remote Palestinian villages of the northern West Bank highlands and into Jerusalem.
___Another group walked and drove along a second Crusader route through Israel's Mediterranean coastal region, where sites like Acco and Ceasarea are still littered with the ruins of medieval Crusader installations.
___While for most Americans the Crusades are little more than a relic of history, for Middle Eastern Muslims as well as for Eastern Christians and Jews they remain a living and breathing legacy shaping their perceptions of Western culture even today, Green said.
___Muslims, in particular, turned out in force across Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian West Bank to hear the group's message and to respond to it, he said.
___"The Americans have Cowboys and Indians. For people like the Turks, it is the Crusaders and the Saracens," Green said, referring to the Muslim fighters that fought against the invaders from the West during the Crusader era, which extended to the end of the 13th century.
___"We realized how deep the pain still is on all sides from the Crusades in this region," he said. "The people who participated in the Reconciliation Walk go home with a much more realistic view on everything from history to water issues."
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