Andrew Moore, director of development: address to Pinner Parish Church 18th Feb 2018

Good morning and thank you so much for inviting me to speak to you today and for your warm welcome. Thank you also for making the subject of your Lenten appeal HALO’s clearance of the minefields at Christ’s Baptism site.

I will be available to discuss the project further after the service. International charities have deservedly been in the spotlight this past week so please feel free to be forthright. I won’t shirk any questions.

Before I talk about the Baptism site I’d like to explain who we at HALO are. We are the world’s oldest and largest landmine clearance organisation. We were founded 30 years ago, clearing mines in Afghanistan, and we now employ more than 8,000 people – almost all of whom are national of the countries in which we work – in 23 countries around the world. We have a headquarters in Dumfries, in southern Scotland and a small southern office in Salisbury.

If you are aware of us at all it is probably from a photograph taken almost 21 years ago of Diana Princess of Wales in a minefield that we were clearing near the city of Huambo in Angola. That picture went on to become the iconic photograph of Princess Diana. However it did much more than that – it galvanised a cause. Diana’s advocacy was instrumental in drawing the world’s attention to the humanitarian catastrophe being created by landmines. It also ensured the success of the landmine ban treaty that was signed shortly after Diana’s death, at the end of 1997. I’m happy to say that Princess Diana’s son, Prince Harry, has taken up this cause and is now also an advocate for landmine clearance.

Happily, the minefield that Princess Diana walked in is now a thriving suburb with homes, businesses and a college. I had the pleasure of living in Huambo a decade after that visit and the wonderful thing about it was that although the city had once been surrounded by minefields, once the mines had been cleared they were very quickly forgotten as people got on with rebuilding their lives.

It’s perhaps the greatest testament to our work that ultimately it becomes forgotten. We return a sense of normality after war, allowing people to get on with building homes, starting businesses, installing infrastructure and returning to agriculture. We also aid the transition from war to peace by employing large numbers of people in the aftermath of conflict.

We started our work on the West Bank relatively late, in 2014. Minefields were laid close to Palestinian communities during the 1967 war and because the total number of minefields was relatively low the problem had largely been forgotten until we turned our attention towards it.

As we surveyed the minefields on the West Bank we became aware of a very large minefield by the River Jordan at a site known as Qaser al-Yahud, or the Castle of the Jews. It’s the place where it’s believed the Jews crossed the river Jordan and where Elijah ascended to heaven. However, most famously, it is where John the Baptist Baptised Christ in the river.

Although there is evidence of ancient churches at the site, it was during the British mandate over Palestine, after the First World War, that eight churches were granted land at the there. These were the Russian Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopian and Catholic churches.

During the 1967 war the churches were closed as the whole area, including inside the church compounds, became a minefield.

Since then the Jordanian side of the site has flourished but on the West Bank the site was almost completely closed until 2000 when a narrow track was bulldozed through the minefield to allow Pope John Paul II to visit. The number of pilgrims visiting from the West Bank along this narrow track has steadily increased and last year almost 600,000 visited.

But none of these people can fully explore the site and nor can they worship at a church because of the minefield. We can and will change that.

President Rivlin of Israel has made clear that he wants the site to open and he has made a commitment to the current Pope that its importance to Christians will be protected but that it should also become a place of reconciliation for all faiths. The Palestinian Authority is also backing the project.

The current Pope has stated his support, and the leaders of all churches represented at the site are behind the project. The Moderator of the Church of Scotland visited us recently but perhaps our most vocal advocate is the Archbishop of Canterbury. He visited last May and his Christmas card last year was dedicated to us. In a video message of support during the visit he said something that particularly stuck a chord with me: “I’m inspired by what HALO is doing, using weapons of war to bring peace…… There is nothing that God cannot redeem.”

In that statement he captured precisely the key elements of the project: the Christian significance of the site, its importance to all faiths in a trouble region, and the nature of our work, which brings together Christians, Muslims and Jews. Not only is the site a rare point of agreement for all communities in the region but the clearance and the greater access for pilgrims that it will create has the potential to give a significant economic boost to the nearby city of Jericho.

The total cost of clearance is £820,000. But we’ve been very successful in our fundraising – we’ve raised £705,000 of that so far. We have received donations from the Archbishop of Canterbury, several of the churches at the site, the Catholic Order of the Holy Sepulchre, Christian and Jewish philanthropists and the Israeli Government. We therefore have just £115,000 left to raise. Through your appeal you can make a significant contribution towards completing this project.

Our clearance work will begin a week on Monday and we expect to complete it in November. So thank you to you all in Pinner for making this the subject of your appeal this year. Next year, for the first time in over 50 years, the eight churches at the site will be able to resume their missions, providing places of worship for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visiting this sacred site.

And we will have shown that all groups in this trouble region, regardless of ethnicity or faith, can cooperate when there is the will.

I have a few brochures about the site and HALO’s work generally with me and I will be delighted to talk and answer whatever questions you have after the service. Thank you so much for your support – it really does make a very real and tangible difference.

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