Why they walked: Hear from UCC members why they joined week-long ‘Pilgrimage for Peace’ for Gaza

Last week, a coalition of interfaith groups and justice organizations — including Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Hindu partners — completed an eight-day “Pilgrimage for Peace,” urging a ceasefire in Gaza. 

The pilgrims left Philadelphia on Feb. 14 and arrived at the White House a week later. Many United Church of Christ members were among the hundreds who participated in the 140-mile relay

The partner organizations of the demonstration, according to its website, included Faith for Black Lives, the National Council of the Churches, Rabbis for Ceasefire, Hindus for Human Rights and the Pennsylvania chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Co-sponsors included several UCC-affiliated congregations and groups, such as the UCC Palestine Israel Network and New York City’s Judson Memorial Church and Middle Collegiate Church

Pilgrims gather at a Feb. 21 rally in Washington, D.C., at the conclusion of the eight-day walk.

Clergy and lay persons from UCC churches in Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. walked in the pilgrimage. Read what they had to say about why they participated in this public witness, below.

Rev. Steven Jungkeit 
Senior minister of First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, Connecticut 

“I chose to join the Pilgrimage for Peace, and to urge our congregation to do the same, after hearing a short segment about it on our local NPR affiliate. I knew immediately that it was precisely the action that many of us had been searching for — broadly ecumenical, representing a wide swath of people committed to ending the slaughter in Gaza and bringing about a just peace. The Pilgrimage was everything we could have imagined, and more: a soulful and passionate movement of bodies, joined in an uncommon blend of grief, outrage, and — somehow — joyful celebration. It helped us all to give voice to all that we wish to resist in our war-torn and violent world. But it also gave expression to the world of flourishing for Palestinians, and for everyone else, that we most wish to see. What a blessing to be a part of such a sacred, solemn, and soul-stirring pilgrimage.”  

Karina Vega-Villa
Member of Hope UCC in Alexandria, Virginia

“I walked because I believe every child, no matter where they live, has a right to safety and love. I have young children and, in the last couple of weeks, they’ve gotten sick, and it was my job as their mom to take them to the doctor and nurture them as they recovered. Parents in Gaza and Rafah have nowhere to take their kids since hospitals have been bombed; they have no medicine, little access to food, and that’s unacceptable. As I walked, I sang and prayed for all the families in Palestine and for the rest of us to stand in solidarity wherever we are. Jesus called us to love our neighbors, no matter who they are or what they look like. I’m answering his call, and I hope more UCC members will join.” 

Rev. Jason Carson Wilson 
Member of First Congregational UCC in Washington, D.C., and founding executive director of the Bayard Rustin Liberation Initiative

“We’re all the Creator’s fabulous masterpieces. We all deserve to live in peace and with dignity. Death, destruction, and devastation in Gaza and Israel has denied wondrous creations — including many innocent children — dignity and a future. Our government is funding the ongoing genocide. As the descendant of a slave, like the stones, I had to cry out for justice today.”   

Bishop Vashti McKenzie, interim president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches, addresses the crowd during the Feb. 21 rally.
Ethan Vesely-Flad 
Member of Land of the Sky UCC in Asheville, North Carolina, and Fellowship of Reconciliation’s director of national organizing 

“It was a privilege to walk and rally alongside siblings from many faith practices — Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians of diverse lineages, and others — to express our common commitment to a just and lasting peace in Palestine/Israel. As our hearts break each day with fresh news of the loss of lives in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel, we joined together to demand that the White House and Congress press for a permanent ceasefire, the release of all hostages, and a massive deployment of humanitarian aid.”  

Rev. Mansfield “Kasey” Kaseman  
Pastor emeritus of Rockville United Church in Rockville, Maryland, and former interfaith community liaison in the Montgomery County (Maryland) Office of Community Partnerships

“I wept on Oct. 7 witnessing the terror Hamas inflected on its Israeli neighbors and sensing the worst was yet to come. Far from merely ‘an eye for an eye,’ the unrelenting response is horrific beyond words. I grieve everyday knowing their blood is on my hands as our country supplies the armament supporting a policy based on the false premise that violence can end violence. I joined the Pilgrimage for Peace for the sake of my Israeli and Palestinian sisters and brothers. I think the trauma of violence is clouding minds and wounding hearts that deserve the intervention of friends. Beyond my civic responsibility, there is a moral obligation to speak the truth in love, and call for a ceasefire, release of hostages and prisoners, and negotiators for a just peace.” 

Rev. Michael Neuroth
Director of the UCC Office of Public Policy and Advocacy in Washington, D.C.

“It was inspiring to be part of the welcome to Washington, D.C., for those who been part of the Peace Pilgrimage that started from Independence Hall in Philadelphia and ended at the White House. Many walked segments the length of Gaza — 25 miles — as an act of physical and spiritual solidarity with the tens of thousands who have been displaced in the conflict. In D.C., we are seeing a continued presence of advocates and actions from all kinds of movements calling for an end to this conflict. My hope is that these creative acts of love, of advocacy, of solidarity, of courage — and even outrage — will collectively turn hearts and minds in Congress and the White House, such that they will act with equal urgency to support a permanent ceasefire, and ultimately a Just Peace. Until then, we will keep marching, walking, advocating, and speaking out in the spirit of love and justice — so that our policymakers cannot ignore the unconscionable death toll that grows each day.”

Prominent activist, theologian and public intellectual Cornel West speaks during the Feb. 21 rally.

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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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