Uphold inherent sacredness to end the cycle of violence: the heart of the Canadian Gaza Ceasefire Pilgrimage


“A belief in the sacredness of life and that all people deserve to live in dignity and safety is what brings us here today,” said Leah Reesor-Keller, KAIROS’ Transitional Executive Director, in her opening remarks during the press conference on May 22, part of the Ottawa Gaza Ceasefire Pilgrimage.  

Since April, local church leaders, congregations and communities of faith from 150 congregations walked or rolled more than 10,000 kilometers collectively in their communities from Victoria, B.C. to St. John’s, N.L., calling for just peace in Palestine and Israel.  

GCP Participants from across Canada
GCP Participants from across Canada

Walking or rolling for all or part of 41 kilometers – the length of the Gaza strip, pilgrims participated in the Gaza Ceasefire Pilgrimage: Canadian Churches for Just Peace, organized by KAIROS Canada and its member churches. It was based on the global Gaza Ceasefire Pilgrimage that initially led up to Lent. 

In a final pilgrimage, national church leaders participated in a prayerful walk in Ottawa on May 22, covering 1.5 kilometers from Minto Park to Parliament Hill where a moving vigil was held, followed by a press conference and meetings with Members of Parliament. 

GCP in Toronto
GCP in Toronto

In her remarks at the opening of the vigil, Reesor-Keller quoted KAIROS’ partner organization, Wi’am: The Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center, which is based in Bethlehem and a Woman of Courage partner, committed to peacebuilding in Palestine. 

“To effectively work towards a ceasefire and an end to occupation is to expand our table and enrich our lives. It is to demand and recognize in each other our inherent sacredness, and to make the world a safer place for all. It is to reflect a greater image of God than the greatest of which our divisions could ever hold. A greater, more just, and complete image of life, accessible to ALL.”   

GCP on Parliament Hill in Ottawa
GCP on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

During the vigil on Parliament Hill, approximately 200 people gathered. Pilgrims/participants were greeted by the haunting voice of Syrian singer Zeina Naan reverberating off the Parliament building and the Prime Minister’s office. The vigil included song, prayer, readings, reflections and poetry.  

Rula Odeh, a Canadian of Palestinian Christian heritage and board chair of the Canadian Friends of Sabeel, spoke first.  

GCP Participants from across Canada
GCP Participants from across Canada

“We Palestinian Christians, as with all Palestinians, are stunned that yet another Nakba is being waged against us,” she told the pilgrims. “We are grieving at the silence, the inaction, the impunity, the complicity that has been going on for 76 years since the 1948 Nakba; since the illegal military occupation by Israel in 1967 and since the cruel blockade of Gaza that started in 2007. We mourn because this inaction, silence and so on has led to the horrific and unparalleled crisis that we are all witnessing.” 

Church leaders and representatives from KAIROS member churches then introduced themselves and spoke in support of the pilgrimage, reiterating the calls to just peace that brought everyone together. The vigil concluded with a reading of If I Must Die, by Palestinian poet, Refaat Alareer, and the heartbreaking beautiful song, Kites, by Samia O’Day, who had coordinated the music throughout event. 

Gaza Ceasefire Pilgrimage Speakers
Gaza Ceasefire Pilgrimage Speakers

On that day, the Hill Times published an Op-Ed by Reesor-Keller, Rev. Dr. Carmen Lansdowne, the Moderator of the United Church of Canada, and Rev. Dr. J. Dorcas Gordon, the Principal Emerita at Knox College, The Presbyterian Church in Canada. 

“As Christian faith leaders, we are compelled to speak against hatred and injustice, and to pursue peace,” they wrote. “We urgently ask the Canadian government to unequivocally uphold international law and human rights, and hold states accountable for their legal obligations.” 

GCP Participants from across Canada
GCP Participants from across Canada

Rev. Gordon, in addition to Rev. Ian Ross-McDonald, had returned from the West Bank 48 hours prior to participating in the Ottawa pilgrimage. Rev. Ross-McDonald is the General Secretary of The Life and Mission Agency of The Presbyterian Church in Canada.  

In the Op-Ed, Rev. Gordon shared the message she received from partners and churches in Palestine: “Work honestly for peace with justice committed to ending the devastation of war, occupation, and ethnic cleansing.” 

Gaza Ceasefire Pilgrimage Press Conference
Gaza Ceasefire Pilgrimage Press Conference

Following the vigil and press conference, the church leaders met with 11 Members of Parliament with key portfolios in Global Affairs, calling for: 

  • An enduring and sustained ceasefire.  
  • Immediate flow of life-saving food, water, aid, fuel and humanitarian assistance. 
  • Release of all captives. 
  • End all arms transfers to Israel. 
  • Ending occupation so a just peace can begin.  

KAIROS and church leaders are grateful for the MPs’ willingness to meet to discuss the calls. Many MPs noted that they were impressed by the number of people involved in these pilgrimages as well as the kilometers walked in communities across Canada.  

GCP Participants from across Canada
GCP Participants from across Canada

Help us continue to urge Canada to advance these calls! Church leaders and staff heard from MPs that personal letters and constituency meetings are the most effective ways to reach elected officials. To help you with your personal letter, visit the Calls for Action page

For press coverage, visit: Canadian Gaza Ceasefire Pilgrimage Press  

For the list of church and Christian leaders at the Ottawa Pilgrimage: Canadian Gaza Ceasefire Pilgrimage Church Leaders  

For photos of local pilgrimages: Canadian Gaza Ceasefire Pilgrimage Photos  

For photos of Ottawa pilgrimage and vigil – KAIROS Gaza Ceasefire Pilgrimage Ottawa 2024 | Flickr 

To make a donation in support of peacebuilding in Israel and Palestine: Canadian Gaza Ceasefire Donate  

GCP Participants from across Canada
GCP Participants from across Canada

Church leader quotes: 

“We believe that all people are made in the image of God. And we believe in the power of prayer to alleviate human suffering and conflict. I am grateful to walk in this prayer vigil with my sisters in faith, for the people of Gaza, for the hostages, and for a sustained ceasefire and a just peace.” – The Right Rev. Dr. Carmen Lansdowne, Moderator, The United Church of Canada. 

“I welcome the opportunity to walk and pray for a just peace in the land we call Holy, and to publicly call for a ceasefire and the immediate flow of humanitarian aid.” – The Rev. Susan C. Johnson, National Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. 

GCP Participants from across Canada
GCP Participants from across Canada

“As a national community of churches, we are lifting up the people of Gaza, and all who live in Israel and Palestine, and praying for peace with justice for all. I call on Canada to live into its commitments to uphold human rights so that everyone can live in safety and with dignity. On May 22, I am joining fellow faith leaders and people of faith and conscience from across Canada to say with our words and with the presence of our bodies that we must stand up to witness for a ceasefire and a just peace.” – Leah Reesor-Keller, Transitional Executive Director, KAIROS Canada. 

“Even in this time of violence and pain, we hold the belief that a different future, free from injustice and violence, is possible. Lasting peace and reconciliation will be realized when both past and ongoing injustices are acknowledged and addressed, ensuring freedom, dignity, equal rights, and justice for all people living in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Let us work together to make this vision a reality.” – Canadian Friends Service Committee (CFSC) and Quaker Joint Statement. 

GCP Participants from across Canada
GCP Participants from across Canada

“As the Executive Minister of Mennonite Church Canada, I represent those in the Mennonite faith community who are committed to loving neighbour and standing in solidarity with those least understood and most at risk. The Mennonite tradition claims non-violence and justice as core faith values. Non-violence means crying out and advocating for those in the throes of war, civilians, hostages, and even soldiers who are caught up in the machinery of destruction.” – Rev. Doug Klassen, Executive Minister, Mennonite Church Canada.


Filed in: Human Rights, Palestine Israel Conflict, Social Justice

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