Participants in an ecumenical march calling for a ceasefire in Gaza in Ottawa hold a banner on May 22, 2024. (Photo: Jennifer Henry, The United Church of Canada)

Topics: UCC in Focus | Church News, Human Rights

United Church moderator, other church leaders march on Parliament Hill to call for Gaza ceasefire

The ecumenical march came two weeks after the church condemned the Israel Defense Forces’ ongoing assault on Rafah


The United Church of Canada joined other national churches in marching on Parliament Hill Wednesday as part of the Gaza Ceasefire Pilgrimage, an ecumenical initiative calling for a ceasefire in Palestine and Israel.  

United Church Moderator Rt. Rev. Carmen Lansdowne participated along with other leaders, including Rev. Susan Johnson, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Rev. Douglas Klassen, executive minister of Mennonite Church Canada and Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil, bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Toronto.

“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,” said Rt. Rev. Carmen Lansdowne, moderator of The United Church of Canada, in a press release ahead of the march. 

The pilgrimage comes exactly two weeks after the United Church released a statement condemning the Israel Defense Forces’ ongoing assault on Rafah and calling the military incursion a “grave breach of the Genocide Convention.”

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 1.4 million Palestinians had been sheltering in Rafah. Once considered a “safe zone” in Gaza, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees reported that nearly 800,000 people have fled since May 6. 

Israeli officials say that Hamas’s last remaining battalions are stationed in the area and that eradicating them is required for victory.

The United Church’s statement was released on May 8, the day after the IDF seized the key crossing used to bring in humanitarian aid, supplies and fuel to Gaza. The crossing has since been closed, reportedly due to disputes between Israel and Egypt.

“The humanitarian situation there is dire: famine is a current reality, the death toll rises, people are unable to access basic necessities for life,” the statement reads. “For months, humanitarian agencies have sounded the alarm against any military offensive in this extremely densely populated refugee camp, where thousands who have been displaced multiple times are forced to seek shelter.”

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The church also called on the Canadian government to hold both Israel and Hamas accountable for crimes against humanity, and to take every step available to “prevent the crime of genocide unfolding in Gaza.”

“This particular statement was issued because of increasing concern at the emergency and the imperative now for a ceasefire for humanitarian access, and for a way forward that’s not based in conflict,” said Patti Talbot, the team lead of the United Church’s global partnerships program.

The United Church had previously joined the World Council of Churches in calling for an immediate ceasefire soon after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, wherein just under 1,200 people were killed and over 250 people were taken hostage. Israel responded with eight months of bombing and a ground invasion into Gaza; the UN estimates that more than 35,000 people in Gaza have died since then, with nearly 25,000 reported to be fully identified. The United Church has since been urging Canadians to take action through prayer, donation and “using our voices” to press governmental officials to bring an end to the conflict. 

“I think, as people of faith, there is a deep conviction that conflict and war and violence does not solve the complexities of life and living together,” said Talbot. 

Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) is a Canadian grassroots organization advocating for a just peace in Israel-Palestine. IJV’s communications co-ordinator Willa Holt called the United Church’s statement “principled and necessary.” They added that it was “crucial for people and organizations of all faiths to stand with Palestinian liberation during this ongoing genocide.”

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“It’s heartening that the UCC is speaking out for Palestinian rights in this critical moment,” they wrote, “and I hope other Christian institutions will join the call for justice in line with their commitments to peace and liberation.”

Not everyone agrees. 

“The United Church’s statement about Israel’s war against Hamas and its operation in Rafah is at best ill-informed and at worst purposely ignorant,” wrote Richard Marceau, the vice-president of external affairs and general counsel at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, in an email to Broadview. “Accusing Israel of genocide when it’s actually the terrorist organization they’re fighting against that has genocide of Jews as their official policy is incredible revisionist history.” 

He said that hostages are believed to be held in Rafah; that Hamas battalions are stationed there; and that Israel “managed to move nearly 800,000 Gazans out of the area to avoid civilian death toll.” According to The Associated Press, Israel directed Palestinians leaving Rafah to designated displacement sites which are crowded and lack proper resources.

“No one wants war, but Israel has an obligation to protect its civilians against a terrorist cult that has promised to commit the massacres of Oct. 7 over and over again,” said Marceau. He blames Hamas for the suffering of Palestinians, and calls on them to surrender and return all hostages. “Hamas can end this war immediately by doing so.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to add the names of other church leaders who marched on May 22. 


Drew-Anne Glennie is an intern at Broadview.


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  • says:

    It's unfortunate that the power of prayer has never alleviated human suffering and, indeed, in many cases has increased it....witness the Inquisition, the Crusades, and so-called "churches" that encourage poor people to send their last dime in the hope that God will bless them when the only one who benefits is the "church" hierarchy.
    The true cause of conflict here is Iran and its religious leaders who twist the words of their prophet to oppress the Jews. The Jews are at war and in war innocent people die. It's happened in all wars throughout history. What are the Jews supposed to do? Are they to stop fighting an enemy who is determined to wipe Israel off the map? Politics and peace efforts only work when dealing with reasonable people and people who truly want peace. The wanting of peace by Hamas is a lost cause unless Israel is eliminated. Hamas is not reasonable. Iran's leadership is not reasonable. There comes a time when we must study our history to see who has been the oppressed one. Why are some people so misguided as to think that reason will work with brainwashed people who hide behind civilians?

  • says:

    Thanks for this reporting. Very encouraging to see the United Church speaking out so strongly

  • says:

    This march is supporting the intifada all across Canada. Call and obtain the safe release of hostages and the war will end. Jesus walked to the cross, it was his job to save us from sin. Your walk is doing the job of terrorist Jezebel spirit, not the Holy Spirit. "Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may go also. And you know the way I am going." John 14