JERUSALEM (AP) -- Nine centuries after Christian Europe sought to redeem
the Holy Land, a group of Western Christians is seeking forgiveness for the
slaughter and destruction left in the Crusaders' wake.
Bearing printed apologies in Arabic, Hebrew and English, the participants
in the "Reconciliation March" said Sunday they planned to hand the neatly
bound plastic folders to Jews, Muslims, and Eastern Christians whose
forefathers were killed during the invasion.
About 50 members of the interdenominational project from the United States,
Europe, Australia, and New Zealand are meeting Israelis and Palestinians in
cities throughout the region.
"Exactly 900 years ago Christians visited this land with a sword and a
spirit of vengeance in a manner contrary to teachings and character of
Jesus," said Mike Niebur, the group's Israel coordinator.
Group members, who pay their own expenses, have visited Jewish communities
along the Rhine Valley and towns in Lebanon and Turkey in their search for
Crusaders marching through the Rhine Valley slaughtered Jews who refused to
convert to Christianity and left a similar wake of destruction in Eastern
Orthodox and Muslim centers along the way to their goal of liberating the
region where Jesus lived from non-Christian rulers.
The Crusaders were urged forward by Roman Catholic leaders longing for the
jewel of Jerusalem -- and seeking to consolidate recent political gains in
Organizers at the press conference displayed T-shirts depicting the march
of the original crusaders as a jagged red line cutting through the heart of
Europe and the Middle East.
The group's trip will culminate on July 15 when up to 1,500 participants
travel by foot from a Crusader fortress in northern Israel to Jerusalem to
apologize to religious leaders on the 900th anniversary of the fall of the
city to the Crusaders.
Niebur said that the imprint of distrust and violence perpetuated by the
memory of the Crusades can be traced through the Spanish Inquisition and
even the Holocaust.
"We hope we will start to end that legacy and start on a new track," said
Niebur, a native of San Francisco.
Members of the group said they see a direct link between the Crusades and
the relationship between the East and West today.
Niebur cited apocalyptic Christian groups who have unsettled Jews and Arabs
in the region, and said such apocalyptic outlooks mirror those of the
"We have a similar situation developing today with the turn of the
millennium," he said. "We want to say that that was not really what Jesus'
message was about."
In January, Israel expelled a group of U.S. millennialists authorities
believed were planning violent acts in Jerusalem to hasten the Second Coming.
The project began in Cologne, Germany, in 1996.
Niebur said the reception has been positive. He recalled a phone call to a
Jewish community in the Rhine Valley. An organizer told the community
leaders that the marchers were running a little late.
"The Jewish community responded, 'We've waited 900 years, we can wait one
more hour,"' he said.