Dozens of American and Canadian Lutheran bishops arrived in Jerusalem on Tuesday for their annual Academy, a meeting for theological discussion. Planned many months in advance, they gathered in the shadow of the war in Gaza. Bishop Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, called for a cease-fire ahead of his visit, urging "officials of both parties to the conflict to... refrain from all violent acts, which only bring destruction and tragedy, and urge them instead to work to resolve their differences through peaceful and nonviolent means," the church said in a statement. The church believed "a cessation of all hostilities and a return to negotiations is important," and is "interested in a permanent two-state solution," explained ELCA spokesman John Brooks. The delegation of 40 bishops from the ELCA and five bishops from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada is here "primarily to show support for and encourage our sisters and brothers" in the local branch of the church, according to ELCA spokesman John Brooks. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land has just 2,000 members in five congregations in the West Bank and one in Amman. Indeed, the precariousness of the Christian minorities within the Arab towns will be a major focus of the Academy. The bishops were invited by the local branch "to come walk with them in this difficult time," Rev. Robert Smith, continental desk director for Europe and the Middle East in the ELCA's department of global mission, told the Chicago Tribune on Monday. "With the decline of Palestinian Christian communities in the land where Jesus was born, died and resurrected, that call is not something we can ignore," Smith said. The leaders of the two churches are slated to meet with government officials, including President Shimon Peres and Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger. According to Dany Haimovich, head of the Israeli Center for Jewish-Christian Cooperation and Friendship, the visit is a sign that the Lutheran World Federation, and particularly the American and Canadian churches, "respect the State of Israel and the moderate side of the Palestinian Authority." According to Haimovich, the government should learn from the visit "that developing and helping the Christian community in Israel is a top priority for encouraging support for Israel in the Christian world. It's crucial for advancing the interests of the Jewish people and the State of Israel."