Bishops Urge For Peace In The Holy Land

JERUSALEM (CNS) — Bishops who spent five days meeting about the Holy Land urged the international community to continue to work toward peace and be aware of problems faced by Christians in the region.

“Those who govern the different parts of the Holy Land need to summon the will and find the ways to take courageous steps for justice and peace,” the bishops said in their final statement, released at a Jan. 13 news conference. “The leaders of our own nations whose international policies have important effects here have inescapable responsibilities to help bring about a just peace and protect the rights of believers and all people in these lands.”

Nine bishops from North America and Europe took part in the Coordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church in the Holy Land, a Catholic group formed in 1998 at the request of the Vatican.

They visited Jordan, the West Bank city of Jericho, and met with politicians, religious leaders and diplomats in Israel and the West Bank.

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., left the meeting early to return home following the shooting attack that left six dead and 14 injured in his city.

John Carr, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, traveled with Bishop Kicanas and remained for the end of the meeting. He commented on the support Bishop Kicanas received from the parishioners in Jericho following the shooting, in which U.S. District Judge John M. Roll, a personal friend of the bishop, was killed.

“There was a stark paradox of being here hoping to assist people overcoming violence and turning on the television and seeing violence in his own territory,” said Carr. “It was moving to see people who live with violence and suffering every day so quickly identifying with the loss and trauma of others.

“In a region which needs hope, the best source of hope is not politics but faith, and faith here is very strong,” Carr told Catholic News Service.

He said Catholics in the United States put a lot of emphasis on the issue of Middle East peace. He added that it was useful to him to talk to local bishops and people on the street and see how they looked to the United States for help in solving the problem.

In their statement, the church leaders said every visit to the Holy Land benefits both the pilgrims and local population, especially Christians.

“We want people to come on pilgrimage, not (for) tourism,” Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool, England, told journalists. “On the other hand, when we come as pilgrims we are seen as tourists. … The economic aspects needs to reduced and not emphasized. The emphasis is on spirituality and prayer.”

The bishops cited the difficulty and frustration of Catholic clergy and religious who, despite some improvement in the situation, still face restrictions in their movements. They also encouraged a conclusion to the lengthy Vatican-Israeli negotiations, which have stalled primarily on fiscal matters.

While in Jordan, the bishops met with Iraqi refugees, including survivors of the Oct. 31 attack on a Syrian Catholic church in Baghdad.

At the news conference, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem noted that attacks on Christians in Iraq and Egypt proved the necessity of the October Synod of Bishops for the Middle East and also illustrated why it was important to be concerned about with situation of Christians in the region.

“One thing we learned is do not minimize the threat to Christians,” Carr said, adding that “in Jordan, Palestine and Israel the situation is different.”

Carr spoke of meeting an influential Jordanian Christian who felt insecure following the recent attacks.

“There is a sense of vulnerability even in places where threats are not explicit,” he said. “There are a variety of pressures.”

Specifically commending those teachers and educators who are working toward educating youngsters in tolerance and dialogue, the bishops said they have a “special responsibility in helping young minds grow in respect for the rights and the dignity of every person God has created, irrespective of their beliefs, their culture or their nationality.”

“At a human level hope is difficult; nevertheless, it seems a lot of people on every level of society are waiting in hopes of finding a solution to the problems,” said Bishop Pierre Morissette of St. Jerome, Quebec.

“The way they continue is a sign of hope,” he said. “At God’s level, everything is possible. People are praying so hard for a solution. So many people are praying I am sure God will answer someday. I’m not saying how or when, but I am sure God will answer someday.”

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