Advocacy, Catholics Confront Global Poverty

Holy Land of Suffering and Hope

By Stephen Colecchi, Director, Office of Justice and Peace, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Bill O’Keefe of CRS and I are accompanying Bishop Gerald Kicanas, the Vice-President of the United States Conference of Bishops, on a pastoral visit to the Holy Land. Our travels have taken us to Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and briefly through the airport in Jordan. Contrary to public perception and usage, Jesus walked through places in all of these countries and together they comprise a land made holy by his presence.

Driving down the narrow streets of Beirut with occasional glimpses of the calm blue of the Mediterranean or walking the cobblestone passages of the walled Old City in Jerusalem, I often feel a spirit of peace that is at odds with today’s harsh realities that plague all of the people of the Holy Land—Jewish, Christian and Muslim.

In Jerusalem Patriarch Twal of the Latin Patriarchate welcomed us to a meeting of the Coordination of Bishops’ Conferences in Support of the Church in the Holy Land. We are here with delegations from bishops’ conferences from Western Europe and Canada. In his opening remarks the Patriarch shared both hopeful signs and discouraging developments of the past year. He reminded us of Last May’s pilgrimage of Benedict XVI to the Holy Land. The visit brought spiritual encouragement to the native Christian population at the same time that it highlighted the tragic conflict that divides Israelis and Palestinians. The Patriarch noted that new Christians were arriving in the Holy Land, but sadly many were refugees fleeing the violence of Iraq and other places.

The Patriarch’s reflections brought to mind the Iraqi refugee families we had met in Lebanon last week. We spoke with a father who had fled Iraq with his family of nine after two of his nephews were murdered. He wept out of concern for his two adult married daughters who had remained behind with their husbands. A mother told of her nine year old son’s kidnapping. He was ransomed back with the help of local churches in raising funds only to have his father taken for a much larger ransom that they could never hope to pay. She fled with her remaining sons.

Time and again in Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, we heard how the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the occupation of the Palestinian Territories, and the war in Iraq have devastated the ancient Christian communities, many of whose members have emigrated. But we also witnessed great courage, determination and faith of the local Christian communities; they stay in the hope of a better tomorrow.

Our visit to the Holy Land will help inform and shape the Catholics Confront Global Poverty initiative. We will work to increase aid to refugees and those made poor by the conflicts, especially the people of Gaza where there is a humanitarian crisis. We will promote strong U.S. leadership for a two-state solution to the conflict, with security and recognition for Israel and a viable and independent state for Palestinians. Please join us in these efforts that are critical for the long-term security and prosperity of all of the peoples of the region, including the vulnerable Christian minority.

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