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A Message to the Christians in the Holy Land from the Visiting Bishops of Europe and North America

 

January 24, 2002 - Jerusalem

To our Christian brothers and sisters of the Holy Land;

To His Beatitude, the Latin Patriarch, the president, and their Excellencies, the members of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land;

To their Beatitudes, the Greek and Armenian Patriarchs of Jerusalem, and their Excellencies, the bishops and heads of Churches in Jerusalem—

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Cor 13:13).

We have come to Jerusalem this week to be closer to you because you are cherished members of the family of faith. You have welcomed us with warmth and hospitality. You have shared with us your sufferings, and spoken of your yearnings for liberation and peace. You have also brought us to prayer, and in this we have together been strengthened by the living Christ, our source of life.

During these few days we have experienced how you must live your lives amidst daily violence, and how you carry on surrounded by security restrictions. People in the street have told us their own stories of unemployment and growing poverty. We have sensed as well a growing loss of hope among many of your people. We have heard, too, about the poignant choice to emigrate confronting many young people.

In greeting you, we greet also our brothers and sisters, the sons and daughters of Abraham, with affection. We know that most people, on all sides, long for peace. We pray for the artisans of peace among you, on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide, and we will endeavor to support them, and to labor alongside them, until the day peace finally comes to the Holy Land.

The present cycle of violence is a tragedy for everyone. It is profoundly wrong to keep a people under occupation; it is abhorrent to hold millions of men, women and children confined in one enormous jail. It is likewise morally reprehensible to take vengeance or undertake resistance with random attacks on innocent people.

As our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II said in his address to the diplomatic corps earlier this month:

No one can remain indifferent to the injustice of which the Palestinian people have been victims for more than fifty years. No one can contest the right of the Israeli people to live in security. However, neither can anyone forget the innocent victims, on both sides, who fall day after day under the blows of violence. Weapons and bloody attacks will never be the right means for making political statements to the other side. Nor is the logic of the law of retaliation capable any longer of leading to the paths of justice. We firmly believe that only an end to occupation and a just peace with the Palestinians will offer security to Israel and release its people from the weight of anxiety that hangs on them.

Likewise, we are acutely aware of the need for reconciliation as the foundation of peace. Without mutual respect, resentments will multiply until violence breaks forth yet again. So, we pray the one God of Abraham, the father of all believers, to bring Palestinians and Israelis, Jews, Christians and Muslims, to reconciliation with one another.

Saint Paul calls us Christians to be ambassadors of reconciliation, and you in the Holy Land have a special vocation in this regard. We encourage the efforts you have made to build a life in dialogue with your Muslim and Jewish neighbors. We firmly hope that the inter-religious encounters we undertake in our own countries along with the ecumenical endeavors we carry out on behalf of peace in the Holy Land will help you take heart.

Together with the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, we have also explored how we in the churches of Europe and North America can strengthen our ties to the Mother Church of Jerusalem, in the hope of helping you sustain a living Christian presence in the Holy Land for generations to come. We take particular note of the desire of the Assembly and lay people with whom we have met to find ways together to preserve the Catholic schools during the current emergency.

In addition, we return home with the request that our national bishops conferences, regional groupings of conferences, and Catholic justice and peace commissions make advocacy on behalf of peace in the Holy Land a priority matter. We shall try to improve the public's understanding of the issues here and the media's portrayal of the situation. Among the other proposals we shall bring back to our home churches is to encourage pilgrims to resume visiting the Holy Land and to come to know you "the living stones." We ourselves will return, as soon as we are able, leading pilgrimages of our faithful.

And until God grants the peace for which we all long, we promise to work without ceasing to help sustain you, our brothers and sisters in faith in Jerusalem, Palestine, Israel and Jordan. You are the roots of the tree that is the Church sunk deep in the hard, rocky soil of this land. Even if ancient olive groves are bulldozed, you, who are God's own planting, must never be uprooted. To you who first witnessed the risen Christ and seek a rightful share in the peace which can be found only in him, we pledge our love and solidarity.

With our constant prayers, we are

Devotedly yours in Christ,

Bishop Jacques Berthelet, C.S.V.
President, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Bishop Pierre Burcher
Delegate, Swiss Bishops' Conference

Bishop Rodolfo Cetoloni
Delegate, Italian Episcopal Conference

Bishop Wilton Gregory
President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Archbishop Patrick A. Kelly
Vice President, Catholic Bishops' England and Wales, and Delegate, Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe

Bishop William Kenney
Bishops' Commission for European Union

Bisohp Manfred Melzer
Delegate, German Bishops' Conference

Bishop Guiseppe Merisi
Delegate, Italian Episcopal Conference

Bishop Anthony O'Connell
Board Member, Catholic Relief Services (USA)

Bishop Jean Orchampt
Delegate, Episcopal Conference of France  



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