The Universal Church in Solidarity with
the Church of the Holy Land
Bethlehem and Jerusalem, 12-15 January 2004
"Not walls, but bridges!"
- We, Catholic Bishops from Europe and the Americas, came here to demonstrate the solidarity of Catholics throughout the world with the Church of the Holy Land. For the third time in as many years, we have come in friendship for both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, Christian, Jew and Muslim alike. We have seen the violence suffered by both communities: the attack against Israelis in Gaza and the collective punishment of Palestinian citizens. We express our condolences for the deaths that have occurred during our stay and affirm our opposition to all bloodshed.
We have heard of the desire for peace, justice and reconciliation among both Israelis and Palestinians. We have also observed with great regret the lack of political will not only in this region but in the international community to work for a peaceful settlement. We therefore call upon all our political leaders to respond to the desire for peace which the people of this Holy Land have deep in their hearts.
- We labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God" 1 Tm 4: 10
We have witnessed many signs of hope during our short time in the Holy Land. Not least among these are the generosity of the universal Church and the expressions of solidarity that have come from Christians in Israel and elsewhere in the world. Most hopeful of all, however, is the vitality and commitment of the Church of the Holy Land itself, including the fraternal relations between Christian leaders.
We congratulate the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land, together with all the Christians of the Holy Land in communion with the Catholic Church, for the successful implementation of their Synod, as well as the Catholic relief organizations which have worked so hard to co-ordinate their efforts and focus on their strengths in support of all the people of the Holy Land.
- The Holy Land does not need walls, but bridges!" Pope John Paul II, 16 November 2003
We have seen the devastating effect of the wall currently being built through the land and homes of Palestinian communities. This appears to be a permanent structure, dividing families, isolating them from their farmland and their livelihoods, and cutting off religious institutions. We have had an experience of the frustration and humiliation undergone every day by Palestinians at checkpoints, which impede them from providing for their families, reaching hospital, getting to work, attending their studies and visiting their relatives.
We deplore the fact that, despite visible efforts, some priests, seminarians, sisters, brothers, and lay personnel are being denied or are having difficulties in obtaining visas and residence permits to study and work in Israel and the Palestinian territories. These constitute genuine impediments to the Churches' capacity to carry out their mission at the service of the people of the Holy Land. This is especially regrettable given that the State of Israel and the Holy See have just marked ten years since the signing of their Fundamental Agreement.
We are also concerned about the written notices given to pilgrims by the Israeli authorities on arrival in the Holy Land, making it difficult for them to visit areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority, including many of the Holy Places of the Christian faith.
- Teacher, where are you staying? ... Come and see!" Jn 1: 38-39
We have been given hope by the small but notable increase in the number of pilgrims coming to the Holy Places. We hope that our own journey will be an example and encouragement to our fellow Christians to come and see where Jesus Christ lived. To journey and to be a pilgrim is a sign of hope and solidarity to the Christians of the Holy Land, a reminder of the presence of this living Church - the Mother Church - and a witness to peace and reconciliation in this region so afflicted by conflict.
We call on all our fellow believers to bear witness to the truth of the message addressed to the Christians of the Holy Land during these days: "You are not alone!"
+ Brendan O'Brien
Archbishop of St John's Newfoundland and President, Canadian Bishops' Conference
+ Wilton D. Gregory
Bishop of Belleville and President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
+ Patrick Kelly
Archbishop of Liverpool and Vice-President, Catholic Bishops' Conference of England & Wales (Delegate, Council of European Bishops' Conferences)
+ Bernard-Nicolas Aubertin
Bishop of Chartres, French Bishops' Conference
+ Lucien Daloz
Archbishop Emeritus of Besançon, French Bishops' Conference
+ Reinhard Marx
Bishop of Trier, German Bishops' Conference
+ Joan Enric Vives
Bishop of Urgell and co-Prince of Andorra, Spanish Bishops' Conference
+ William Kenney
Auxiliary Bishop of Stockholm, Scandinavian Bishops' Conference and Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community (COMECE)
+ Pierre Bürcher
Auxiliary Bishop of Lausanne, Swiss Bishops' Conference
+ Gregorio Rosa Chavez
President, Caritas Latin America
Mgr Piergiuseppe Vachelli
Undersecretary, Italian Bishops' Conference