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WASHINGTON – Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane,
president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, this week
told the presidents of Israel and the Palestinian Authority that
leaders of the Catholic Church from around the world will continue to
work for a just peace in the Holy Land.
"At this important moment, we seek to encourage and support all who strive for justice and so pursue peace and those practical steps that will enable the Israeli and Palestinian peoples to live in this Land, with dignity, in two states, in security and equity," Bishop Skylstad said to the two presidents in separate meetings.
Bishop Skylstad was chosen to speak on behalf of the members of the Episcopal Coordination for the Holy Land, meeting in Bethlehem this week. The Episcopal Coordination for the Holy Land is an informal working group of the Catholic bishops' conferences of North America and western Europe as well as the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe and the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Latin America. Established at the urging of the Holy See, the Coordination arose out of a 1998 meeting of the presidents of the bishops' conferences in Jerusalem where they had gathered to discuss the situation of the Church in the Middle East. It exists to advocate on behalf of the shrinking Christian community in the Holy Land, to press for a peaceful resolution to violence in the Middle East and to communicate to the wider Catholic Church about the conditions of the Church in the region. Leaders of the member organizations have met annually since 1999.
"We will work for a just peace in this Land and seek to engage our local Churches and countries in this task," said Bishop Skylstad. "The entire world has a stake in justice and peace here."
Delegates of the Episcopal Coordination for the Holy Land met with Israeli President Moshe Katsav on January 11, and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on January 13.
The full texts of Bishop Skylstad's remarks are attached.
Thank you for giving us this opportunity to meet you.
We come in the footsteps of two pilgrims to the Holy Land, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II. We are completely united with the Christians of the Holy Land as they affirm the teaching of Pope Paul VI that peace is brought about through justice for all, and as they stand resolutely with Pope John Paul II in his consistent rejection of any form of violence as a road to peace.
We visit you at a time of great political potential. We know our native countries have helped to shape the history of this Land. We are determined that the issues which touch the lives and hopes of all in the Holy Land shall not be neglected. On our return, we will use every opportunity to share with our own communities and governments what we have heard and seen in parishes, in Bethlehem's wonderful university—whose story is followed with great interest in many countries—and in schools and hospitals, as well as in Galilee.
At this important moment, we seek to encourage and support all who strive for justice and so pursue peace and those practical steps that will enable the Israeli and Palestinian peoples to live in this Land, with dignity, in two states, in security and equity.
We affirm and stand with the Church in the Holy Land, with the Patriarch, the pastors and people, in their unique witness to the faith we share with them. With the whole Church, we are committed to the survival and vitality of the Christian community in this Land where Jesus was born, died, was buried and rose again.
The importance of the Fundamental Agreement between Israel and the Holy See is clear to us, and we urge its full enactment and implementation without delay.
We will work for a just peace in this Land and seek to engage our local Churches and countries in this task. The entire world has a stake in justice and peace here.
At this hopeful moment our prayers are with all who share this Land: Israelis and Palestinians, Christians, Jews and Muslims, that we will very soon see decisive action and courageous steps to bring an end to violence and injustice and accomplish peace and reconciliation in the Land we all call Holy.
Thank you, Mr. President, and Shalom.
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