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Crisis in the Holy Land

Holy Land
"Silent witness to the Savior’s life upon earth"
Pope Benedict XVI

Christians in the West Bank express safety, not religious persecution, is the cause of their concern.

Following are voices of those speaking out in the Holy Land.

Excerpt from a statement of Pope Benedict XVI who received in private audience on May 12 the new ambassador of Israel to the Holy See, Ambassador Mordechay Lewy:

Your Excellency, I am pleased to welcome you at the start of your mission and to accept the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the State of Israel to the Holy See.

Your Excellency, I know that you share my concern over the alarming decline in the Christian population of the Middle East, including Israel, through emigration.  I do realize that the difficulties experienced by Christians in the Holy Land are also related to the continuing tension between Jewish and Palestinian communities. The Holy See recognizes Israel's legitimate need for security and self-defence and strongly condemns all forms of anti-Semitism. It also maintains that all peoples have a right to be given equal opportunities to flourish. Accordingly, I would urge your Government to make every effort to alleviate the hardship suffered by the Palestinian community, allowing them the freedom necessary to go about their legitimate business, including travel to places of worship, so that they too can enjoy greater peace and security.  When all the people of the Holy Land live in peace and harmony, in two independent sovereign states side by side, the benefit for world peace will be inestimable.  Much work has gone into formulating the agreements which have been signed thus far between Israel and the Holy See, and it is greatly hoped that the negotiations regarding economic and fiscal affairs may soon be brought to a satisfactory conclusion."

Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Migrants:  " all other refugees, Palestinians have a right to return."

Private security firms are taking over Israeli checkpoints from the soldiers.  "Room 3" is where Palestinians are striped searched and made to wait for hours.

Nick Meyer/Arab American News
Catholic News - Bishop Thomas Gumbleton speaks to parishioners of Saint Anastasia Church in Troy, Michigan

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton speaks to parishioners of Saint Anastasia Church in Troy, Michigan

Retired Bishop Thomas Gumbleton pf the Archdiocese of Detroit went on a fact-finding mission to the Holy Land and reported, "When you saw on TV that John McCain visited these places, he talked about the crude rocket attacks by Palestinians, but he never mentioned anything about Israel's attacks."  Bishop Gumbleton also said residents of Gaza were "suffering deeply now with their lack of hospitals," and that Gazans only have five locations where they can exit/enter Gaza.  "From this time on, I intend to be very much engaged with this issue," said Bishop Gumbleton and urged the "U. S. to bring justice and ultimately peace to the Holy Land."

Following up on a campaign promise, French President Nicolas Sarkozy convened a gathering of 43 countries in July, 2008, including European nations, Arab nations, and Israel, at the Grand Palais near the Seine River in the newly-formed Union for the Mediterranean.  President Sarkozy said Arab nations had made a "gesture of peace" by attending this inaugural and that leaders must "learn to love each other in the Mediterranean instead of continuing to hate and wage war."  Cooperative proposals agreed upon at this first meeting were cleaning up pollution in the Mediterranean Sea, improving shipping lanes, and developing solar energy.  Ancillary talks were held on Middle Eastern peace but outcome of the U. S. election in November was the unknown part of the equation.

World Health Organization on Gaza:  "The denial and delay of permits released by the Israeli authorities for patients who have to leave Gaza for health reasons increased during 2007 causing further problems in addition to the usual access difficulties that have been affecting the Palestinian population particularly during the last eight years."

Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem:  "The history that human beings make here with blood and hatred or with dialogue and collaboration is made ... under the watchful eyes of God, the master of history, who gave this land a particular sanctity.  In a land belonging to God, only the ways of God will lead to a resolution of the conflict."

Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem on Islamic extremism: "These religious tendencies will end up by imposing themselves if the policies within the Arab countries do not succeed in creating more just and secure societies, and if Islam does not succeed in renewing itself from within so as to respond to the religious need of the believers and to prevent the extremists from transforming religion into fanaticism and a source of violence.  But it should also be said that relations between Muslims and Christians have not yet reached their perfect equilibrium. This is a matter of a long and slow path that must be perfected every day."

Private security firms are taking over Israeli checkpoints from the soldiers.  "Room 3" is where Palestinians are striped searched and made to wait for hours.  More

Melkite (in communion with Rome) Archbishop Elias Chacour of Galilee said Palestinians were the "very first people to hear the Good News of Jesus.  It was my forefathers who first heard Him and were fascinated with what He had to say."  Christians in the Holy Land are, “seriously threatened with extinction," said Archbishop Chacour.

Father Giovanni Laconi, Vice Provincial of the Salesian Province of the Middle East, is protesting Israel's building of a wall in Beit Jala which will confiscate land owned by the Salesians:

Salesian Community, victim of a one-sided decision by Israeli authorities, firmly takes a stand against the policy of unilateral separation, reaffirms its complete extraneousness to the planning of the track of the wall and, at the same time, appeals to all competent authorities to engage for the reestablishment of international law.  (The international law Father Laconi referred to is the July 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice which called the wall "contrary to international law.") 

The entire track of the wall, including the section involving the property of Cremisan, has been set in complete autonomy by Israeli authorities.

The heads of the Salesian community, who have always been open to dialogue with the local Palestinians to whom they have often provided several services of social utility, wish to renew their deepest solidarity to the village of Al-Walajeh and to the whole Palestinian population still enduring the hardships of occupation. (The wall would separate the Salesians from the Palestinian village of Al-Walajeh and separate the village of Al-Walajeh from Jerusalem.)

At the same time they express their heartfelt hope that every wall among peoples may fall for a future of peace.

Pope Benedict XVI's hope for the peace conference scheduled for November, 2007, in Washington between the Palestinians and Israelis:  "...each of the parties involved will do all in their power to meet the expectations of the populations bowed by crises that has lasted for over 60 years now and which continues to sow the seeds of death and destruction."

The Vatican and Israel have resumed negotiations in September, 2007, begun in 1993 including the tax status of the Catholic Church in Israel and Catholic Church property confiscated by Israel.  The statement released after the four-hour meeting said negotiators "carried forward their work in an atmosphere of cordiality. 

Pope Benedict XVI warned against governments' overdoing national security to fight terrorism: "...the scourge of terrorism demands a profound reflection on the ethical limits restricting the use of modern methods of guaranteeing internal security."

Pope Benedict XVI on the Middle East: "I appeal to the hearts of those who have specific responsibilities that they may accept the vital duty of guaranteeing peace for everyone, without distinction, free from the mortal illness of religious, cultural, historical or geographical discrimination."

The Caritas Jerusalem Gaza Medical Centre has closed because the violence in Gaza is too dangerous for hospital personnel to leave home.

Spanish Father Ángel García's Messengers of Peace Association  delivered toys to orphanages, hospitals, and schools in refugee camps in the Middle East.  "Children are the most innocent victims of any war or conflict and they are the ones who suffer most and are most forgotten. Our campaign aimed at offering them a toy to help them for a moment forget the drama of the conflict and many personal tragedies," said Father García who returned to Spain with two 5-year-old children in need of specialized medical care accompanied by their mothers.

U. S. Bishop William S. Skylstad is concerned that Palestinian farmers are losing access to their water supply because of the encroachment of Israeli settlements.  Bishop Skylstad has a special interest in farming since growing up on an apple farm in the State of Washington.

Pope Benedict XVI on the violence in Gaza:  “Once again, in the name of God, I urge an end to this tragic violence while I express my solidarity with and closeness to the tried Palestinian and Israeli populations whom I assure have a place in my prayers. I appeal to all of the Palestinian Authorities, to their sense of responsibility, so that through dialogue and with determination they may return to the arduous journey of mutual understanding; and in doing so, neutralize those who promote violence. I invite the Israeli government to moderation, and I exhort the international community to multiply its efforts to relaunch peace negotiations. May the Lord inspire and support those who work for peace!”

U. S. Bishops called on the U. S. administration "to pursue a robust diplomatic effort" to make a two-state solution in The Holy Land a top priority.

Caritas to Israel: “The Palestinians in Gaza must not become a forgotten people cut off from the outside world.  Whatever the political or military situation in Gaza, innocent Palestinian civilians must not pay the cost.  It is against international humanitarian law to prevent people from receiving humanitarian aid.  Caritas wants to see a humanitarian corridor to Gaza so that medical and food supplies can reach the needy.”

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, emeritus, Archdiocese of Washington, and other religious leaders met with United States Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice " reiterate our strong commitment to a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the urgent need for United States leadership to restart and successfully conclude negotiations for a lasting and just peace between Israel and the Palestinian people."

Pope Benedict XVI: "I appeal to Israeli and Palestinian leaders that, with the generous help of the international community, they may seek responsibly for that negotiated end to the conflict which alone can ensure the peace to which their people aspire."

Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem: "If the U. S. wants Israel to survive, to be recognized, then it should take measures to surround Israel with friends. The current U. S. policy is surrounding Israel with enemies. That's not the way to protect your friend."

Catholics in Aboud, West Bank, protested Israel's proposed wall through their village because the wall will separate them from 1,200 acres of their farmland.  Father Firas Aridah of Our Lady Mother of Sorrows Parish said Israel has already confiscated 375 acres of Aboud land.  Murad Fawadleh, a 25-year-old Catholic, said, "This is our land and they don't have any right to just take it. I want the whole world to listen and to know that we are here. We are the Catholic Church here. There are few Christians here, and if they take our land what should we do? We live from our olives, and if they take them, how can we live?" said Mr. Fawadleh.  Retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of the Archdiocese of Washington has asked United States President George W. Bush to intervene to save the Catholic town of Aboud, West Bank, from being confiscated by Israel.  President Bush told Cardinal McCarrick that he wasn't aware of the issue and promised to look into it.  Aboud has an aquifir in an arid land. 

Archbishop Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and President of Bethlehem University: "My jurisdiction is Palestine, Israel and Jordan, and I feel a deep sense of responsibility toward people in all of those countries. Permits. They need a permit to get into and out of Bethlehem, to go to work, to go to Jerusalem to pray, to go to the airport or the hospital or to Bethlehem University. Our priests cannot make a spiritual retreat because they cannot get around the country."

Thirteen Holy Land church leaders in a combined message:
"Concerned at the present situation in the Palestinian Territories, we feel we must voice our anxiety for all our people -- Christian and Muslim alike -- at the deteriorating relations between Fatah and Hamas leaders and the armed forces. Bloodshed and violence will not bring peace; it will only further destroy family life and further endanger the economy of our land. The time has come for an all-out effort to unite our people and so concentrate on working for independence together with the opportunity for all people of this Holy Land -- Christian, Muslim and Jew -- to know security and peace. It is vital to bring a real sense of unity in government; to unite the security forces; remove arms from our streets and encourage the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to return to the negotiating table."
-- Patriarch Theolophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
-- Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarchate
-- Patriarch Torkom II, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate -- Father Pier Battista Pizzaballa, OFM, Custos of the Holy Land
-- Anba Abraham, Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate
-- Archbishop Swerios Malki Mourad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate -- Abune Matthias, Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate
-- Archbishop Paul Nabil Sayyah, Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate
-- Bishop Riah Abu Al-Assal, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East
-- Bishop Mounib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land
-- Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
-- Bishop George Bakar, Greek Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
-- Father Raphael Minassian, Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate

Women's soccer is just beginning in Palestine. One of the brightest stars is a 12-year-old girl in a Bethlehem area Catholic school. Because Israel restricts travel in Palestine, practice is difficult. The team could only get together two days before a recent tournament. But the team is determined. "I used to play basketball. Soccer is more beautiful. I feel stronger. I just like it," said Amira Hodaly, 18, of Bethlehem.

Jerusalem Palestinian Melkite Catholic Jacob Zakharia: "We are sandwiched between extreme Jews and extreme Muslims."

Said Catholic Jerusalem native Palestinian Ambassador to the United States (formerly Palestinian Ambassador to the Vatican) Afif Safieh: “I am a spokesman for human and national rights for the people of Palestine and advocate for a two-state solution. I am not asking you to sacrifice a traditional friend, Israel. I’m asking you to accept an additional friend.”

Caritas Jerusalem Gaza Medical Centre celebrated its third anniversary in Gaza City, Gaza.  Caritas quoted chief Palestinian negotiator Dr Saeb Erekat as saying, "Israel is and has been suffocating Gaza to seize Jerusalem.  Israel restricts the internal movement of 2.4 million Christian and Muslim Palestinians so that 430,000 Israeli settlers can roam free. In South Africa, they had a name for this. Let us breathe. We want to be free too."

Catholic Relief Services states that the U. S. "no contact" policy concerning the democratically-elected Hamas government in the Palestinian Territories is problematic for relief workers who don't ask party affiliation before dispensing services.  They jokingly want to know if passing salt to a member of Hamas at dinner criminally violates U. S. law.  "The church leaders and other partners we work with have always sympathized with the United States, many have been to the United States, and have family living in the United States, and yet they don't understand U.S. government policy. And they feel hurt by it. They're currently feeling the pain of hunger, but even before that, when the U.S. announced the policy, they felt rejected and isolated and didn't feel they deserved that."

EUR 1.3MM in funds collected from German Catholics on the pope's visit to Bavaria were sent to the Holy Land to build a pastoral center in Nazareth. The 300,000 square foot facility will provide lodging, youth and family activities, religious instruction, conference room, and a sports field. The gift was to "demonstrate the spiritual closeness of the Holy Father to the Christian community and to bring them a gift in the pope's name."

Who Is the Man of the Holy Shroud? is a permanent exhibit opened by The Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem.  According to Zenit, "Highlights of the exhibition include a digitalized copy of the Holy Shroud exactly as it is in Turin, and a bronze sculpture by Italian sculptor Luigi Mattei who has reconstructed in three dimensions the body of the man of the Holy Shroud. The sculpture shows for the first time the whole body imprinted on the linen.  The main objective of the exhibition according to the institute is to help those who pass through Jerusalem to reflect on and to appreciate the sufferings of Christ as stated in the Gospels and as they appear on the Holy Shroud. The exhibition is open Monday through Saturday, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m."

««« Bethlehem

««« Bethlehem Doctor

"In this moving drama from Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis, a young Israeli woman, engaged to a Syrian man, faces the fact that marriage to her betrothed in Syria will mean she can never return to Israel. But when she gets to the border and looks set to begin a new life, some surprises await her." - Press Release



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