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U.S. bishop visits Gaza, calls residents’ situation ‘intolerable’

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Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — A U.S. bishop who traveled into the Gaza Strip called the situation there “intolerable” and said it must be “addressed by the world community.”

“People are denied their basic rights of movement and the opportunity to experience what we call a normal life,” Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, told Catholic News Service Jan. 13 as he and other church leaders arrived in Bethlehem, West Bank.

Bishop Pates, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, was part of the Holy Land Coordination, an annual event in which bishops from the U.S., Canada and Europe travel to the Mideast to show support for churches there.

He called Gaza’s tiny Christian community a “long-suffering people” and said the local Christians were concerned about the lack of educational opportunities for their children. However, he added, parishioners at Holy Family Catholic Church were extremely grateful for their visit and their support.

“Typically people do not visit (them in Gaza),” he said. “They were grateful for the help people give them in the situation and by recognizing the difficulties they are facing. The described a difficult and problematic situation which is really a slap in the face of dignity.”

Israel has imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip since Hamas took control in 2007, although it loosened restrictions in 2010. Egypt opened one border crossing to Gaza in 2011.

Bishop Pates said that although the church leaders’ entrance into Gaza through Israeli security went smoothly, it took them two hours to cross the border on the way out.

“It really brought home for us how intolerable the security situation is,” said Bishop Pates. “It was very disconcerting.”

In November 2012, Israel launched its Pillar of Defense attack on Gaza, in response to hundreds of rockets being launched into southern Israel from Gaza.

Bishop Pates said the destruction in Gaza remains visible, with destroyed buildings and pock-marked facades.

“You see terrific devastation. Some buildings still have evidence (of the attack),” he said

Besides visiting the Catholic parish, the bishops met with members of the local Christian community, including Greek Orthodox Archbishop Alexius