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Catholic leaders urge Israel to meet Palestinian hunger strikers’ demands

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Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — Catholic leaders in the Holy Land urged Israel to concede to demands of Palestinian political prisoners on a hunger strike since April 17.

The prisoners are seeking an improvement in their prison conditions and an end to administrative detention, which allows Israel to hold prisoners almost indefinitely without having to charge them with a crime.

A Palestinian protester in Beita, West Bank, moves a burning tire during clashes with Israeli troops April 28. Catholic leaders in the Holy Land urged Israel to concede to demands of Palestinian political prisoners on a hunger strike since April 17. (CNS photo/Mohamad Torokman, Reuters)

A Palestinian protester in Beita, West Bank, moves a burning tire during clashes with Israeli troops April 28. Catholic leaders in the Holy Land urged Israel to concede to demands of Palestinian political prisoners on a hunger strike since April 17. (CNS photo/Mohamad Torokman, Reuters)

The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land said the prisoners are asking that their human rights and dignity be respected according to international law and the Geneva Convention.

“We urge the Israeli authorities to hear the cry of the prisoners, to respect their human dignity, and to open a new door toward the making of peace,” the bishops said in a statement released April 29. “The aim of this desperate act is to shed light, both locally and internationally, on the inhuman conditions in which they are detained by the Israeli authorities.”

The bishops affirmed the need to apply international law to the conditions of incarceration of political prisoners and condemned “the use of detention without trial, all forms of collective punishment, as well as the use of duress and torture for whatever reason.”

“Furthermore, we can never forget that every prisoner is a human being and his God-given dignity must be respected,” said the bishops.

Freeing prisoners will be a “sign of a new vision” which could mark a new beginning for Israelis and Palestinians, they said.

“As Christians, we are sent to work for the liberation of every human being, and for the establishment of a human society in which there is equality for all, Israelis and Palestinians,” they said.

According to reports in the Israeli press, Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said 300 of the hunger strikers have agreed to start taking food, although none of their demands has been met. Palestinians maintain the 1,500 prisoners are continuing their water-and-salt only fast.

The political prisoners are demanding improved visitation rights for family members, better access to phone calls and medical care. Some 6,500 Palestinian prisoners are held in Israeli jails for alleged offenses ranging from murder to throwing stones.

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Vatican policy promotes access to Jerusalem, self-determination for all

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican’s hopes for a peace-filled world and its defense of the right to religious freedom have supported its consistent position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for 70 years.

The key concern of the Holy See, and of the Catholic Church as a whole, since the Middle Ages has been for the Christian holy sites and Christian communities present in the Holy Land from the time of Jesus. The vast majority of Christians in the region are Palestinians.

Family and friends of an Israeli soldier who was killed by a Palestinian truck driver mourn during her Jan. 9 funeral in Jerusalem. The Vatican's hopes for a peace-filled world and its defense of the right to religious freedom have supported its consistent position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for 70 years. (CNS photo/Ronen Zvulun, Reuters)

Family and friends of an Israeli soldier who was killed by a Palestinian truck driver mourn during her Jan. 9 funeral in Jerusalem. The Vatican’s hopes for a peace-filled world and its defense of the right to religious freedom have supported its consistent position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for 70 years. (CNS photo/Ronen Zvulun, Reuters)

More recently, it has supported the “two-state solution” with independence, recognition and secure borders for both Israel and Palestine.

While support for the two-state system evolved over time, the Vatican consistently has called for a special status for Jerusalem, particularly the Old City, in order to protect and guarantee access to the holy sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

As Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations, told the U.N. General Assembly in November: “The Holy See views the holy city of Jerusalem as the spiritual patrimony of the three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”

Since the early 1990s, the Vatican has seen as separate issues the need for a special status for the city and questions over the political sovereignty or control of Jerusalem. The political question, it has insisted, must be the result of negotiation.

The internationally unsettled status of Jerusalem and its central importance to Jews, Muslims and Christians explains why, while recognizing the state of Israel, no nation has its embassy in the holy city.

Before his inauguration, President-elect Donald Trump said he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush said the same thing during their campaigns for election, although once in office, they did not carry through with the move, citing its potential negative impact on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Some observers think Trump is more serious about having the embassy in Jerusalem.

“At this point we are in a wait-and-see pattern,” said Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, who was in Jerusalem in mid-January together with 12 other bishops from North America and Europe.

Bishop Cantu, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, told Catholic News Service that Trump’s promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem poses a “serious problem” to any possible two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We are hoping that other, clearer minds will convince the president-elect to change his mind,” he said, promising the U.S. bishops would engage with the new administration in “as friendly a way as possible.”

“We will share with him our concerns based on the dignity of every human person and also based on the rights of the Palestinians to exist as a free and sovereign state living in peace next to a free and sovereign Israel,” Bishop Cantu said.

One of the Vatican’s earliest mentions of the Palestinians’ right to a homeland came in a communique issued by the Vatican press office when St. John Paul II held his first meeting with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat in 1982.

The statement said the pope had expressed his hope to Arafat that “a just and lasting solution to the Middle East conflict would be reached as quickly as possible, a solution which, by excluding recourse to arms and violence, in any form, and especially that of terrorism and reprisal, would lead to the recognition of the right of all peoples, and in particular the Palestinian people, to possess a land of their own, and that of the Israeli people to ensure their own security.”

Hopes and prayers for peace and an encouragement for dialogue to resolve the ongoing dispute have been a centerpiece of papal pronouncements about the Holy Land for more than half a century.

Almost every Christmas and Easter, popes have renewed their pleas for Israelis and Palestinians, with the support of the international community, to commit themselves to dialogue for their sake and the sake of peace throughout the region.

Pope Francis has followed in his predecessors’ footsteps. In his 2016 Christmas address, he prayed, “May Israelis and Palestinians have the courage and determination to write a new page of history, where hate and revenge give way to the will to build together a future of mutual understanding and harmony.”

 

Contributing to this story was Judith Sudilovsky in Jerusalem.

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Bishops visiting Holy Land say Christians must oppose Israeli settlements

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JERUSALEM — Christians have a responsibility to oppose the construction of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, said bishops from the U.S., Canada and Europe.

“This de facto annexation of land not only undermines the rights of Palestinians in areas such as Hebron and East Jerusalem but, as the U.N. recently recognized, also imperils the chance of peace,” said bishops who participated in the Holy Land Coordination Jan. 14-19.

Bishops from the U.S, Canada and Europe walk through a street Jan. 16 in Hebron, West Bank. (CNS photo/Marcin Mazur, Bishops' Conference of England and Wales)

Bishops from the U.S, Canada and Europe walk through a street Jan. 16 in Hebron, West Bank. (CNS photo/Marcin Mazur, Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales)

“So many people in the Holy Land have spent their entire lives under occupation, with its polarizing social segregation, yet still profess hope and strive for reconciliation. Now, more than ever, they deserve our solidarity,” said the statement, issued Jan. 19, at the end of the visit.

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, was among the 12 bishops who signed the statement. Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, Quebec, represented Canadian bishops. The statement also was signed by representatives of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community and the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, as well as bishops from the United Kingdom and other European countries.

During their visit, the bishops visited Hebron, West Bank, where the main market area is closed off to accommodate the security needs of some 800 Israeli settlers. Afterward, Bishop Cantu told Catholic News Service, “It becomes clearer that (the settlements) are not just about outlying settlements but something more systematic; more about infiltrating Palestinian land and forcing Palestinians out by making them so uncomfortable with such limited freedom they don’t want to continue living there.”

Three of the bishops also visited the Gaza Strip, where an Israeli blockade has made it difficult to get supplies for reconstruction of buildings destroyed by Israeli shelling. Bishop William Nolan of Galloway, Scotland, one of the bishops who visited Gaza, said he left feeling “sad and helpless” at the poverty and lack of basic commodities.

In 2006, a government led by Hamas was elected in Gaza. Israel, the United States and the European Union have listed Hamas. an Islamic political party with an armed wing, as a terrorist organization and have imposed economic sanctions against Gaza.

In their statement, the bishops said Christians had a responsibility to help “the people of Gaza, who continue to live amid a man-made humanitarian catastrophe. They have now spent a decade under blockade, compounded by a political impasse caused by ill-will on all sides.”

They also said Christians must continue to encourage nonviolent resistance, as encouraged by Pope Francis.

“This is particularly necessary in the face of injustices such as the continued construction of the separation wall on Palestinian land, including the Cremisan Valley,” the statement said.

The barrier is a series of cement slabs, barbed wire fences and security roads snaking across part of the West Bank. If completed as planned, the separation wall would stretch nearly 400 miles and restrict the movements of 38 percent of residents of the West Bank. Israel maintains that the barrier contributed significantly to a decrease in the number of terrorist attacks, while Palestinians contend that the barrier is simply another Israeli land grab, imprisons them and imposes travel limitations.

The bishops said that each year since 1998, they have called for justice and peace, “yet the suffering continues.”

“So this call must get louder,” their statement said. “As bishops, we implore Christians in our home countries to recognize our own responsibility for prayer, awareness and action.”

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Catholic leaders in Holy Land pray for those hit by wildfires

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Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — Catholic leaders in the Holy Land expressed solidarity with those affected by regional wildfires, which continued to burn after five days.

“We thank God for the fact that the majority of human injuries were light; we express our solidarity with those who suffer from physical or material damage,” they said in a Nov. 25 statement.

A plane drops fire retardant during a wildfire near Nataf, Israel, Nov. 26. (CNS photo/Ronen Zvulun, Reuters)

A plane drops fire retardant during a wildfire near Nataf, Israel, Nov. 26. (CNS photo/Ronen Zvulun, Reuters)

“Our country needs the fire of love which unites people, expands hearts and thoughts and enables a safe life full of faith, justice and love,” they said.

By Nov. 28 security officials said most fires were under control; of the 90 fires that broke out throughout Israel and the West Bank, 40 were suspected arson, they said, adding they believe the outbreak of the initial fires was due to a combination of negligence, accidents and dry, windy weather after a two-month drought.

Local mosques and Christian institutions made themselves available for those evacuees in need of a place to stay, though the majority of the people stayed with family and friends or in hotels.

The fires broke out Nov. 22 and spread across the countryside, damaging hundreds of properties and forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people, 60,000 of those in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Haifa, Israel’s third -largest city. Firefighters also battled flames in several Arab and Druze villages, including a village outside of Nazareth, and several communities outside of Jerusalem, including the Neve Shalom community, where Jews and Arabs live together.

Haifa is home to a large population of Christian residents who make up 14 percent of the city’s inhabitants. The numerous brush fires in the city did not affect the neighborhoods where the majority of Christians and Christian institutions are located.

At the same time in a sign of rare regional cooperation with its Arab neighbors, Israel received assistance in form of personnel and equipment from Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority in addition to other countries, including the United States, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Azerbaijan, Italy and Russia.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to thank him for his assistance, and the Israeli press reported that Jewish settlers from Halamish, one of the hardest-hit communities, came out to thank the Palestinian firefighters who had helped battle the flames.

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Commentary: Church serves, strives to keep Christian presence in Bethlehem

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As we approach the feast of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, we must renew our prayers for peace in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East. Unfortunately, the situation of Christians in that area of the world got worse during the past year, mainly because of the Islamic State that is intent on driving Christians out.

The city of Christ’s birth continues to lose Christians. In 1948, just after World War II and when Israel was recognized as a country, Christians comprised 85 percent of Bethlehem’s population. That slowly declined, but it was still 54 percent after the 1967 war between Israel and the Arab countries that resulted in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, where Bethlehem is located. Read more »

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Church leaders want Israel to step up protection of Christian sites

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Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — Although Israeli officials have publicly criticized the June arson attack that seriously damaged the Benedictine Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha, anti-Christian violence is not new, said a representative of the religious order.

An Ultra-Orthodox Jew walks past the Dormition Abbey on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem July 27. Christian leaders want Israel to step up protection of Christian sites. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill)

An Ultra-Orthodox Jew walks past the Dormition Abbey on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem July 27. Christian leaders want Israel to step up protection of Christian sites. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill)

Benedictine Father Nikodemus Schnabel, spokesman for the Benedictine Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion,  told Catholic News Service that fires and vandalism have plagued other churches and church property for years.

The abbey was set on fire May 25, 2014, soon after Pope Francis visited the site during his Holy Land pilgrimage. It is located near a yeshiva and the Tomb of David, where the Cenacle, or the Upper Room, site of the Last Supper, is located.

A year earlier, two cars owned by the Benedictines were set on fire. Benedictine monks often are victims of verbal and spitting attacks, and Christian tombstones are smashed, Father Schnabel said. In March, a Greek Orthodox seminary was damaged in an arson attack and a wall was sprayed with anti-Christian graffiti.

Although there have been photos of people spitting at and verbally abusing the monks, no arrests in connection with any of the incidents have been made, Father Schnabel said. A Benedictine request that a security camera be installed near their property has gone unheeded, he added.

“We are very thankful for the many signs of solidarity from our friends in the civil society, but (until Tabgha) we never heard any officials respond,” the Benedictine priest said.

With the official condemnations of the Tabgha attack, the Benedictines are “very happy with the words,” but are “now looking for results,” he said.

No charges have been brought in connection with the incident, although police announced July 11 that they had arrested several suspects.

The building housing the traditional locations of the Cenacle and the Tomb of David continues to be a point of contention within the National Religious Party, a Zionist political party whose supporters believe in the right of Israel over all areas of the biblical Jewish Holy Land. The party has used the building as a rallying point, charging at times that it will be transferred to the Vatican or Christians.

Makor Rishon, a newspaper identified with conservative national and religious values, regularly publishes anti-Christian articles and charges against Christians and the monastery in particular.

“It is a very tiny group of national religious Jews,” said Father Schnabel, emphasizing that it was important to point out that the perpetrators are not, as often portrayed in the media, ultra-Orthodox Jews. Many are those who are prohibited from entering the West Bank by Israeli authorities, those known as “the hilltop youth” who establish illegal settlements on hilltops in the West Bank, he said.

The Benedictine said those who carry out the attacks adhere to an ultranationalist stance that often calls for ridding Israel of non-Jewish individuals and organizations.

Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal blamed government inaction and a lack of education about tolerance and understanding for the continuing attacks.

“Sometimes the government of Israel condemns (incidents) and many private Israeli institutions and Israelis come or write beautiful letters condemning the attacks, saying this is not their way,” noted Patriarch Twal. “But it is not enough for the government to condemn the actions. We ask for follow-up with action.”

He charged that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tacitly encourages such behavior.

“They are in the government. All the right-wing government is their allies. This is their line,” he said. “They are an integral part of the government. This is our society. We haven’t a normal life.”

In a June 22 statement, the Christian Palestinian initiative Kairos Palestine expressed concern that such continued incidents could “fan dissent and fire religious conflicts in the Holy Land.” It said that failing to hold the perpetrators accountable for their deeds encourages them to continue with such actions.

“The Israeli authorities are responsible for this kind of terrorism and the absence of security for the religious Christian and Muslim sites,” Kairos Palestine said.

Under police order not to speak about the case so as not to interfere in the police investigation of the Tabgha attack, Father Schnabel said: “We feel that there is not the lack of ability to look for results and arrests but a serious lack of will. I hope I am wrong but we have that feeling.”

As difficult as it may be, the priest said, it is necessary for Israel and its officials to acknowledge that a small fringe within society does not tolerate minorities; this is part of the religious freedom and democracy that Father Schnabel is convinced Israel supports.

Arresting the culprits helps with a feeling of justice being done, but it is only treating the symptom of the illness rather than the problem itself, he said.

“You have to go to the root of the problem,” he said.

 

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Jordan River bank where Jesus baptized declared UNESCO heritage site

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Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — UNESCO declared Bethany Beyond the Jordan, on the eastern side of the Jordan River, as a World Heritage site and the location of Jesus’ baptism.

Pope Francis makes the Sign of the Cross in 2014 after praying at  Bethany Beyond the Jordan, which UNESCO just declared a World Heritage site and the location of Jesus' baptism. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis makes the Sign of the Cross in 2014 after praying at Bethany Beyond the Jordan, which UNESCO just declared a World Heritage site and the location of Jesus’ baptism. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“The decision is logical. The Eastern side is where all the Byzantine antiquities and churches are located,” said Franciscan Father Eugenio Alliata, professor of Christian archaeology at Jerusalem’s Studium Biblicum Franciscanum. He said pilgrimages to the Western side began only about 600 years ago. “But for us it is the Jordan River, the middle, which is the most holy place.”

For years, Israel and Jordan have been at odds as to which side of the Jordan River is the actual site of Jesus’ baptism, as both sides vie for the title to increase tourism. Israel upgraded its shoreline with changing rooms and a wooden deck access to the murky waters.

But three popes have visited Jordan’s eastern shore in the country of Jordan as a sign of the Catholic Church’s official recognition of the site known as Bethany Beyond the Jordan. The Gospel of John (1:28 and 10:40) records this place as where John the Baptist carried out his baptisms, including that of Jesus.

Pope John Paul II made the first visit to the site on his millennial pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2000, followed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 and Pope Francis last year.

The remains of more than 20 Christian sites over six centuries and dating to Roman and Byzantine periods have been discovered near the site. They include several churches, a prayer hall, baptismal pools and a sophisticated water reticulation system.

At least 12 new churches are under construction in the area, with the Catholic Church expected to become the largest church complex in the Middle East, at nearly 323,000 square feet.

Father Alliata said ancient iconography shows Jesus in the middle of the river rather than on any of the two shores, and there are accounts by ancient pilgrims of marble columns in the middle of the river marking the site of Jesus’ baptism.

“History has different ways of being remembered,” he said. “If there was an agreement between Israel and Jordan (on the issue) they could combine the place East and West. Both have importance, the East in ancient times and the West in modern times.”

 

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Vatican signs agreement with Palestine, calls for two-state solution

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Holy See and Palestine have signed a historic agreement that supports a two-state solution to the ongoing conflict in the Holy Land, based on the 1967 borders between Israel and Palestine.

The two parties signed the “Comprehensive Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Palestine” at the Vatican June 26. The accord, which includes a preamble and 32 articles, focuses mostly on the status and activity of the Catholic Church in Palestine. It assures the church “juridical recognition” and “guarantees” for its work and institutions in Palestine. Read more »

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Bishops visiting Holy Land decry ‘man-made disaster’ in Gaza

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Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — Bishops from North America, Europe and Africa called on international leaders to act immediately so people living in the Gaza Strip can have access to basic necessities.

Palestinian girls play in the courtyard of Schmidt’s girls school in East Jerusalem Jan. 15. Bishops from North America, Europe and Africa met with students during a solidarity trip to the Holy Land. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill)

“Gaza is a man-made disaster, a shocking scandal, an injustice that cries out to the human community for a resolution. We call upon political leaders to improve the humanitarian situation of the people in Gaza, assuring access to the basic necessities for a dignified human life, the possibilities for economic development and freedom of movement,” they said in their Jan. 16 statement.

The bishops spent the two days of their Jan. 11-16 trip visiting Christian schools and social and health institutions in Gaza as well as meeting with the local parishioners. Their visit, known as the Holy Land Coordination, is an annual event that began in 1988 at the request of the Vatican. Each year they come at the invitation of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land and focus on prayer, pilgrimage and advocacy with the aim of acting in solidarity with the local Christian community.

The tiny Christian community of Gaza is made up of about 2,500 Christians out of a total Gazan population of more than 1.5 million people. The majority of the Christians belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, with just under 200 Catholics living in Gaza. Israel has blockaded the Gaza Strip since Hamas took control in 2007, although it loosened restrictions in 2010. Egypt opened one border crossing to Gaza in 2011.

“In the seemingly hopeless situation of Gaza, we met people of hope,” the bishops said. “We were encouraged by our visit to tiny Christian communities which, day after day, through many institutions, reach out with compassion to the poorest of the poor, both Muslim and Christian.”

At least one bishop remarked on the destroyed buildings and pock-marked facades that remain from Israeli shelling of Gaza.

In their statement, the bishops noted the warmth with which they were received in Gaza, and also the Christians’ request that they not be forgotten by the world’s Christians, whom they asked to pray for them and support them in whatever way they can.

The delegation also visited Palestinian Catholic schools in Gaza, East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, West Bank.

Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, said he was impressed by the “efforts for education” at Bethlehem University, the Schmidt’s Girls College in East Jerusalem, and the Catholic schools in Gaza.

“(These efforts) build a foundation which have a final impact on the interaction with different cultures and faith,” the bishop said during a Jan. 15 visit to the German Catholic girls’ school, where some 500 girls study from kindergarten through high school. “Education offers a perspective that will hopefully give way to peace.”

Rudiger Hocke, headmaster, told the bishops that several graduates of the school have already served in Palestinian governmental positions. He said while the school does not encourage emigration, it sees its mission as preparing its students for wherever life might take them.

“Palestine is a country where children do not know where they will end up in 10 years. They must be able to function in all parts of the world,” he said. In addition, he said, he sees his charges as the future leaders of their society for negotiations and contact with the Israelis, and they must be able to function on an equal level with their Israeli counterparts.

Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he was struck by the important role Christian institutions and organizations such as the schools play in reconciliation between Christians and Muslims.

“We often picture Muslim-Christian relations in the rest of the world being antagonistic but here … at least where Christian institutions are running (programs), they really build relationships. It is quite remarkable and hope-filled,” said Archbishop Durocher.

He compared the complete isolation of the Gazans to building a wall around Montreal and not giving people freedom of movement. Nevertheless, he said, “the complexities of the issues are overwhelming.”

“From outside it is difficult to understand why (the Israelis and Palestinians) don’t just sit down and talk and solve their problems. But then you realize that the roots of the problem (of) distrust are built over decades of fear, and that kind of feeds everything,” he said.

In this situation what is most remarkable is the resilience of the people, he added, and the hope they maintain in the midst of their struggle.

“It is a testimony to the human spirit,” he said.

Bishop Declan Lang of Bristol, England, said it is also important to “have sensitivity to the needs of the people who live in Israel.”

“We have to (hear) the hope, fears and expectations of both communities,” he said.

South African Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town said he felt a “great affinity” with the Palestinians, whose suffering he compared to blacks in South Africa under apartheid.

“I personally would not call (Israel) an apartheid state. I believe there are nuances in the Holy Land which must be recognized … but it is very similar to apartheid in the sense of the loss of human dignity and of the subjection of people to the political will of others,” said Archbishop Brislin.

He said South Africa’s example should offer hope to the people of the Holy Land.

“We must never forget that democracy in South Africa brought not only liberation to black people but also to white people, because it freed whites from the burden of oppressing people and allowed us to develop normal relationships with our fellow human beings,” the archbishop said. “The same can be true of the Holy Land, and I believe it will be.”

 

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Church leaders wary of ‘World Heritage’ status for Bethlehem church

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JERUSALEM — Palestinians are hopeful that UNESCO will recognize the city of Bethlehem as the first Palestinian World Heritage Site, but Franciscans in charge of the city’s holy places say they do not want them included in the classification.

“We don’t want the (UNESCO) recognition for the holy places,” said a Franciscan source who asked not to be named. “We fear it could lead to nationalization of the shrines. The shrines are not tourist places, but are places of prayer and worship.”

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