Jerusalem (Agenzia Fides) – “Not walls but bridges”, a quote from the Holy Father (Pope John Paul II 16 November 2003), was the title chosen for the declaration issued in Jerusalem by Catholic Bishops of Europe and the Americas after a four day visit to the Holy Land 12- 15 January.
Explaining the reason for their journey the Bishops say “we 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 devastating effect of the wall currently being built through the land and homes of Palestinian communities” the Bishops affirm, adding that the wall appears to be a permanent structure. The declaration continues: “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.
The Bishops say they have heard “the desire for peace, justice and reconciliation among both Israelis and Palestinians.” But they also noted 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.”.
During the brief time in the Holy Land the bishops also saw many encouraging signs of peace: “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”, they said.
The Bishops said they 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.
The Bishops who signed the declaration included: Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville and President United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool and Vice-President Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales, delegate, Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE); Bishop Reinhard Marx of Trier, German Bishops’ Conference; Bishop William Kenney, Auxiliary of Stockholm, Scandinavian Bishops’ Conference and Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE).(Fides Service 16/1/2004 lines 44 words 468)