Led by Bishop Richard Pates, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice & Peace, 18 bishops from the United States recently returned from a “Prayer Pilgrimage for Peace in the Holy Land.” In their own words, here’s what they saw:
We went to the Holy Land as men of faith on a Prayer Pilgrimage for Peace. Motivated by the love of Christ and deep concern for both Israelis and Palestinians, we went to pray for peace, and to work for a two-state solution and an open and shared Jerusalem. Arriving in the wake of the recent Gaza war, though, we encountered pain, intransigence and cynicism. Even the young people are discouraged. But we also saw signs of inspiration and hope.
Prayer was the central element of our pilgrimage. Through daily liturgies at holy sites and local parishes, we experienced our communion in Christ with local Christian communities. We are grateful to those at home who supported our pilgrimage with prayers and interest. We also prayed alongside Jews, Muslims and other Christians. Prayer is powerful. We know peace is possible because God is our hope.
We met with people of goodwill, Palestinian and Israeli alike, who yearn for peace. We were inspired by the commitment of the staff and partners of Catholic Relief Services, The Pontifical Mission, and the local Christian community, who are providing relief to the people of Gaza; by the efforts of Christians, Muslims, and Jews who are building bridges of understanding; and by the mission of the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre. We were moved profoundly by our visit to Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, and were encouraged by Bethlehem University, a Catholic institution that is building bridges between Christians and Muslims as they study together to create the future of Palestine, and by the Church’s schools that are open to all.
We are compelled by the Gospel of Peace to share the fruits of our prayers and encounters with Israelis and Palestinians. Two peoples and three faiths have ancient ties to this Land. Sadly, Jerusalem, the City of Peace, is a sign of contradiction. We were told more than once that the city could erupt in violence as it has on far too many occasions.
The towering wall that divides Israelis and Palestinians is another sign of contradiction. For Israelis, it is a sign of security; for Palestinians, a sign of occupation and exclusion. The contrast between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is also a sign of contradiction. In crossing the border one moves from freedom and prosperity to the intimidation of military checkpoints, humiliation, and deeper poverty.
The situation of Christian Palestinians is an added sign of contradiction. The Christian community is emigrating at alarming rates. As we learned from Patriarch Fouad Twal, the unresolved conflict and occupation undermine human dignity and the ability of Christians to raise their families. Israeli policies in East Jerusalem prohibit Christians who marry someone from outside the City to remain there with their spouse, and security policies restrict movement and confiscate lands, undermining the ability of many Christian families to survive economically. The harsh realities of occupation force them to leave. Muslims also suffer similarly, but have fewer opportunities to emigrate…
Learn about the USCCB’s advocacy for peace in Palestine and Israel.