By Ann Marie Foley - 16 January, 2020
Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor has noted that the Foreign Ministry of Israel had studied the reconciliation processes in Northern Ireland for “norms for advancing peace and understanding”. The bishop also heard that at the Foreign Ministry, there was a department for world religions and that the importance of dialogue was stressed. He said that while he was always wary of drawing over simplified conclusions, religions and churches had a role in promoting peace and understanding in Northern Ireland in the recent past and in particular during the past year when the political institutions were not functioning there.
“The church leaders did take the initiative of meeting with political parties and on the foot of that initiative, involving political parties in what one might refer to as variations on civic forum discussions and dialogues to which we invited different church representatives, different sectors in life and society, farmers, business people, politicians, those involved education, universities.”
He said that they tried to create context in which an encounter and dialogue ware possible.
“That is a vital ancillary task and role that the churches and religions can play to promote a context in which a purposeful politics serving peace and justice is possible,” the bishop said in an interview on Vatican Radio.
Bishops from across Europe and North America are continuing their annual visit to the Holy Land in support of the local Christian community there. Several Irish bishops are involved in the visit which concludes on 16 January.
Bishop Treanor said that on this, his second visit with Bishops to the region, the visit to Gaza dominated. “On entering Gaza one is struck by the isolation; of the place, of the territory and immediately by the evident poverty,” he said.
He was particularly struck by the numbers of young people under the age of eighteen, who the bishops saw walking around and not attending school. However, in contrast he also met young people who want to work for peace in a Catholic parish in Gaza run by Argentinian priest Fr Gabrielle Romanelli.
The bishops also visited a training and job creation project in Gaza, and Bishop Treanor said that there he witnessed was a group of young people interested, “notwithstanding the difficulty of their context and its complexity, in forging a future for themselves, to develop their own skills, their own talents.” Each of them in different ways, he commented, “touched upon their desire, (A) to remain in Gaza, (B) to have a normal life there; thirdly, to engage in peace promotion and the search for justice.”
The Bishop visited a centre run by religious sisters which provides care to children with disabilities and those who have been abandoned by parents and was struck by the love, care and attention provided by the sisters to their charges.
The Bishop’s visit focused on Christians in Gaza, East Jerusalem and Ramallah. This annual visit was set up over twenty years ago at the invitation of the Holy See with the aim of visiting and supporting the Holy Land’s local Christian communities as they experience the political and socio-economic realities of living in Israel and Palestine.
The bishops celebrated Mass on Sunday 12 January with the small Christian community in Gaza. Following the celebration of this Mass, a visible act of solidarity, the bishops visited Catholic charities, met young people, visited Christian parishioners, as well as the sick in the community.
They met church leaders including Archbishop Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator to the Latin Patriarchate, and Nuncio Archbishop Girelli to discuss the current situation. They also had meetings with Palestinian and Israeli officials.