By Sarah Mac Donald - 06 January, 2015
Two Irish bishops will take part in this year’s Holy Land Co-ordination visit to Christian communities in Gaza, Bethlehem and Hebron.
Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly, who is due to be installed in Cashel & Emly, and Bishop Raymond Browne of Kerry will join bishops from England & Wales, Spain, Italy, Germany, the US, Canada, Switzerland, Scandinavia and the Church of England on the visit which takes place from 11 – 15 January.
During the visit, the bishops of the Holy Land Co-ordination will meet with His Beatitude Patriarch Twal and the Apostolic Nuncio to the Holy Land, Archbishop Lanzarotto, who was formerly Nuncio to Ireland.
Since the Bishops’ visit last year, the conflict in Gaza last summer resulted in the deaths of 2,000 Gazans, including over 500 children.
The United Nations estimated over 30% of the population were internally displaced as a result of the fighting.
The Christian community of Gaza is made up of 2,500 people, of whom Catholics number around 200, in a total population of over 1.5 million.
Religious Sisters run a home for the elderly, a centre for the disabled and a kindergarten and with the parish of the Holy Family are also involved in the running of the Catholic schools for the community.
After celebrating mass with the Catholic community, the bishops will visit Christian schools and hospitals to offer their support to the teachers and medical staff.
Following the two-day visit to Gaza, the bishops will go on to Sderot, an Israeli town hit by rockets fired from Gaza during the conflict and then on to Bethlehem, where they will be based for the remainder of the visit.
On Tuesday 13 January, the bishops will visit Hebron. They will also return to the Cremisan valley, where the planned building of an Israeli security wall threatens the livelihoods of over 50 Christian families based in Beit Sahour and Beit Jala (in the Bethlehem area).
On Wednesday 14 January, there will be visits to projects in the Bethlehem area, followed by a visit to Bethlehem University, where they will meet with students and staff, and to the seminary in Beit Jala.
Mandated by the Holy See, the Holy Land Co-ordination meets every January in the Holy Land, focusing on prayer, pilgrimage and persuasion with the aim of acting in solidarity with the Christian community there and sharing in the pastoral life of the local Church as it experiences intense political and social-economic pressure.