By Susan Gately - 11 January, 2019
“It is our duty and a privilege to stand in solidarity with Christians in Palestine and Israel as we seek to understand the pressures that force that decline in population.”
Bishop Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor, and Bishop Alan McGuckian SJ, Bishop of Raphoe, will be among 17 bishops taking part in this year’s annual ‘Holy Land Coordination’ group visit in support of the Christians of Israel and Palestine.
This visit, which starts today, will focus on the theme ‘Christians in Israel; challenges and opportunities’, and will continue until 17 January.
“Christians are a tiny minority in both Israel and Palestine and in recent years their numbers continue to fall,” said Bishop McGuckian, chair of the Irish Bishops’ Council for Justice & Peace. “It is our duty and a privilege to stand in solidarity with them as we seek to understand the pressures that force that decline in population. Our presence here is also an outward expression of support to them as our brothers and sisters.”
The 17 bishops represent countries from across Europe, North America and South Africa. The Holy Land Coordination, which is mandated by the Holy See, meets every January with a focus on prayer, pilgrimage and persuasion. “Its aim is to act in solidarity with the Christian community as it experiences intense political and social-economic pressure in the Holy Land,” according to a press briefing.
“We have come to stand in solidarity with Christian communities in the Holy Land, who are an important part of our family and make a rich contribution to society, both in Israel and Palestine, as we will see in visits to Christian schools, hospitals and in dialogue with local politicians,” said Bishop Declan Lang, chair of the Holy Land Coordination group.
Bishops have been making this pastoral visit to Israel and Palestine for the past 20 years. This year’s meeting will be held in the city of Haifa, and there will be visits to Christian hospitals, schools and villages. Prayer is the framework of each annual visit of the group, with the daily celebration of Mass, often in different rites. The bishops will also take part in inter-faith encounters.
On Sunday 13 January the Coordination group will travel to the Palestinian town of Zababdeh to celebrate Mass with the local community. Zababdeh, where three-quarters of the population is Christian, is located in the poor, under-developed and often overlooked northern region of the West Bank.
According to a press statement, while the Holy Land Coordination is not a fund-raising or project-based body, considerable development investment and growth in pilgrimages have developed directly as a result of the bishops’ visits. “In difficult times the visiting bishops have often heard pleas for more pilgrims to come from their home countries, and there has been a concerted and successful effort on the part of bishops’ conferences to encourage pilgrimages, assisting many whose livelihoods depend on pilgrims.”
The bishops also speak at a high-level to their own governments, parliamentarians, Israeli and Palestinian ambassadors, and to the media, about a wide range of issues affecting the lives of Christians in the Holy Land. “In line with the approach the Holy See adopts everywhere else, the bishops do not seek privileges for Christians, but dignity and justice for them and for others in similar conflicts.
“The bishops are present every year, and through their presence they hope, above all else, to remind the ‘living stones’ of the Christian communities in the Holy Land that they are not forgotten by their brothers and sisters in other parts of the world,” it concludes.