Catholics urged to make plight of Holy Land Christians an election issue

Bishop William Kenney CP

Bishop William Kenney CP

Catholics in England and Wales have been urged to make the plight of Christians in the Holy Land an issue at the forthcoming General Election.

Bishop William Kenney, CP, a member and moderating bishop of the Holy Land Co-ordination 2010 said on Sunday: "I would encourage Catholics in England and Wales to raise issues concerning the plight of Christians in the Holy Land,  at the time of the General Election,  with their Member of Parliament and with prospective parliamentary candidates."

An auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham, who represents the Commission of Episcopal Conferences of the European Union, Bishop Kenney was forthright following his five-day fact-finding visit to Israel, from 10 - 14 January.  It was the ninth time he had travelled there as a member of the Holy Land Co-ordination.

Bishop Kenney said: "My message  has not changed. Firstly, prayer. Remember to pray for our Christian sisters and brothers in the Holy Land. Secondly, go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land if you can."

The Holy Land Co-ordination represents the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Europe and North America and was formed in Jerusalem during 2001 at the request of the Holy See.  The group was in the Holy Land as guests of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal.

Bishop Kenney, the moderating bishop of the Co-ordination, whose role was to give continuity to the process, emphasised: "We are not politicians and we do not have any political agenda.  The annual visits enhance our solidarity with the local Catholic community in the Holy Land."

Asked if the Council of Ministers of the European Union is playing a sufficiently robust role in trying to achieve a peaceful resolution between Israel and its Palestinian neighbours, Bishop Kenney replied: "I am very appreciative of what they have done, but I am always aware of the humanitarian situation for the Palestinians and particularly for those who live in Gaza."

Bishop Kenney went on to say: "The theme this year was the situation in Jerusalem, with particular concern over housing.  From the information given to us we are looking at  a very opaque situation!"

Asked if he had seen any improvements since the visit of the Co-Ordination Group in January 2009, Bishop Kenney replied: "Quite simply, no!"

On Sunday, 10 January,  the bishops made pastoral visits across the West Bank. Bishop Kenney concelebrated the 9am Mass with the Malachite Archbishop at a parish in the old city of Jerusalem. 

Bishop Kenney described how the security situation impacts the ordinary Palestinian Catholic community. He said: "For example, as a group, we visited the Comboni Sisters in Jerusalem on Wednesday,  13 January. The sisters run a kindergarten school but the infamous wall goes right through their property and this means that all the children live on the wrong side of the wall from the school.

"There is a gate in the wall that the Israeli police come and open in the morning to allow the children to get through to attend school. Later the police come again to allow the little children to go home.

"We were told that these arrangements would continue for a year but no one knows what will happen then!

"The police are supposed to come at 11.45am to open the door but on the day we were there, the little three and four-year-olds had to wait until 12.20pm before the police arrived. We were told that it is not unusual for the police to keep the little children waiting like this. The situation is ridiculous!”

Bishop Kenney, asked if he detected any sign of optimism following the Pastoral Visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the Holy Land during May 2009, replied: "Many of the ordinary parishioners we met in the parishes spoke enthusiastically about the Pope’s visit.  Sadly, as we pointed out in our final communiqué, nothing has happened. The powerful appeal made by Pope Benedict XVI fell on deaf ears."

The final communiqué was released at a press conference held at the Latin Patriarchate on Thursday, 14 January. 

In his concluding remarks Bishop Kenney explained the purpose of the communiqué: "It is not a press release.  The communiqué is a message relayed through the media addressed to the Catholic Christians of the Holy Land. The point of the message is to say to them, you are not forgotten.

"Secondly, it seeks to point out the Catholic Church’s view of the political situation. Thirdly, and most importantly, it is given to encourage our sisters and brothers who live in the Holy Land."
The signatories to the final communiqué represented the Catholic Bishops' Conferences of England and Wales, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Andorra, the Nordic countries, the United States of America, and Canada.

Archbishop Bernard Longley is leading the Birmingham Diocesan Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, 28 September - 7 October 2010.  It will be the first time that the new Archbishop of Birmingham has led this popular pilgrimage.

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