Latin Patriarch: 'Christians have a duty to support the Holy Land'

 The meeting of ten Bishops' Conferences,co-ordinated by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, opened yesterday with a powerful address by the Latin Patriarch, His Beatitude Michel Sabbah. Patriarch Sabbah said: "the Holy Land is not only the scene of a political conflict between Palestinians and Israelis" but also "a Christian land" and therefore 'Churches of the world have the responsibility to affirm this Christian character of the land by making themselves present through many ways of presence, pilgrimages, reconciliation, and to respect the human person in general'. His Beatitude said: "What is required indeed from the Churches of the world is not to side with this side or the other but to help both towards reconciliation, because the reconciliation of both peoples is also the best way to help the Christian presence in this land." He highlighted the obtaining visas and residence permits for Church officials in the Holy Land as a 'new difficulty' relating to "freedom of movement for the personnel of our various Churches". "It is a question of religious freedom, a question of free access to the Holy Land which allows Churches according to the Fundamental agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel, to have the freedom of maintaining their presence in the Holy Land with all the required personnel, religious or lay," said Patriarch Sabbah. "This morning we had the visit of Mr Poraz, Minister of the Interior and in charge of Religious Affairs. But it is a question which still needs to find an adequate solution." Praising the bishops for meeting, he said: 'These meetings are important in order to strengthen our mutual communion and in order to find support and hope." The Patriarch's address came near the beginning of a busy schedule for the bishops, who are meeting for four days, initially at Bethlehem University, then at the Knights' Palace Hotel in the Old City, Jerusalem. The Apostolic Nuncio to the Holy Land, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, told the meeting of the grim reality of daily life for the Palestinian population and his fears that the security fence which the Israelis are building would pass through Catholic land. "The Pope has said that the Holy Land does not need walls, it needs bridges," he said. He said, however, there were reasons for hope, adding that one area in particular would give pleasure to Sister Margaret Scott, of the British Conference of Religious and a member of the delegation from England and Wales. "The religious are active in the Holy Land,and that is a sign of hope.'' said Archbishop Sambi. Brother Vincent Malham, President and Vice-Chancellor of Bethlehem University, said the university - which currently has 34 per cent Christian students - had been forced to close 12 times in its 30 year history. "Around three years ago, the building we are in was hit by three large missiles," he said. "When westerners come - and we have not had too many in the last three years - people here notice it," he said. "Your presence is very, very important. I pray it will be a sign of hope for people here in the Holy Land." Palestinian intellectual, Dr Bernard Sabella, spoke of the severe travel restrictions placed on Palestinians by the Israeli government: 'It is very painful because we feel we are in a cage.' He said: "Are we a happy people? Certainly not! We are traumatised people with a broken National Authority... We need to develop a vision for the future - a vision of what we want for our society. "The local Church cannot do it without the partnership of the Universal Church. Most Palestinians want peace, stability and an end to the occupation, not the old model of vengeance and continued conflict." Prof. Sabella added: "Absolutely, I reject suicide bombing, but I am also against Israeli target killings. As a Christian, I am against all killing." Bishop Wilton Gregory, President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said: "I am relieved we can all meet in the Holy City of Bethlehem. I am grateful to His Beatitude Michel Sabbah and Fr Frank Turner for making it possible." He outlined some of the work that was being done to make it easier for Church workers to get visas and residence permits - an area explained in greater detail by Fr Robert Fortin. And Bishop Gregory said he has urged US President George Bush to support the road map for peace and, with ecumenical colleagues, was lobbying to have a meeting with President Bush on the Holy Land. Archbishop Patrick Kelly, Vice-President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England & Wales and Archbishop of Liverpool, told the meeting of the efforts being made in England and Wales, including communications with the Israeli embassy in London, and debate in the House of Commons and House of Lords, where a letter from the Archbishop had been quoted. Commenting on the Holy Land situation, he said: "In many things which happen we see the seeds of hope." Last night, the meeting heard first hand from three members of the varsity staff how the current crisis has affected Bethlehem University. The bishops attending the summit come from England and Wales, the US, Canada, Austria, El Salvador, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Scandinavia and Switzerland and two European bishops' groupings. Source: CCS

Share this story