Catholic Summit Sends Message Of Solidarity To Holy Land Church
January 16, 2003



A Catholic summit in Jerusalem organized by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem ended on Thursday 16 with a message of support for the Christians of the Holy Land and a set of proposals.

The meeting - which included meetings with President Katsav of Israel and President Arafat of the Palestinian Authority - examined in some depth the situation in the Holy Land.

The event was hosted by His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch, and attended by delegates from the Catholic Bishops' Conferences in England and Wales, the U.S., Germany, Canada, Spain and Italy as well as the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) and the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE).

The co-ordination led by Archbishop Patrick Kelly, vice-president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, Bishop William Skylstad, of the U.S., Bishop Jacques Berthelet, of Canada, Bishop Joan Enric Vives, of Spain, Bishop Reinhard Marx, of Germany, and Monsignor Piergiuseppe Vachelli of Italy, issued a call for renewed international advocacy for peace in the Holy Land.

In a message to the Christians of the Holy Land, the visiting bishops of Europe and North America said: "It is clear that fear and mistrust grip many more besides you, our Christian sisters and brothers. Yet at the same time, we have been assured of widespread longing for justice and peace, and have experienced the lively hope that must, it seems, inspire the continued courage and dedication of so many people, not least your own commitment to reconciliation."

It added: "Until God grants the peace for which we all long, we promise to work without ceasing to help sustain you, our brothers and sisters in faith in Jerusalem, Palestine, Israel and Jordan.

"To you who first witnessed the risen Christ and seek a rightful share in the peace which can be found only in him, we pledge our love and solidarity."

The new proposals agreed by the peace summit were:

(1) Increased contact between our conferences and the Church in the Holy Land (the Assembly, the Latin Patriarch, the Nuncio, the Heads of Churches and other relevant church bodies) is necessary,

(2) The steering capacity of the facilitating bishop's conference ought to be strengthened. To this end, the Coordination facilitator will be responsible (a) for proposing issues for common advocacy (e.g., matters of humanitarian access), and (b)for identifying 'best practices' (e.g., child sponsorship and partnership programs).

(3) Regular and crisis communication among our conferences, on Holy Land issues, ought to be expanded.

(4) Information and proposals for action ought to be extended to a wider circle of conferences and Catholic organizations. Where feasible, additional conferences ought to be invited to participate in our meetings.

The meeting also agreed that:

* while resuming pilgrimages of the faithful on a large-scale may not be possible under present circumstances, every effort should be made to encourage pilgrimages by leadership groups in the Church,

* the material needs of the Holy Land's Christians are urgent,

* sharing information on how donations are used will encourage further generosity,

* we value the increased collaboration on the part of local and international Catholic agencies in the Holy Land and will continue to work with such agencies, particularly with Caritas Internationalis,

* we encourage placing the Holy Land on the agendas of the annual continental and inter-continental bishopsâ€(tm) meetings and should be prepared to provide information for preparation of these meetings,

* we support ecumenical collaboration in efforts to express solidarity with the Christians of the Holy Land and take particular note of relevance of 'accompaniment programs' like that sponsored by the World Council of Churches and endorsed by the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, and

* interfaith dialogue with Jews and Muslims should be enhanced and it is  hoped he fruit of these dialogues will include reconciliation and a shared pursuit of peace.

The full messages and proposals and a history of the coordination are below.

A MESSAGE TO THE CHRISTIANS OF THE HOLY LAND FROM THE VISITING BISHOPS OF EUROPE AND NORTH AMERICA

JANUARY 16, 2003  - JERUSALEM

To our Christian brothers and sisters of the Holy Land;

To His Beatitude, the Latin Patriarch, the president, and their Excellencies, the members of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land;

To their Beatitudes, the Greek and Armenian Patriarchs of Jerusalem, and their Excellencies, the bishops and heads of Churches in Jerusalem and the Holy Land;

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Cor 13:13).

A year ago, you shared with us your sufferings and spoke of your yearnings for justice and peace.  To our great sorrow, as we return a year later, we have heard not of greater peace and hope, but only of even more violence and deeper despair.

Security measures have become more oppressive; unemployment has increased; poverty of body, mind and even spirit is ever greater.  We have also witnessed people's dread and dismay at the threat of war in Iraq.

It is clear that fear and mistrust grip many more besides you, our Christian sisters and brothers.  Yet at the same time, we  have been assured of a widespread longing for justice and peace,  and have experienced the lively hope that must, it seems, inspire the continued courage and dedication of so many people, not least your own commitment to reconciliation.

Last year we said, "The present cycle of violence is a tragedy for everyone. It is profoundly wrong to keep a people under occupation; it is abhorrent to hold millions of men, women and children confined in one enormous jail. It is likewise morally reprehensible to take vengeance or undertake resistance with random attacks on innocent people."  The continuing violence, in so many different forms, indicates to  us: something is profoundly wrong.

Pope John Paul's words a year ago are confirmed by the sad story of the last twelve months:

No one can remain indifferent to the injustice of which the Palestinian people have been victims for more than fifty years. No one can contest the right of the Israeli people to live in security. However, neither can anyone forget the innocent victims, on both sides, who fall day after day under the blows of violence. Weapons and bloody attacks will never be the right means for making political statements to the other side. Nor is the logic of the law of retaliation capable any longer of leading to the paths of justice.

On our return home, we requested our national bishops' conferences, regional groupings of conferences, and Catholic justice and peace commissions to make advocacy on behalf of peace in the Holy Land a priority matter. This they have done, although this year we have become increasingly aware of the need for these groups to continue their efforts and to co-ordinate their work more effectively.  We have continually tried to improve public awareness of the facts, and understanding of the issues underlying the facts.  As we promised, we ourselves have returned.  Regrettably, our attempts to bring large numbers of pilgrims have so far met only with limited success, though pilgrimages have continued and have been a source of mutual encouragement.

We renew the promise we made a year ago.  Until God grants the peace for which we all long, we promise to work without ceasing to help sustain you, our brothers and sisters in faith in Jerusalem, Palestine, Israel and Jordan.  To you who first witnessed the risen Christ and seek a rightful share in the peace which can be found only in him, we pledge our love and solidarity.

It is because Jesus of Nazareth is risen and his tomb is empty that, especially in the darkest days of your sufferings, we rejoice with you in this sure confidence: "Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us." (Rom 5:5)
  .
With our constant prayers, we are

Devotedly yours in Christ,

Bishop Jacques Berthelet C.S.V.
President, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Archbishop Patrick Kelly
Vice-President, Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, and
Delegate, Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe

Bishop Reinhard Marx,
Delegate, German Bishops' Conference

Bishop William Skylstad
Vice-President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Bishop Joan Enric Vives
Delegate, Spanish Bishops' Conference

Monsignor Piergiuseppe Vachelli
Sub-Secretary, Italian Bishops' Conference
 

16-Jan-03

A Proposal to Member Bishop Conferences For Strengthening Coordination In
Support of the Church In the Holy Land

--A Working Paper--


Strengthening the Coordination

The continuing violence in the Holy Land and particularly the occupation and siege of the Church of the Nativity in April and May, 2002, reveal the need to strengthen the workings of the Coordination. The primary need is for transnational coordination in the areas of advocacy and information-sharing.

Improved coordination will enable our conferences to communicate more effectively with our particular churches as well as with our governments, political leaders and the public. Our advocacy may be improved by taking the following steps.

(1) Increased contact between our conferences and the Church in the Holy Land (the Assembly, the Latin Patriarch, the Nuncio, the Heads of Churches and other relevant church bodies) is necessary.

(2) The steering capacity of the facilitating bishop's conference ought to be strengthened. To this end, the Coordination facilitator will be responsible
(a) for proposing issues for common advocacy (e.g., matters of humanitarian access),
and (b)for identifying 'best practices' (e.g., child sponsorship and partnership programs).

(3) Regular and crisis communication among our conferences, on Holy Land issues, ought to be expanded.

(4) Information and proposals for action ought to be extended to a wider circle of conferences and Catholic organizations.

Where feasible, additional conferences ought to be invited to participate in our meetings.

Amplification of Last Year's Proposals

Last year's proposals remain valid. On the basis of what we have learned this last year, we make the following additional recommendations:

(1) In addition to conversion and other spiritual benefits, pilgrimages may be a sign of solidarity with the Christians of the Holy Land and a major source of their material support. While resuming pilgrimages of the faithful on a large-scale may not be possible under present circumstances, every effort should be made to encourage pilgrimages by leadership groups in the Church.

(2) The material needs of the Holy Land's Christians are urgent. We recognize the generosity of several conferences even as we understand our respective conferences are differently poised to offer material help.

(3) We believe that sharing information on how donations are used will encourage further generosity.

(4) We value the increased collaboration on the part of local and international Catholic agencies in the Holy Land. We shall endeavor to collaborate with such agencies, particularly with Caritas Internationalis.

(5) We would encourage placing the Holy Land on the agendas of the annual continental and inter-continental bishops' meetings. The Coordination should be prepared to provide information for preparation of these meetings.

Ecumenical and Interfaith Activity

(1) We support ecumenical collaboration in efforts to express solidarity with the Christians of the Holy Land. We take particular note of relevance of 'accompaniment programs' like that sponsored by the World Council of Churches and endorsed by the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem.

(2) Interfaith dialogue with Jews and Muslims should be enhanced. We hope the fruit of these dialogues will include reconciliation and a shared pursuit of peace.
 

The Episcopal Conference Coordination
In Support of the Church
In the Holy Land

A Word of Explanation

During the 1990s, the United States Catholic Conference had worked closely with the Holy See and the Church in the Holy Land on issues related to the Holy Land, particularly on the future of Jerusalem. In 1997, the Secretariat of State asked the USCC to coordinate its policies and activities related to the Holy Land with European conferences. In October 1998, during a meeting of bishops' conferences on Jerusalem, the presidents of American and European conferences agreed to join in an informal coordination.

The Coordination's founding members consisted of the conferences of Canada, England and Wales, France, Germany, the United States of America, and the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Latin America and the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe. From the beginning, it was hoped that Italy and Spain would also join the group. Italy, along with the Bishops' Commission for the European Union (COMECE) joined at the time of the 2002 meeting in Jerusalem, and Spain at the 2003 meeting.

From 1998 until 2003, the United States Catholic Conference served as facilitator of the Coordination. In mid-2003, the Conference of England and Wales took over primary responsibility for facilitation.

The Coordination is an informal working group. Authority over policy related to the Holy Land lies with individual conferences and councils / commissions of conferences. The original mandate was a broad one including coordination of finances. At the founding meeting in 1998, the bishop presidents narrowed the mandate to exclude finances, with a focus primarily on advocacy, communication and education. Because of the urgency of the material needs, however, there has been increased coordination of contributions at the local level under the leadership of the Apostolic Nuncio which includes some agencies connected to national conferences. Other areas of consultation have included pilgrimages and Episcopal conference visits.

From 1998 through 2001, the Coordination operated primarily at the staff level with staff reporting to their respective conferences. The crisis provoked by the al Aqsa Intifada made it desirable for bishop presidents and the representatives to meet once again both to express solidarity with the Christians of the Holy Land and to formalize the ties between the conferences at the level of Episcopal leadership. In 2002, the participants agreed to meet every year as long as the crisis continued. In 2003, expecting a continuation of the crisis, they agreed to meet again in January 2004 in a meeting that would allow them to spend additional time with the faithful of the Holy Land.