|Bishop Kenny presides at Mass in Gaza|
The Christian community of Gaza was the focal point of this year's visit to the Holy Land by Bishops from across Europe, North America and South Africa in support of the local Christian communities and the pastoral work of the Church at the service of all in the Holy Land.
The visiting Bishops make up the Holy Land Co-ordination, mandated by the Holy See, focusing on prayer, pilgrimage and advocacy for justice and peace 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 socio-economic pressure. This year it met from 12 January to 16 January, 2014.
The Christian community of Gaza is made up of around 2,500 Christians, of whom Catholics number just under 200, out of a total population of over 1.5 million. After celebrating mass with the Holy Family parish in Gaza and meeting the parishioners, the Bishops met with Religious Sisters and Christian agencies, visiting projects for the disabled and deaf and vocational training of young people. They also offered their support to the Christian schools and hospitals at the service of all in Gaza.
Time and again, the Bishops were thanked for their visit to Gaza as the people urged Christians across the world not to forget them, to pray for them and support them however they could.
In their final communique, the Bishops, called for an urgent resolution to the situation, describing Gaza as a man-made disaster:
"Gaza is... a shocking scandal, an injustice that cries out to the human community for a resolution. We call upon political leaders to improve the humanitarian situation of the people in Gaza, assuring access to the basic necessities for a dignified human life, the possibilities for economic development, and freedom of movement”.
Following the two day visit to Gaza, the Bishops met with representatives of Israeli civil society in Tel Aviv before going on to Bethlehem, Ramallah and Jerusalem. There they heard from senior Palestinian negotiators on the peace process before meeting with students from Bethlehem University. There they listened to the young people's experiences of day-to-day life in this divided land, following the encouragement of the Mayor of Bethlehem to all Christians to come on pilgrimage and meet Christian families, "the living stones" of the Holy Land.
On Wednesday 15 January, the Bishops visited Schmidt School in Jerusalem, which educates Palestinian girls, and heard about projects focusing on youth empowerment. They also visited the Cremisan Valley where the planned route of an Israeli security wall threatens the land and livelihoods of 58 Christian families based in the Bethlehem area. Families who will lose their land as a direct result of this wall, called for urgent intervention with building scheduled to start imminently. Their testimony brought home the fragility of their continued presence in the Holy Land and the urgency of their pleas for international support.
Following meetings with His Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal and the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, mass was celebrated for the Golden Anniversary of Catholic Relief Services.
The Holy Land Co-ordination concluded with a visit to the Armenian Patriarchate, following prayers and mass.
The group included Bishop Declan Lang and Bishop William Kenny from England and Wales.
For the Bishops' full communique: