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Statement by Archbishop Patrick Kelly on the crisis in Gaza

“Everyone I meet at this time speaks with immense sadness of the suffering and destruction taking place in Gaza and the fears of the people in Israel because of rocket attacks. As someone who beyond all deserving or planning on my part has visited the Holy Land many times and Gaza once, this sadness reflects my own heart at this time. The conflict has deep roots but the priority now must be the immediate end to all violence. Violence is evil especially when it blocks humanitarian relief desperately needed. Because the roots are so deep and complex this outburst of violence cries out for such wise and courageous leadership that justice for all those for whom the Holy Land is home is achieved so that all violence is relegated to the past and peace shall be secured for generations to come.

“Because of my brief visit to Gaza and messages from there in recent days I am also very conscious at this time of the small Christian community living in Gaza. The people, religious sisters and parish priest, Fr Manuel, need our prayers as they struggle to witness to the Gospel of Peace.  The Church in the Holy Land has a unique vocation and this week Bishop William Kenney CP and I will be travelling to Bethlehem along with bishops from Europe and North America to be in solidarity with the Latin Patriarch and the Local Church through the Holy Land Coordination. This is one of the means by which we seek to stand alongside the Christians living throughout Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

“The purpose of the Holy Land co-ordination has always been to accompany the Churches in the Holy Land in their fidelity to two God-given tasks: never to be silent in the face of injustice or violence and always to proclaim and live the reconciliation accomplished by our Lord on a hill called Calvary.  The situation in Gaza makes this visit of solidarity, above all in prayer, by Bishops from North America and Europe a clear call from the Holy Spirit as we begin 2009.

“I join with the Holy Father and the leaders of the Church in the Holy Land in their prayer for the dead, the injured, the broken hearted, those who mourn and live night and day in fear. We all need the fulfilment of that blessing first entrusted by the Lord God to Moses:

“May the Lord bless you and keep you.

May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you.

May the lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.”

Notes to editors

1. Holy Land Co-ordination 2009 (9 -15 January)

The Most Reverend Patrick Kelly, Archbishop of Liverpool and Vice President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, will be leading a group of European and North American bishops to the Holy Land from 9 to 15 January this year.

The Co-ordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church in the Holy Land was set up in Jerusalem in October 1998 at the request of the Holy See and is organised by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales. Last year at a meeting between Bishops from the Holy Land Co-ordination and the Vatican’s Secretariat of State Cardinal Bertone renewed the mandate and thanked the Holy Land Co-ordination for its vital work in supporting the Church in the Holy Land.

The Holy Land Co-ordination meets every January in the Holy Land with the aim of acting in solidarity with local Christians and sharing in the pastoral life of the local Church as it experiences intense political and social-economic pressure..

This year, there will be bishops from Canada, England and Wales, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the United States of America. The Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) and the Commission of the Episcopates of the European Union (ComECE). Caritas Internationalis, Catholic Relief Services, Pax Christi International, the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, the Pontifical Mission Society, Vatican Radio and the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation will also be represented.

All the participants join in prayer with local Christians and this year the Co-ordination will be based in Bethlehem. Many become personally involved in particular projects to offer practical help – this is something bishops can then take back to their own dioceses and conferences. Several of the bishops who take part in these meetings have themselves led pilgrimages to the Holy Land. One of the key focuses of the Holy Land Co-ordination is to encourage more Christians to go on pilgrimage to this land.

Some highlights from this year’s programme:

Meeting with students at Bethlehem University

Meeting with seminarians from Beit Jala seminary

Mass in parishes and meetings with parishioners across the West Bank

Walk to Bethlehem with school children from across West Bank

Briefings from the Nuncio and the Latin Patriarch

Meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials

Ecumenical meetings

Theological reflection with Fr Jerome Murphy O’Conner OP on St Paul and Jerusalem

Archbishop Kelly to talk on The Word of God and How the Synod Touches the Holy Land

There will be a press conference at the conclusion of this year’s Co-ordination on Thursday 15 January in Jerusalem at the Latin Patriarchate.

2. Fr Manuel Musallem is parish priest of Gaza. Before Christmas the Latin Patriarch celebrated Mass for the Catholic community in Gaza. (See photos of the Patriarch and Fr Manuel). The Patriarch was accompanied by David Ryall, AGS CBCEW.   

3. Statement by the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem.

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