The Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land (Israel, Palestinian Territories, Cyprus, and Jordan) met in plenary on October 26-27,2011 in Amman. The Assembly, created in 1992 meets twice a year, bringing together the Heads of Churches in the Holy Land to assess and discuss common problems.

The meeting was held at the Latin Vicariate of Amman in the presence of Archbishop Giorgio Lingua the apostolic nuncio in Amman, and Archbishop Antonio Franco, apostolic nuncio in Israel and Apostolic Delegate in Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories

The Latin Patriarch who is the President of the Assembly could not attend because he traveled to Assisi for the day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world at the invitation of the Pope Benedict. Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custos of the Holy Land  also missed the meeting because of the traditional pilgrimage of the Holy Land Catholic community to the baptismal site.

Present in the meeting were the five Latin Patriarchate vicars: Bishop Shomali (Jerusalem), Bishop Marcuzzo (Israel), Bishop Sayegh (Jordan), Father Herrera-Dias, OFM (Cyprus) and Father Neuhaus, SJ (Hebrew-speaking Vicariate); Archbishop Elias Chacour (Melkite Bishop of Galilee); Bishop Zerey (Melkite Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem); Bishop Ayyash (Archbishop of Petra and Philadelphia for the Melkite Catholic); and Bishop Boulos Sayyah (Maronite Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem and the Holy Land Jordan). Two priests represented the Syrian Catholics and the Chaldeans. The meeting was organized by Fr. Pietro Felet, Secretary General of the Assembly.

The first day opened with a word of welcome from Archbishop Chacour.  Discussions included, the participation of the Local Church in international congresses: World Congress on Pastoral Care of Tourism (Mexico – April 2012) World Meeting of Families (Milan, June 2012) and 50th International Eucharistic Congress (Dublin – June 2012);  the statutes of the Assembly; and establishment of commissions to study certain areas and other issues that needed attention and resolution.

Two important issues were presented.  The first was the formation of an episcopal commission for relations with Judaism and Islam. Bishop Shomali said, it was decided to establish “three sub-commissions” as follows: dialogue and realtions with Juadaism and Islam in Israel will be supported by Archbishop Chacour and Bishop Marcuzzo; Bishop Shomali for the Palestinian Territories; and Bishop Ayyash and Bishop Sayegh for relations with Islam in Jordan.

The second issue relates to “the pastoral care for migrants and asylum seekers,” which marks a new reality in the Holy Land. When speaking of the Christians in the Holy Land, we often think of them as foreign workers or refugees who immigrated to Israel. They now represent a population of more significance. They live mostly in Hebrew-speaking Israeli society. The Hebrew-speaking Vicariate is facing a profound challenge to meet the pastoral needs of Catholic immigrants. Father David Neuhaus,  presented the significant efforts in Israel to coordinate the work for various migrant communities in the country dedicated to pastoral care of foreign workers and asylum seekers. Father Herrera-Diaz presented the special situation of Cyprus and Father Raymond Moussalli, representative of the Chaldean Church described the reality of Iraqi refugees in Jordan. The site of the Hebrew-speaking Vicariate reports that at the meeting, the Assembly unanimously expressed its agreement to intensify work to serve this new population of Christians in the Holy Land.

The day ended with a Mass celebrated in the Greek Catholic Cathedral of Saint George in Amman. Three young people who participated in World Youth Day in Madrid gave their testimonies.

On the second day, a significant time was devoted to the issue of Catholic schools in the Holy Land. Sister Virginie Habib of the Rosary Sisters and Father Imad Twal of the Latin Church in Jordan presented a general overview of the schools emphasizing their development plan and mission, the role of catechists, their financial problems, and the percentage of Christians in their midst. Religious education reports were given by the three offices for schools in the three areas of the diocese: Father Riyad Hijazeen for Jordan, Father Faysal Hijazeen for Palestine and Deacon Jiryis Mansour for Israel.

Christopher Lafontaine

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