Build peace with justice immediately in Gaza – Bishop Field
Concluding a week long visit of solidarity to the Holy Land, Bishop Raymond Field, Chair of the Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs and Father Eamon Martin, Executive Secretary of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, have expressed alarm at the level of human suffering and living conditions currently being experienced by the people of Gaza. Bishop Field called for immediate action to end hostilities in order to begin building peace with justice in the region.
Bishop Field and Fr Martin are part of a delegation of Catholic Church leaders from Europe and North America visiting Christians of the Holy Land whose purpose is to express solidarity with them and listen to their concerns at this time. The visit was organised by the Co-ordination of Episcopal Conferences on behalf of the Holy See.
As well as meeting parishioners, students, teachers and clergy, the delegation spoke directly with His Beatitude Fouad Twal, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem; Bishop Boulos Marcuzzo, the Bishop of Nazareth, as well as communicating by telephone with Fr Manawel Musallam, parish priest of Gaza. Discussions focused on the pressures on the Christian people and priests in Gaza (see statement below by the Latin Patriarch).
Commenting today from Bethlehem manger square, about 40 miles from Gaza, Bishop Field said: “The horror and destruction of Gaza gets worse every day. From the posters and graffiti all around us, to the black flags flying from the Church of the Nativity, everywhere we look stark reminders of this human and societal tragedy exist. The most moving point of our visit was to hear the parish priest of Gaza, Fr Manawel Musallam, describing the terrifying nightmare that his people are living through.
“Fr Musallam told us about the death from fear and shock of a 14 year old girl in his parish, and about the chronic lack of food, water and energy which is threatening their very lives. Fr Musallam pleaded with us: ‘The world is not giving us our right; stop our living like animals in a prison. Do justice for Palestine and you will have lasting peace.’
“We assured Fr Manawel that the thoughts and prayers of people in Ireland are with him and with all the people of Gaza at this time.”
Fr Eamon Martin, a native of Derry, said that there was much interest in the delegation and amongst the people they met in the Northern Ireland peace process. Fr Martin said “The checkpoints and barriers, the soldiers on the streets, ongoing news of bombings, killing and maiming remind us of our own tragic past. So too do the suspicions and segregation, the complications, divisions and subdivisions, the fears and propaganda.
“We met with parishioners from the village of Jifna and the town of Ramallah, students at Bethlehem University and seminarians at Beit Jala. We were struck by their daring to hope for the future of their land, their heartfelt desire for a just and lasting peace, and their determination to live in their land because it is their land. Many have relatives or close friends who are suffering in Gaza and it also struck me that, like at home, nearly everyone here is affected in one way or another by the troubles, everyone is caught up in the spiral of violence and mistrust, and everyone has a contribution to make to healing, reconciliation and peace building.”
Bishop Field concluded, “The people of Gaza are crying out for prophetic leadership. They urgently want pressure and persuasion to be brought to bear on all those who can influence peace-building. Above all they are convinced that the violence and killing must stop, and that there is a duty and responsibility on their leaders to engage in meaningful negotiation which respects difference. This cannot happen, I believe, unless there is a readiness to forgive. Otherwise true peace with justice can never become a reality.”
The official communiqué from this delegation follows.
The Latin Patriarch, His Beatitude Fouad Twal made the following address at the end of the Christian schoolchildren’s procession through Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas. The Latin Patriarch is hosting the Holy Land Co-ordination, led by Archbishop Patrick Kelly. The Episcopal Co-ordination 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.
Statement from the Latin Patriarch, His Beatitude Fouad Twal
I welcome you all here in Bethlehem in these days when we are witnesses to so much horror in Gaza and with you I say: violence, no matter where it comes from or whatever form it takes, must be condemned. As we gather here together in the name and in the spirit of the Prince of Peace, the child who was born to be the light of the entire world and the hope of every human heart, I want to take this opportunity to condemn the violence in the Middle East and in a special way the attacks in the Gaza Strip. In two weeks these attacks have hurt Israel and the region more than all the rockets launched across the years.
The birth of the child Jesus in the lowly stable of Bethlehem, so weak and undefended, leads us naturally to think of the situation in Gaza, where over the past two weeks we have witnessed a renewed outbreak of violence. This violence has caused a huge loss of life and destruction of homes, schools and institutions, wreaking immense damage and bringing terrible suffering for the civilian population, especially to many innocent children.
Violence tempts us because it seems as if it might resolve our problems. This is a false hope. This outbreak of violence brings nothing but complications in the quest for a just settlement to the conflict, which is fervently sought by people across this land and indeed across the world.
The Christmas season always brings joy and hope. Let us begin this New Year with the hope that peace is on the horizon across the world and most assuredly in Palestine and Israel.
We are today strengthened in our prayers and our hope for peace by the strong words of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI:
“Once again I would repeat that military options are no solution and that violence, wherever it comes from and in whatever form, must be firmly condemned. I express my hope that with the decisive commitment of the international community, the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip will be re-established – an indispensable condition for restoring acceptable living conditions to the population – and those negotiations for peace will resume, with the rejection of hatred, acts of provocation and the use of arms.”
Even as Jesus, born right here, had a mission meant for the whole world so too do the problems of our Holy Land require an approach that requires an approach that goes beyond our borders. This will require the adoption of a global approach to the problems of these countries, with respect for the legitimate aspirations and interests of all parties.
We are a people who have suffered and continue to suffer from violence for 60 years. We are also re-born children of God, whose Son came here and who suffered so that all may hope in His victory. Thus, our thoughts and prayers go, not just to the people of the Holy Land, but also to those in other lands who are also suffering discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion.
The terrible images of the suffering people in our Land, particularly the images of the youngest victims in Gaza, have opened wells of compassion within us. In the name of our God, who showed His compassion by sacrificing His Son for us, we look to suffering everywhere and raise our voice in defence of children who, 20 years after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, remain vulnerable, are in need of humanitarian assistance and who, above all, have been deprived of their elementary rights and dignity.
We are not political leaders, but as we pray for Christ to come into our hearts, to strengthen us in our hope and faith, today we take on the mission of Christ, which knows no boundaries or borders. Let our love, sacrifices and prayers lead political leaders to building a civilisation of love, reconciliation and security to everyone.
Certainly the list of horrors and sufferings has no end. However, the answer to all of this suffering was born here and begins again today with us here in the Holy Land.
Let the mission of the Christ child, born to witness by the cross, to the compassion of God, be renewed in us today.
Let the presence of these children here among us today remind us that our weakness and our powerlessness is no barrier. For the Saviour of the world did not come in worldly might and pomp, but came in weakness. Today we are victorious in the presence of the risen Christ, who has given us a share in His victory through the forgiveness of our sins, and communion with His father through our communion with all mankind, especially the poor, the suffering and the persecuted persons.
All we need to do is embrace and announce that victory; and then carry it to the world. Today let us begin, in our families and in our towns, once again to take up the cross of love and justice and to take it to all who are looking for the victory of God’s love, wherever they may be. Let all those who suffer wherever they may be, but particularly in these days and in these lands witness our love, commitment and solidarity for them, in the name of Our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Lord, Prince of Peace, give us your peace that the world, the violence and the occupation cannot give. Lord we still believe in your mercy empower our faith.
Martin Long, Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm, Communications Officer (087 233 7797)