Bishop Murphy preaches during Mass with his brother bishops in Jerusalem. Photo by Jen Hardy/ Catholic Relief Services

Bishop Murphy is part of a group of US bishops on a pilgrimage for peace in the Holy Land.

Last evening before going to dinner we bishops began a reflection on what we have been learning through this pilgrimage of prayer for peace. The observations were fascinating and wide ranging. We are convinced of the power of prayer and of the necessity of our being witnesses in the Middle East and that prayer is a powerful means to bring about peace.

We are influenced obviously by the people we are meeting and we still have to meet some of the major players in the recent 50 days war before we could ever offer any comments.

Today six of us went to Gaza and saw at first hand the destruction that came from the recent conflict. That conflict began when Hamas, the political leadership in Gaza,  began to send rockets into Israel. Three treaties or cease fire agreements fell apart ahead of schedule when Hamas renewed their rockets strikes which then provoked Israel, much stronger militarily, to respond.

Now we are in the post 50 day war period.  The suffering on both sides has been immense. I sense that there is a real fatigue that has been experienced in different ways by various groups in Israel and Palestine, as well as varying reactions by Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians. The last are the forgotten minority who are the victims no one, especially in the United States, bothers to talk about. There is much more to be said about that disappointing fact but that will wait for another moment.

This Sunday we broke into three groups, one to Gaza, one to Jifna in the West Bank and my group to Nablus, a large Palestinian city where the last of the Samaritans live.

Father Johnny Abu Khalil welcomed us to St. Justin Parish in Nablus where we celebrated Mass with the Catholic community there. The parish was a wonderfully spirited group of Palestinian families with whom we had a lively exchange after Mass. They had a great spirit and are very family oriented. Their school has 700 children, made up of Muslims, Christians and some Samaritans. Yes there are Samaritans!

The parish priest spent much time with us discussing the religious and political issues. He was very articulate and, while I may not have agreed with everything he said, he presented a strong case and offered us much information that was helpful.

After lunch with him we went to Mount Gerizim to visit the one priest of the Samaritans who number a total of 700 persons in the whole world. They are faithful to Torah, the first five books of the OldTestament. They keep Passover according to the Torah and maintain their traditions and marry only within their community.

From there we went to Jacob’s well where Jesus met the Samaritan woman. The Greek Orthodox Church has built a magnificent basilica over the well where Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of water. This beautiful passage from John’s Gospel is an integral part of our Lenten readings and is one of the most moving encounters of Jesus where he revealed to her and her compatriots that we worship God in spirit and in truth.

There is so much more to say but that will have to wait. Tomorrow we go to the Old City and then north to Nazareth. Everywhere we go we spend time in prayer for peace and reconciliation. I am more and more convinced that the witness of prayer for peace is the gentlest gift we can offer to this blessed land that continues to suffer from violence, hatred and division.