Photo: A delegation of the U.S. bishops visited the Gaza Strip, September 14. The bishops celebrated Mass with the local Christian community, talked to residents and surveyed the destruction of the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas. They also met the staff of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the bishops’ international relief agency, who have been working to provide disaster relief to those impacted by the violence. Photo by Matt McGarry/Catholic Relief Services
The longer we are here in the Holy Land the more complex we discover the issues to be and the more difficult to respond with the confidence born of knowledge and of concern for all involved.
First the spiritual. The prayer of the bishops has become more focused and more intense as we see the suffering, the injustices, the divisions and the lack of leadership. We cannot resolve the political, economic or social problems We listen. We learn. We sympathize.
Aided very much by the Latin Patriarch and his auxiliary bishops, we have met with the Armenian Patriarch, Jewish and Muslim groups and so many others that there is a danger of overload.
Yesterday we traveled from Jerusalem to the Galilee, stopping at the Mount of the Beatitudes to pray, as well as the place on the Sea of Galilee where Peter professed his faith in the Lord and was promised that he would be the rock on which the Church would be built. In the morning we offered Mass at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. I had a deep sense of the presence of Mary on this pilgrimage and, in fact, tomorrow we will be going to Ein Karem where Zachariah and Elizabeth lived, where Mary went in haste to her cousin Elizabeth who was six month with child. These moments are precious and at each and every one of them I pray for our Diocese, for the priests, deacons and religious and especially for the seminarians. I think of all of you, the wonderful and spirit-filled laity whose lives and example are a witness to all of Long Island.
The sad truth is that we are faced on every side by suffering. Palestinians have a long list of grievances. Their own leaders have not always been the best to represent them but whole families are suffering as a result not only of this latest conflict but from decades of feeling isolated, deprived of their freedom and receiving little or no help from those who claim to be their friends.
Israelis are proud of their country and much has been accomplished in this, the only democracy in the Middle East. Yet they too are tired of living under the threat of suicide bombers and rockets launched from Gaza that three time broke the recent cease fires.
The future is uncertain. No one has a ready answer. We met today with former President Shimon Peres of Israel who has established a Center for Peace. He said that peace is his one hope for the Jewish New Year. We met with leaders of the Palestinian Authority who spoke of the lack of political will locally and internationally to help achieve a peace based on justice.
I came back to the hotel this evening with many thoughts swirling in my head but one conviction that has never left me in these days. Peace is possible.
Prayer is powerful and we can never cease to be peacemakers placing our hope in God and never ceasing to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.