Holy Land Prelates' Propositions

Assembly Presents Ideas to Episcopal Conferences

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JERUSALEM, JAN. 15, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of propositions of the assembly of Catholic ordinaries of the Holy Land to episcopal conferences worldwide.

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The following proposals were presented to the Episcopal Conference Working Group, at its consultation in Jerusalem in January 2002, by the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land. The proposals were received, considered, appropriated and affirmed by the Working Group, and will be presented by its members to their own episcopal conferences, as well as to those regional bodies which gather together groups of episcopal conferences.


1) Support from episcopal conferences

a) We call on our churches worldwide to recognise that the very presence of the Christian communities in the Holy Land (by which term we mean in this document, Israel, Jordan and Palestine) is threatened by the severity of the present conflict and by the economic devastation the conflict has caused. Where the Mother Church is endangered, the entire Church must be involved. Episcopal conferences, their Justice and Peace Departments, and other mandated justice and peace bodies, have a key role to play in studying and responding to the present conflict and in seeking to bring both sides to reconciliation. We urge these bodies to explore ways of giving to this a subject a high priority, and to develop their advocacy both nationally and regionally, for example, through the Commission of Bishops Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE), the Conference of European Justice and Peace Commissions, the Council of Bishops Conferences of Latin America (CELAM), the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC), and the Association of African Bishops Conferences (SECAM). We know that each episcopal conference must determine its own focus and strategy for effective advocacy.

b) One important form of personal contact falls exclusively within episcopal competence: to meet regularly and officially with the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land. We invite episcopal conferences, and those representing regional episcopal groupings, to consider holding regular meetings in the Holy Land. If the present tragic conditions persist, we recommend that a further meeting with the Assembly take place in about one year from now.


2) Encouragement of pilgrimages

We believe that pilgrimages to the Holy Land have great importance for the spiritual growth of Christians. Today, another consideration is timely that such pilgrimages also support the regional economy and develop solidarity. In order to assist both these aspects, of spiritual growth and solidarity, we encourage the use of tour companies and guides who can bring pilgrims to experience the Holy Land as a place of living Christian communities. Those visitors who wish to do so will therefore have the opportunity not only to make contact with the communities but to deepen understanding of their culture and conditions of life. For example, many groups have found it enriching to visit a local Christian parish to share its worship and to learn about its life. All pilgrims have an obligation at least to be sensitive to the present conflict.

In this connection, we note that even under the present tense conditions, pilgrimages are perfectly possible, when undertaken with due care and advice. It is crucial to find ways of addressing difficulties such as disproportionate insurance premiums. We suggest that any fear exhibited by Christians internationally at coming tends to increase the apprehension of local Christians at staying in their homeland: and we note that in the tradition of religious pilgrimage the acceptance of physical discomfort or risk is not unknown.

Pilgrimages can also lead to the measure discussed below in Section 3.

3) Parochial and diocesan twinning

We encourage parishes and dioceses in other countries to develop links with parishes and dioceses in the Holy Land. Through such links, deep bonds can be developed that will enrich both parties. Praying for each other and experiencing worship and witness in a different cultural setting can bring Christians closer in the reality of our common faith.

4) Serving Palestinian communities abroad

We know the pain caused to Christian families of the Holy Land by the economic crisis. During our meeting we became aware of the manner in which livelihoods have been systematically undermined by the expropriation of land, restrictions on travel, the sealing off of cities and punitive taxation. These measures have forced many people to emigrate to survive economically.

The human cost of this migration has been immense. Those staying behind are robbed of vital kin-support and help. For the great numbers in exile, pastoral care is essential. We ask dioceses and national conferences to assess the needs of their Christian communities in exile from the Holy Land, and to offer appropriate pastoral services, such as an annual day of prayer or special liturgies. The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation is a key resource in this respect, since it has the clear purpose of linking Holy Land Christians abroad to their homeland.

5) Supporting those groups working with the Christian community

We pay tribute to the many people who devote themselves to practical solidarity with the peoples of the Holy Land. We encourage parishes, dioceses and national episcopal conferences to make known the activities of groups such as the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre and other national Holy Land organisations, Caritas Internationalis, the Catholic Near-East Welfare Association, the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, Catholic Relief Services and many others, and to encourage even greater support for their work, including their work of advocacy and peace-building.


6) Catholic media: raising awareness

The two peoples of the region have suffered extreme violence, each from the other. But whereas the international media relentlessly stress such violence, the daily injustices suffered by Palestinians remain largely hidden from international public awareness. The achievement of peace requires a just settlement for the Holy Land, and this result in turn requires that the full truth of events be known. Systematic public education is required. In particular, we encourage our Catholic media, at local and national levels, to pay even greater attention to the plight of Palestinians, perhaps by means such as a regular Letter from Palestine, by the wider dissemination of material produced under the auspices of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, and by speaking tours and media appearances by members of the Assembly or their representatives.

We note also the need to train personnel for the media outreach of the Church of the Holy Land itself. Facilities can be provided for an appropriate body if the resources become available.

7) Research on Christian affairs

To promote broader awareness in the outside world and to enable effective advocacy programmes, there is a pressing need for further research on the difficulties and opportunities facing the peoples of the Holy Land, especially their social, political and economic problems. The local church must have the capacity to speak to the world of its own need. One way to tackle this requirement would be to stimulate research capacity, so that the region’s Christians can develop creative responses to their situation. The Assembly will provide a study of the forms that such a capacity might take. Whatever structures are proposed, any research facility would be an ecumenical initiative committed to the scholarly ideals of truth and objectivity.

8) Raising awareness in schools abroad

We recommend that schools and educational services, Catholic and other, review their religious education s
yllabi to consider whether greater attention needs to be paid to the present plight and the history of the Christian communities of the Holy Land, and the manner in which their lives, traditions and practices are portrayed, or even ignored.

9) Regular contact between episcopal conferences and political actors

In our Message to the Christians of the Holy Land and, through them, to all the peoples of the region, we recognise the violence and the suffering which the Palestinian people continues to endure. We also recognise the suffering inflicted on many Israelis by violence. The only way to overcome violence is through dialogue, to bring about reconciliation with justice; and at the heart of the present injustice is the fact of Occupation, which must be ended. In order to further the search for a just resolution of the conflict, the Church needs to develop its dialogue with political actors. We therefore suggest that the appropriate organs of national episcopal conferences, and regional episcopal bodies where appropriate, institute regular contacts with their own governments, and also with official representatives of the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel. These contacts will be informed by our own dialogue with the Holy See, and by the Holy Father s strong and consistent rejection of violence as a means of settling conflict. They also need to be enriched by our relationships with the churches of the Holy Land and with communities and persons of other religions.


10) Support for Schools

The following proposal is seen by both the Assembly and the Working Group as having the very highest priority. The Christian communities in the Holy Land place great weight on the best possible education for their children. Sadly, because of the current political situation and its crippling economic effects, following from the Second Intifada, and despite the dedicated work of teachers and parents, the region s schools face a crushing financial deficit. In addition to encouraging such measures as donating educational materials and promoting teacher exchanges, episcopal conferences are requested to examine, as a matter of urgency, the overwhelming need of the Holy Land s church schools for emergency financial help. Some instruments of providing support for the schools (such as child sponsorship schemes and the work of the Holy Childhood) show great promise. It might also be appropriate for episcopal conferences to approach other such potential supporters as the Knights of Columbus, since in the long term appropriate Foundations might be envisaged to meet the need. But these instruments will necessarily take time to develop, whereas the need to avert the closure of schools is absolute and immediate. The Assembly will provide relevant documentation about the Catholic schools of the Holy Land and their overall need.

11) Collections

Catholics have contributed generously to preserve the Holy Places and the heritage of the Holy Land, as well as to support pastoral works. Nevertheless there remains an urgent need for the further support for the living communities without whom the Holy Land would become a museum. All the measures here proposed require information and finance. We are conscious of the pressures on many of our Catholic people, and indeed on the works of our own episcopal conferences, which make it difficult for many Conferences to make long-term pledges. Nevertheless, we consider it essential that episcopal conferences strive to find ways

— Either: of increasing the proceeds of the present Collection for the Holy Places. Since that collection is divided between the Franciscan Custody, and the Holy See’s Congregation for Eastern Churches, an increase will result in more funds reaching the local church for the entire range of its needs

— Or: to raise funds in some other way, appropriate to each conference, since such funds can be distributed at each conference’s discretion.

We believe that increased generosity on the part of the worldwide Church presupposes an increased awareness, both of the situation of the local Church, and of the courage and authenticity of its current witness.

12) Strengthening the co-ordinating group’s capacity

Given the uniqueness of the Holy Land and the gravity of the situation currently facing its Christian people, we recommend that episcopal conferences, and such regional episcopal bodies as CCEE and COMECE, seek to expand the work of the co-ordinating group beyond those very few staff members currently engaged in it. This might be done by means of some bodies nomination of officers who can devote adequate time to the subject on a consistent basis, as well as, more generally, in ensuring that advocacy and solidarity work on this subject has prominence in their work and objectives.

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