Security Wall Causing Rifts, Say European and American Bishops

Prelates Lament a Lack of Political Will in Holy Land and Abroad

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JERUSALEM, JAN. 15, 2004 ( Bishops from Europe and the Americas who gathered here have issued a strong statement of solidarity with the Churches of the Holy Land.

At one point during their four-day meeting, the 15 bishops said: «We have seen with the devastating effect of the security wall currently being built through the land and homes of Palestinian communities. This appears to be a permanent structure, dividing families, isolating them from their farmland and their livelihoods, and even cutting off religious institutions.»

The statement, released today by the bishops at a press conference in the Old City of Jerusalem, continued: «We had an experience of the frustration and humiliation undergone every day by Palestinians at checkpoints, which impede them from providing for their families, reaching hospital, getting to work, attending their studies, and visiting their relatives.»

«We deplore the fact that, despite visible effort, some priests, seminarians, sisters and brothers and lay personnel are being denied or having difficulties in obtaining visas and residence permits to study and work in Israel and the Palestinian territories,» the statement added.

The bishops noted the victims on both sides of the Mideast struggle.

«We have seen the violence suffered by both communities,» they said, «the attack against Israelis in Gaza and the collective punishment of Palestinian citizens. We express our condolences for the deaths that have occurred during our stay and affirm our opposition to all bloodshed.»

«We have heard of the desire for peace, justice and reconciliation among both Israelis and Palestinians,» they continued.

«We have also observed with great regret the lack of political will not only in this region but in the international community to work for a peaceful settlement,» the prelates said. «We therefore call upon all our political leaders to respond to the desire for peace which the people of this Holy Land have deep in their hearts.»

The bishops explained that, despite the ongoing problems, they had witnessed many signs of hope during their short stay in the Holy Land.

«Most hopeful of all, however, is the vitality and commitment of the Church of Holy Land itself, including the fraternal relations between Christian leaders,» they said.

The bishops also highlighted the «small but notable increase in the number of pilgrims coming to Holy Places.» They added: «We call on all our fellow believers to bear witness to the truth of the message addressed to the Christians of the Holy Land during these days: ‘You are not alone.'»

The meeting, whose theme was «Universal Church in Solidarity with the Church of the Holy Land,» was attended by the Catholic ordinaries of the Holy Land, presided over by Latin-rite Patriarch Michel Sabbah.

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