Israeli Leader Hears Bishops' Concerns About Security Fence

U.S. Episcopate President Tells of Meeting With Moshe Katsav

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JERUSALEM, JAN. 16, 2004 ( Bishops of Europe and America had a «very frank» meeting with Israeli President Moshe Katsav, noting their concern about the security fence being built in the West Bank.

The Israeli president in turn described to the bishops «Israel’s policy in response to events over the last three years and on the construction of the defense barrier to combat terrorism,» explained Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, who attended the meeting.

The meeting took place in the wake of the bishops’ meeting in Bethlehem and Jerusalem this week.

Bishop Gregory told the Italian newspaper Avvenire: «We bishops answered by asking him to understand the negative repercussions of the settlements for dialogue and the problems that will result from the construction» of the barrier.

«These problems will not affect the radicals but rather the moderates who continue to seek a way to reach an agreement,» he said in statements published today.

«The lives of many people will be destroyed by this wall that will separate families, boys from schools; it will impede direct access to services and work. And this will increase the frustration in a context that is already too influenced by this feeling,» the American prelate said.

Bishop Gregory said that the next time he meets U.S. President George Bush he will tell him about «what I have seen.»

«We are not politicians, or strategists, or administrators of NGOs,» Bishop Gregory said when explaining the reasons for the prelates’ meeting. «We are pastors of our people and in every situation we must help to keep hope alive, which is based on the principles of our faith.»

The president of the U.S. episcopal conference summarized the conclusions he arrived at on this visit by quoting John Paul II: the «Holy Land needs bridges, not walls.»

«People do not really know one another,» Bishop Gregory said. «Young Palestinians have not had the opportunity to really speak with young Israelis, and vice versa. I think that if each one could experience the other’s frustration, they would not accept growing up in a world in which they are strangers to their neighbors.»

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