Here is a statement from the ordinary session of the Assembly of the Catholic Bishops of the Holy Land, which met this week in Bethlehem.
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The Heads of Catholic Churches in the Holy Land met on the 16th and 17th of September at the Caritas Betharram Center in Bethlehem to discuss the common challenges and issues facing their churches and countries.
1. They deplore the dramatic consequences of the Gaza war and appeal to the Palestinians and Israelis to resume negotiations for a comprehensive settlement of the conflict so that the same causes of dispute may not lead to the same results.
2. They consider the pilgrimage of the Holy Father to the Holy Land as successful on the pastoral and ecumenical level and encourage all their faithful to meditate and ponder deeper into the homilies and speeches delivered during this occasion. They hope that the Holy Father will be able to visit Galilee as he promised. For this occasion, they thank the Catholic Patriarchs of the East who joined in prayer all through the historical pilgrimage.
3. They hope that his fraternal meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew in the Holy Sepulcher will promote ecumenical dialogue and that the inter-religious prayer encounter in the Vatican gardens will generate peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land, despite what followed after that in the Holy Land in particular, and in the Middle East in general.
4. They are very anxious about the religious radicalism in Syria and Iraq, and condemn persecutions against minorities and the Christians in particular. The present events in Iraq and Syria threaten the Christian presence in the Middle East. The Bishops express their solidarity with all the victims and displaced persons and hope that the international community will oppose fundamentalism and allow the refugees to regain their homes. The Assembly of Bishops thanks the King of Jordan and his government for hosting Syrian and Iraqi refugees and offering them help and protection. The same gratitude goes to the Catholic Churches all over the world and to all international NGOs that demonstrate strong solidarity. They take pride in the Caritas organization in Jordan and Jerusalem for the great humanitarian work with the Syrian and Iraqi refugees and with the population of Gaza.
5. They reaffirm the Appeal of the Pilgrimage Committee in Jerusalem that pilgrims return without fear to the Holy Land. In fact, the pilgrims’ itinerary was always and is still very secure. Furthermore, pilgrims are a bridge of peace in this troubled area of the world.
6. They met with the teachers of our Christian schools in Beit Jala, thanking them for their dedication and work despite the very difficult economic situation. The Bishops will do their best to improve the status of these teachers.