Your Excellency Archbishop Antonio Franco, Apostolic Delegate to Israel and Palestinian Authorities, Your Excellencies, Bishops and Representatives of Catholic Bishops Conferences, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We welcome you all, and we thank you for being faithful towards Jerusalem and the Mother Church. Your participation and your commitment towards strengthening the Mother Church, and your stand in our side in these years is highly appreciated. It is always a humbling pleasure to attend the Coordination meeting, that we come together for every year. It is a moving sign of the Catholicity of our life with Christ. Our relationship with him opens our hearts up, in unexpected ways to concerns and interests in people that we perhaps were not even enough aware of previously.
And so we are gathered here to learn, pray, discuss and seek to respond to the reality of Christ’s body, the Church here in the Holy Land. The recent Synod for the Church in the Middle East, which met this fall in Rome and which had as its theme “The Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness,” referred to this land as the place where, “Abraham’s vocation was initiated, … where the Word of God, Jesus Christ, took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, … where Jesus proclaimed the Gospel of life and the kingdom – where he died to redeem humanity and free us from sin, rose from the dead to give new life to all, and where the Church was formed and went forth to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to the world.”
In other words, it is a place where the Christian memory of sacred history is most dense, and where those baptized in the Name of Jesus, of whatever denomination, come to recover the historical memory of their faith and renew their commitment to God in His Son. And it is for all of these reasons, that the presence of the Church here is, as Pope Benedict XVI said during his visit in 2009, “precious in God’s eyes” and that he wished to assure the local church here, “of the solidarity, love and support of the whole Church and of the Holy See.” Your presence is the living proof of the seriousness of the Pope’s words made evident to me and to all of the local Christians you will meet in these days, as well as to the many others, who will benefit from the solidarity that you have come here to express.
This coordination meeting is an expression of our communion. The Synod propositions also stated that, “persecution must raise the awareness of Christians worldwide of the need for greater solidarity. It must also arouse in us the commitment to support and insist on international law and respect for all people. The attention of the whole world should be focused on the tragic situation of certain Christian communities of the Middle East, which suffer all manner of trials sometimes even to the point of martyrdom.” Painful experience caused us to write these words. They turned out to be a prophecy as well, when we think about the situation in Bagdad and Egypt.
I confess that our people lost credibility in speeches and visits of VIP political and religious personalities. They need to see concrete steps on the ground, for more justice and peace and dignity. They need us to be more involved. We are still anxious from the two extremisms: The Muslim one with his attacks against our churches and our faithful, and the Israeli right wing, invading more and more Jerusalem, trying to transform it to an only Hebrew – Jewish city, excluding the other faiths.
Israeli Civil Society Institutions: Unfortunately for long we ignored communicating with the Israeli civil society institutions, and know more than ever they are reduced, and lost their power. The Israeli public opinion is important to us, for they may say what we can’t say, and they may do what we can’t do. There is a real challenge for us all to communicate more with the left parties, and with the Israeli public opinion and to their civil society institutions to put more pressure on their government to work for peace.
Still, we should remember what the Synod Fathers wrote, “It is the kind of solidarity that we are living in this meeting that gives us the courage to make this purification and re-commit ourselves to the mission of the Lamb of God, sharing the cross with him and hoping to share His Resurrection. Obviously we can’t change the political situation, and in front of a frustrating situation, we can invest our time, energy, resources in making a difference to the life of our people. This is what the synod recommended in reinforcing and strengthening the local Christians in the Holy Land. So I invite you to consider contributing by your solidarity to the well being of our Christian communities, and to help us in giving a reason to stay in their home land and in preserving the Christian presence in Jerusalem in particular and in the Holy Land in general, through various sector of pastoral and social services.
The day before the beginning of the Synod, Pope Benedict said, “Pentecost is the original event of the Church, but also a permanent dynamism, and the Synod of Bishops is a privileged moment in which the grace of Pentecost may be renewed in the Church’s journey.” The Synod was indeed an experience of the movement of the Spirit, urging us to unity, penance and proclamation. This gathering here of the representatives of various Episcopal Conferences for the Coordination for the Holy Land, is also a Pentecost moment. It is evidence of that dynamic Spirit who creates the impossible unity called communion among the faithful, breaking “down the wall of partition between us.” (Eph 2:14) In this same Spirit then, sent by Christ, I welcome you all.
May the days to come allow us to discover the beauty of the communion among us, and may that beauty strengthen us in our commitment to solidarity. I hope that the meetings, visits and prayers of these days will reveal to us the way forward to sustain Christ’s mystical body here, so that this land may always have sons and daughters who are living stones, proclaiming that Jesus is alive and offering forgiveness and hope for all the inhabitants of this Holy Land.
At the end of this Holy Land Coordination meeting, through your advocacy, solidarity and prayers, let us help our people hear the words of our savior come true, when He said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”
Since 1998, the Department of International Affairs has organised the annual meeting of the Co-ordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church of the Holy Land. It is often more simply called the Holy Land Co-ordination.
Mandated by the Holy See, the Holy Land Co-ordination meets every January in the Holy Land with the aim of acting in solidarity with the Christian community there and sharing in the pastoral life of the local Church as it experiences intense political and social-economic pressure.