Bishops from across Europe, North America and South Africa visit the vulnerable Christian communities of Gaza, Bethlehem and refugees in Jordan for the 2016 Holy Land Coordination meeting.
On Thursday 7 January, the Bishops will visit the small Christian community in Gaza, celebrating mass at the parish of the Holy Family; they will then meet with parishioners, visit the school of the Holy Rosary Sisters and various other projects helping people to rebuild their lives following the most recent conflict in 2014.
The Bishops are returning for the third consecutive year during which time the conflict of 2014 led to the deaths of over 2,000 Gazans – including over 500 children and a third of the population internally displaced. The Christian community is made up of 2,500 people, of whom Catholics number around 200.
The Bishops will then return to Bethlehem where they will celebrate mass and visit the Christian community of Beit Jala, who have suffered the loss of land and livelihood following the annexation of their property and the building of a Separation Wall in the Cremisan Valley.
The focus of the remainder of the visit will be Jordan and the refugees who have been forced out of their homes as a result of the ongoing conflict in Syria and Iraq. The United Nations puts the total number of refugees currently in Jordan at just over one million people, the vast majority of whom are Syrian. The Bishops will arrive in Jordan on 10 January, leaving on 14 January.
The Holy Land Coordination was set up at the invitation of the Holy See at the end of the last century to offer support to the local Christian communities of the Holy Land. For the past 15 years the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales have organised the visit and this year the Co-ordination will be led by Bishop Declan Lang, Bishop of Clifton.
England and Wales – Bishop Declan Lang
Canada – Bishop Lionel Gendron
France – Bishop Michel Dubost
Germany – Bishop Thomas Renz
Ireland – Bishop John McAreavey
Italy – Bishop Rodolfo Cetoloni
Scandinavia – Bishop Peter Burcher
Scotland – Bishop William Nolan
South Africa – Archbishop Stephen Brislin
Spain – Archbishop Joan Vives
Switzerland – Bishop Felix Gmur
United States of America – Bishop Oscar Cantu
Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community – Bishop William Kenney
Church of England – Bishop Christopher Chessun
The Holy Land Coordination, made up of bishops from across Europe, North America and South Africa, was set up at the end of the twentieth century at the invitation of the Holy See. The purpose was to visit and support the local Christian communities of the Holy Land.
The Coordination’s main remit has been expressed as ‘the 3 Ps’: Prayer, Pilgrimage and Pressure. Perhaps there could be a fourth P: Presence. The bishops are present every year, and by their presence they hope, above all else, to remind the “living stones” of the Christian communities in the Holy Land that they are not forgotten by their brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.
The Coordination is not seen by the Holy See or its members as a fund-raising or project-based body, although considerable development investment and growth in pilgrimages have developed directly as a result of the bishops’ visits.
Prayer is the framework of the annual meeting, with daily celebration of the Eucharist, often in different rites, and in some years it has involved celebration in common of the Liturgy of the Hours.
Pilgrimage is one of the most interesting and informative aspects of the annual meeting. Bishops go either individually or in groups to visit Catholic communities and share in their Sunday liturgy, meeting members of the local community and sometimes local political figures. In difficult times, the visiting bishops have often heard pleas for more pilgrims to come from their home countries, and there has been a concerted and successful effort on the part of bishops’ conferences to encourage pilgrimages.
Pressure, a softer version of which might be Persuasion, refers to the work to be done after the annual meeting, when bishops go home and speak to their own governments, parliamentarians, Israeli and Palestinian ambassadors and the media about a wide range of issues affecting the lives of Christians.
In line with the approach the Holy See adopts everywhere else, the bishops do not seek privileges for Christians, but dignity and justice for them and for others in similar conflicts.
This year’s meeting will focus on the situation of vulnerable Christians especially those who have been forced to flee their homeland and seek shelter elsewhere. The Coordination will also continue to focus on the situation in Gaza and issues around the Cremisan Valley. The Coordination will also visit the Local Church in Jordan.
The Holy Land Co-ordination’s annual meeting is taking place in Bethlehem and Jordan from 9 – 14 January 2016 with a pre-Coordination visit to Gaza from 7 – 8 January.