Holy Land journey: Glimpses of hope amid the frustration

By Bishop Gerald Kicanas
One in a series

DAY EIGHT: Jan. 12, 2010

JERUSALEM — This is the 10th year of the Coordination of Episcopal Conferences in the Holy Land. For the first time, representatives from all the Catholic communities in the Holy Land are present for our meeting. This includes the Latin Patriarchate, the Maronite Rite, the Melkite Rite, the Armenian Rite, and all the rites that are in union with the Holy Father.

This morning we began the day by celebrating Mass with the Maronite archbishop of Haifa and the Holy Land, which includes Jerusalem, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories. Exarch Paul N. Sayah was the main celebrant of the Mass. He is a fellow runner.  Again the singing at Mass in Arabic was very moving, as we had experienced in Jibna.

* * *

The day began with a presentation by Daniel Seidermann, a lawyer of Jewish ancestry who spoke about the struggle over the Old City in Jerusalem and its historic basin.

(Photo by Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)

He emphasized that some characterize the struggle in the Holy Land as a conflict about land and territory. But it is much more than that. In fact the Old City is just one kilometer in size but here in this small space three narratives — the Jewish, Muslim and Christian — live all in the same secular space. The struggle is for these three great religions to find a way to live in harmony and peace.

Holy places for the Muslims, Jews, and Christians are physical embodiments of faith and need to be respected by all.

Seidermann is concerned about plans in Israel for Jerusalem that could seriously affect the balance between the faiths and people that exists in this complex city. In addition he reminded us that what happens in Jerusalem can affect the whole region, so it is critical that peace prevail.

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Vatican offers Bible in Chinese online

The Vatican offers the Bible online in Chinese

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican is now offering the complete text of the Bible online in Chinese on its Web site, www.vatican.va. When users click on a particular book of the Bible, it pops up in an easy-to-read (if you know Chinese) PDF file.

The Vatican launched the online Bible on Jan. 1, but none of the links to the PDF files worked when I tried them in early January. After a quick call to the Chinese section at Vatican Radio to tell them there was some sort of glitch in the links, the Bible was up and running when I checked this morning.

In its online resource library, the Vatican also has a number of documents from Vatican II translated into Chinese. It also plans on putting the complete Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Code of Canon Law online in Chinese in the coming months.

Holy Land journey: Trying to unravel this complex situation

By Bishop Gerald Kicanas
One in a series

DAY SEVEN: Jan. 11, 2010

JERUSALEM — The formal work of the Coordination of Episcopal Conferences with the Church in the Holy Land began today. It includes Bishop William Kenney, auxiliary bishop of Birmingham, England, and coordinator of the group; Bishop Peter Burcher from the Nordic bishops’ conference; Bishop Stephan Ackermann, president of the German bishops’ conference; Bishop Joan-Enric Vives of Urgell (Spain and Andorra), representing the Spanish bishops’ conference; Bishop Riccardo Fontana of the Italian conference; Bishop Pierre Morissette, president of the Canadian bishops’ conference; and a number of staff and media people from the various conferences of bishops.

The purpose of the coordination is to encourage prayer and pilgrimages for the Holy Land as well as persuasion to bring peace to the land and to encourage projects to help in the Holy Land. (continue below)


(Editor’s Note: Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is on a trip to Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories to attend an international meeting of bishops in support of the church in the Holy Land. He has agreed to be a guest blogger for us during the trip.)


This year’s theme is focused on Jerusalem and the concerns that have arisen which affect the church and Palestinians as well as all in this holy and important city.

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Archbishop Antonio Franco, Patriarch Fouad Twal, Bishop William Kenney. (Photo by Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)

The program began with presentations by His Beatitude Fouad Twal, appointed the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem in 2008, and Archbishop Antonio Franco, apostolic nuncio to Israel, in order to explain the state of the situation in 2010.

Patriarch Twal spoke of the hopes and concerns of 2009. First among the hopeful moments was the visit of Pope Benedict XVI. In his parting words the Holy Father reassured the people that he had come to this land as a friend of Israelis and a friend of the Palestinians. Friends, he reminded them, enjoy being in one another’s company. As a friend the pope reflected on how he is bothered by the continuing tensions. He weeps at the continued bloodshed and suffering. The pope appealed for “no more bloodshed, no more fighting, no more terrorism, no more war.”  We can all hope that the pope’s words become realized.

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Video interview with Archbishop Dolan about Haiti relief

Our Rome bureau chief, John Thavis, tonight caught up with the chairman of Catholic Relief Services, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, for a video interview about the tragedy in Haiti. Archbishop Dolan was in Rome for celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of the North American College, the U.S. national seminary.

(We’ve substituted the three-minute, edited version here.)

Priests on Facebook

While some may scoff at Facebook, others, like Father Nels Gjengdahl, associate pastor at St. Odilia in Shoreview, Minn., views the online social networking site as “an avenue” to make connections with young people.

The 29-year-old priest even posts his homilies on his Facebook page.

Father Gjengdahl and other priests spoke with The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, about how they use Facebook in their priestly ministry.

The topic of using online tools in ministry is also getting some attention at St. Paul Seminary in Minnesota. Father Robert Pish, dean of men at the seminary, said faculty and staff members are just starting to look more closely at this.

Although he didn’t give Facebook a big shout out, he did acknowledge that it shouldn’t be ignored.

“This is the way people are communicating, today,” he said. ” Whether we like it or not, it is a way to reach out to people and we shouldn’t reject it out of hand.”

Holy Land journey: Struggling to find the way to peace

By Bishop Gerald Kicanas
One in a series

DAY SIX: Jan. 10, 2010

JERUSALEM — Steve, Bill, and I, along with Tracy McClure of Vatican Radio, Marwin Mazur of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and Father Paul Lansu of Pax Christi International, left early to drive to Jibna near Ramallah on the West Bank to celebrate Mass with the Christian community there. We had hoped to celebrate Mass in Gaza but we were not given permission to travel there.

Father Firas Aridah, a Jordanian, is the pastor of the community in Jibna called St. Joseph. He has been there a little over a year. Steve Colecchi knew him when he served as pastor of Aboud.

Father Firas Aridah gives Communion to Palestinian Catholics during Palm Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Parish in Aboud, West Bank, in this 2007 file photo. (CNS/Debbie Hill)

He is a vibrant, energetic, passionate person who from first meeting shows a deep love of his people and a desire to speak up for them when necessary. When in Aboud he came to the United States to testify before the Congress on the building of the security wall around Aboud. He remembered the challenges he faced and the frustration of not being able to curtail the building of the wall.

The town of Jibna is about 50 percent Christian and 50 percent Muslim. The parish has a school up to sixth grade which serves Christians and Muslims alike. (continue below)


(Editor’s Note: Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is on a trip to Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories to attend an international meeting of bishops in support of the church in the Holy Land. He has agreed to be a guest blogger for us during the trip.)


Bishop Kicanas during Mass Jan. 10 in Jibna, West Bank. (Photo by Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)

Many came for the 10 a.m. Mass, which I celebrated along with Father Lansu and Father Firas. Again I wish I had learned Arabic, but Father Firas translated what I had to say as well as to offer some of the Mass in Arabic.

It was the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, a fitting day to remind the people of the dignity they have as daughters and sons of God which no one can take from them. Likewise this feast assures us of God’s promise to be with us always even in moments of suffering and oppression.

I was impressed by how well the people sang. Active participation is alive and well in Jibna.

After Mass we gathered in the hall for a chance to meet and share some coffee and refreshments. People seemed genuinely pleased to welcome us and we were honored to share this time with them. (Editor’s Note: Click here for a photo gallery courtesy of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.)

After the reception Father Firas gave us a slide presentation on the situation in Israel/Palestine reflecting on the building of the wall, access roads, and the confiscation of lands on the West Bank. He commented that only 54.5 percent of the land in the West Bank is now being used by Palestinians, even though it is Palestinian land. Nine percent of the West Bank was used for the wall, 8 percent for settlements, and 28.5 percent for Jordan Valley settlements. 

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Msgr. Manuel Musallam is shown in a 2006 photo. (CNS/Marylynn G. Hewitt, Michigan Catholic)

We went to visit Msgr. Manuel Musallam, who served in Gaza as pastor for many years. He is now living with his sister in Bir Zeit near Jibna. He was pastor of Gaza during the most recent war. He, too, is a priest with passion who holds your attention by the force of his conviction.

He reminded us that the way to peace is justice, charity, and development, not force or humiliation. He commented that the making of peace happens between people, not just leaders. There is a need to create opportunities for Jews and Palestinians to have contact and come to know each other as persons. With the restrictions that governments place on people, such engagement is almost impossible, although it happens at some times.

He expressed his frustration and embarrassment that in the past there was an occasion when the apostolic delegate to the area representing the Holy Father was not allowed into Gaza. He was upset our delegation was not able to secure permission to enter. He indicated his confusion why religious people seeking to pray with people cannot be allowed to enter Gaza.

He lamented the division among the Palestinian people into Fatah and Hamas, the two political parties that have even fought one another. He felt that Yasser Arafat was the compass for the people but that they have not yet found a leader that can draw them together.

He became even more intense talking about the one and a half million people now in Gaza who are closed in by the blockade from Israel and Egypt. They have no life. They are treated as less than human.

* * *

Before we left we drove through the Palestinian camp at El Jalazun, where there are 14,000 Palestinian Muslims now living right in the midst of Jibna. They have more freedom than in other countries. There is no wall around the camp and they can come and go. But they must remain in the camp if they want to keep their refugee status. They were drawn there by the many conflicts during which they lost their homes and were displaced.

This magnificent city of Jerusalem and the Holy Land still immersed in struggle cries out to the world to help them find a way to peace. That was our prayer at Mass and must be our daily prayer.

RIP Miep Gies, an example for today’s world

Miep Gies pictured in her office, circa 1938. Photo courtesy of Ann Frank Museum.

How many people around the world have read the compelling diary of Anne Frank, who spent more than two years hiding in the Netherlands before being shipped off to a Nazi death camp? Her story would not have been told without the efforts of Miep Gies, who died Jan. 11 at age 100.

Gies, who was born as Hermine Santrouschitz to a Catholic family in Vienna, Austria, was a secretary to Otto Frank, Anne’s father. You can read her biography on the site of the Anne Frank Museum. When the Frank family was arrested by the Gestapo, Gies helped gather up Anne’s diary, which she later returned to her boss when he was released from the concentration camp. Anne Frank died in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Gies is a good example of many things, including putting the safety of a persecuted minority before personal safety. She can serve as an inspiration to many in today’s world.

Holy Land journey: We arrive in Jerusalem

By Bishop Gerald Kicanas
One in a series

DAY FIVE: Jan. 9, 2010

JERUSALEM — Steve Colecchi of the U.S. bishops’ conference, Bill O’Keefe of Catholic Relief Services and I left Beirut early to fly to Amman, Jordan, and then from Amman to Tel Aviv. It is complicated because Lebanon does not have relationship with Israel so you cannot fly direct. When we entered Lebanon, each person’s passport is checked for an Israeli stamp which could be at least somewhat problematic. For that reason we had to have two passports in order to travel to Lebanon and then to Israel.

With all the complications, our transit went very smoothly. After long security lines and careful screening, our two flights got us to Tel Aviv, where a CRS driver met us to bring us by car to Jerusalem, about one half hour from Tel Aviv. (continue below)


(Editor’s Note: Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is on a trip to Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories to attend an international meeting of  bishops in support of the church in the Holy Land. He has agreed to be a guest blogger for us during the trip.)


I am always amazed at how much development takes place in Jerusalem from year to year. The countryside on the road up to Jerusalem is marked by more and more major developments. When we arrived in the Holy City we went to the Knights Palace, the pilgrim residence for the Latin Patriarchate, where we will be staying for the week.

We quickly settled in and Bill and I went for a run around Jerusalem. There is always so much to see as one moves from the Arab center in East Jerusalem to the Hasidic Jewish section of Mea Shearim to the developments in West Jerusalem. Being Shabbat, there was little traffic. Many Jews travel to the Wailing Wall on Saturdays and it is a time for prayer and rest. It was good to see so many families walking together or gathering for prayer. This happens, of course, in Arab communities on Fridays for Muslims and on Sundays for Christians. We worship one God. We pray. If only we could be one in peace.

Franciscan Father Garret Edmunds leads a tour group around the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem in this photo from last year. (CNS/Debbie Hill)

Jerusalem draws you in by its history, fascinates you with its many sounds, overwhelms you with its diversity. As I wander through the Old City one cannot help but think how much and how little has changed in the generations who have called Jerusalem home. As a city sacred to three faiths, it is a place of pilgrimage that regretfully has known little peace. Still today you see armed soldiers and feel the tensions that can erupt instantaneously.

We enjoyed an evening dinner at Notre Dame, a residence directed by the Legionnaires of Christ where many pilgrims stay. They began a restaurant for pilgrims that served delicious food. Some of the staff of the restaurant have been trained in hospitality service at Bethlehem University, a marvelous university run by the De La Salle Christian Brothers on the West Bank in Bethlehem. George, our waiter for the night, was working for his first night. While nervous, he cared for us well.

It was good to see Matt Davis, Director of CRS in this country, along with Elias, a Palestinian who works with CRS, and Ian, who is assistant director in his first year in this area. They updated us on the work of CRS, especially in Gaza since the war last year and helped us figure out plans for our stay this year.

Holy Land journey: Misdiagnosis of terrorism, and a visit to my roots

By Bishop Gerald Kicanas
One in a series

(Editor’s Note: Bishop Gerald Kicanas (right) of Tucson, Ariz., vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is on a trip to Lebanon, his ancestral homeland, and to Israel and the Palestinian territories, where he will attend an international meeting of  bishops in support of the church in the Holy Land. He has agreed to be a guest blogger for us during the trip.)

DAY FOUR: Jan. 8, 2010

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Yesterday I was able to connect with a Lebanese American family from Tucson who are visiting for the holidays. Ziad Safi and his wife and baby daughter welcomed us into their family home which looked out over the city, a magnificent view. Ziad’s father built the building in which various members of his family now live on different floors. This is very common in Lebanon.

His mother seemed so pleased that her son was home for a while and certainly delighted to see her grandchild. Family is so important to the Lebanese as to many other cultures. His mother has never yet visited in Tucson. I encouraged her to come and visit when that is possible.

As always there was food and drink offered and much time to chat. Almost immediately you get into the situation in the Middle East. It is on everyone’s mind. We discussed the many Christians who have left Lebanon which results from opportunities elsewhere as well as fear of violence and conflict. Despite living elsewhere they like to return to Lebanon. Many families, especially those in the Gulf states, have built large houses in Lebanon where they return from time to time. The challenge is how to encourage the young to stay and use their gifts for their country.

* * *

On Friday Bill (CRS Baltimore), Mindy (CRS Beirut) and I went running in the early morning along the Corniche, a beautiful open space that runs along the Mediterranean Sea. This old man had a hard time keeping up with the two youngsters but there is so much to distract you the run was fun. Groups of men smoking on water pipes along with fishermen with large poles set out into the sea lined the walk.

Many people were out walking or running along the Corniche. It was a delight. You get to see so much doing a run. We passed the place where Rafik Hariri was assassinated. He had a great deal to do with renovating downtown Beirut through Solidaiire, a company he owned. Like the urban renewal in Tucson this development left many hurt feelings as many buildings were taken down for development, a difficult tension.

* * *

Our business day began with a meeting with Rami Khouri, a professor at American University in Beirut. This famous university is one of the jewels of Beirut. It is well known throughout the world and is distinguished in many areas of study. Khouri is the director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs.

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Pope to diplomats: Denial of God devastates creation

VATICAN CITY — In his address today to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Vatican, Pope Benedict focused on the need to safeguard creation, which was the theme of his recent World Peace Day message.

His talk today looked at environmental concerns primarily from a moral perspective, and touched on belief in God, social injustice, misallocation of resources and protection of the unborn.

Here are some highlights from the Vatican’s English-language translation of the pope’s address in French:

The denial of God distorts the freedom of the human person, yet it also devastates creation. It follows that the protection of creation is not principally a response to an aesthetic need, but much more to a moral need, inasmuch as nature expresses a plan of love and truth which is prior to us and which comes from God.

If we wish to build true peace, how can we separate or even set at odds the protection of the environment and the protection of human life, including the life of the unborn?

The pope took aim at military spending.

…the protection of creation is indeed an important element of peace and justice! Among the many challenges which it presents, one of the most serious is increased military spending and cost of maintaining and developing nuclear arsenals. Enormous resources are being consumed for these purposes, when they could be spent on the development of peoples, especially those who are poorest.

He said the community of believers clearly has a role to play in fostering more responsible attitudes and lifestyles.

…the causes of the situation which is now evident to everyone are of the moral order, and the question must be faced within the framework of a great program of education aimed at promoting an effective change of thinking and at creating new lifestyles. The community of believers can and wants to share in this, but, for it to do so, its public role must be recognized.

But the church’s voice is not always welcome, he said.

Sadly, in certain countries, mainly in the West, one encounters in political and cultural circles, as well in the media, scarce respect and at times hostility, if not scorn, directed towards religion and towards Christianity in particular…. There is thus an urgent need to delineate a positive and open secularity which, grounded in the just autonomy of the temporal order and the spiritual order, can foster healthy cooperation and a spirit of shared responsibility.

Finally, he said the environmental crisis reflects a “yearning for salvation” present in the world.

There is so much suffering in our world, and human selfishness continues in many ways to harm creation. For this reason, the yearning for salvation which affects all creation is all the more intense and present in the hearts of all men and women, believers and non-believers alike…. May the light and strength of Jesus help us to respect human ecology, in the knowledge that natural ecology will likewise benefit, since the book of nature is one and indivisible.


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