By Bishop Gerald Kicanas
One in a series
DAY TEN: Jan. 14, 2010
JERUSALEM — The last formal gathering of the Coordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church in the Holy Land took place this morning. At that session the participating bishops from Europe, Canada, and the United States signed a formal communiqué summarizing this year’s experience. The statement titled “The Courage to Achieve Peace in the Holy Land” reflected what we saw and heard during these days. It expressed the deep concern we felt about the deepening tensions we observed, yet the hope that peace can be achieved if justice for all is realized. (Editor’s Note: Click here for CNS story.)
My episcopal motto, Justice Begets Peace, has come to mean even more after my experience this year. Violence, extremism, oppression, injustices only fuel tension and heighten enmity. The words of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, quoted in the statement express well the only way to peace, justice for all. My prayer is that Israel and Palestine will heed his wise words spoken as a friend.
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Before leaving for home, I had an opportunity to visit the Catholic Relief Services office in Jerusalem, headed up by Matt Davis. I have come to hold great respect for the incredible and important work CRS is doing around the world. It makes me proud to see their presence among the poor and their commitment to serve the littlest and weakest among us. They witness what it means to be Catholic.
This witness has become even more striking during the tragic and devastating events that are taking place right now in Haiti. CRS is on the ground providing needed help and support for the countless numbers in Haiti who have been affected by the earthquake.
In a similar way here in the Holy Land, the offices in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza reach out to those in need. The meeting with the staff further brought home to me the dedication and commitment of CRS personnel, both their international and local staff.
Ian DeLaRossa spoke to us about the situation in Gaza. CRS is expanding staff and outreach there in this time of critical need. Their efforts to train women to begin small businesses to supply needed goods to Gazans has great potential. They are providing psychosocial outreach to a people that have been traumatized, especially youth. They distribute food, provide youth training in leadership, and outreach to the community in addressing their critical needs.
Khalil, a program director working with 18-25 year olds in the West Bank and Gaza, described his ambitious and needed outreach to youth. Youth Voices for Community Action is a 30-month program that began in July of 2009 and will end in January 2012. Its goal is to empower and create a cadre of Palestinian youth who use nonviolence approaches to address conflicts within their communities.
He described a young man in the program who was nicknamed “Violent” and who was aggressive and confrontative during the camp gatherings. At the end of the camp session, he stood up to testify that he was wrong. Violence is not the way. He wanted to change. Impressive!
We discussed with the staff the difficulty they experience because of the restricted access. One staff member, who crosses a checkpoint every day to get to work, described the humiliation and ridicule she sometimes feels from the soldiers. “They are young people who have been given a lot of power, carrying their guns and checking papers, but they don’t always know how to use that power.” She told of having her permit to cross taken from her. But she was forced to say in the court that she had lost her permit in order to receive another.
The access challenges make it very difficult for CRS to conduct its business in their three centers of activity because it is so difficult to get staff together in any one place. Nevertheless they continue to conduct their important programs.
They expressed appreciation to the donors who make their work possible.
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As these days of meeting, visiting, looking, and listening end, I leave with fears and hopes.
My fear is that unless this situation is resolved soon, Hebron will become the model of life in the Holy Land. That life will be marked by increasing restrictions for Palestinians, tense situations for both Israelis and Palestinians, increased fears on both sides and even more violence.
There is another way. Many in the international community, including the Vatican have called for an end to the settlements, the establishment of two states — an Israeli state and a Palestinian state — security for Israel, justice for both Israelis and Palestinians, and that Jerusalem remain an international city in which Jews, Muslims, and Christians show mutual respect for one another and share this great city of peace.
All of us can pray fervently that peace will prevail.
Bishop Kicanas, of Tucson, Ariz., vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, visited Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories to attend an international meeting of bishops in support of the church in the Holy Land. He was a guest blogger for us during the trip.