Saving energy in an arid land

Editor’s Note: CNS staffer Mark Pattison traveled to the Holy Land in September as part of a study tour sponsored by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and funded in part by the Catholic Communication Campaign. We will highlight his trip as the Vatican prepares for the Oct. 10-24 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East.

Israelis and Palestinians (and many of their neighbors) have been fighting or squabbling over the land both proclaim as their home for more than 60 years.

The Holy Land may be flowing with milk and honey, but not oil. Israelis and Palestinians have had the bad luck to claim one of the few oil-free patches of the Middle East as their homeland. How does that play itself out in real life?

Virgually every light fixture within sight in Israel and Palestine (and nearby Jordan, too) has been outfitted with a compact fluorescent bulb, which gives close to the same level of light as incandescent bulbs for a fraction of the energy usage.

If you want to buy a car in Israel, the tax the buyer pays exceeds the car’s cost. That ought to be enough to curb driving. If not, the price of gas at Israeli service stations started at about six-and-a-half shekels, the Israeli unit of currency, for a liter (a little bit more than a quart). Translated into U.S. currency, that comes to $7.25 a gallon.

Water, though, is a more contentious issue. Palestinians have charged that Israelis have diverted more than 80 percent of the water that flows through their territory to help slake the thirst of Israelis within the nation’s accepted boundaries, plus the more than 120 settlements built on land confiscated from the Palestinians. While the infrastructure is there to route water through Palestinian cities and villages, Israel controls the spigot. Many towns have to do without water two days a week. Some must go without even longer. According to Maria Khoury, wife of the mayor of Taybeh, West Bank, one nearby town is so parched that she knows when the water is running when she sees the village women hanging out their clothes to dry.

A nice respite for weary travelers in Jerusalem

Editor’s Note: CNS staffer Mark Pattison traveled to the Holy Land in September as part of a study tour sponsored by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and funded in part by the Catholic Communication Campaign. We will highlight his trip as the Vatican prepares for the Oct. 10-24 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East.

This is not meant to be an advertisement for the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, or “Vatican guesthouse” in more colloquial terms. But it’s a nice respite for weary travelers in an arid land.

Notre Dame is located across the street from Jerusalem’s Old City. Starting in 1882, it was run by French Assumptionists to be a center for French pilgrims. The center also doubled as a seminary until World War I.

However, during the Israeli-Arab war of 1948, two bombs struck Notre Dame, rendering part of it uninhabitable. The Israeli army used the center as a guard post. The Assumptionists used it as a shelter for refugees. Things slowly returned to normal, but it was a “new normal,” with far fewer pilgrims coming to stay there. In 1972, one year before yet another Arab-Israeli war, the Assumptionists turned over Notre Dame to the Vatican.

Pope Paul VI, who visited Jerusalem in 1964, made the rehabilitation of Notre Dame a pet project, but he did not live to see its completion. In December 1978, four months after Pope Paul’s death, Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York promulgated a decree signed by Pope John Paul II making Notre Dame a pontifical institute and an ecumenical holy place and a center for public worship.

The 1987 intifada and the 1991 Persian Gulf War kept tourists away again. The second intifada, in 2000, nearly did in Notre Dame. It closed Sept. 1, 2001, 10 days before the terror attacks that struck the United States.

In  November 2004, five months before his death, Pope John Paul issued a “motu proprio” entrusting the care of Notre Dame to the Legionaries of Christ.

They’ve  certainly spiffed up the place. La Rotisserie, the restaurant attached to the guesthouse, is said to have the best Western food in Jerusalem and at a price better than its competition. But for roughly $160 a night, taking into account fluctuating currency exchange rates, travelers get a nicely appointed room. There’s a queen- or king-sized bed, a love seat, a coffeemaker, a hair dryer, and some rooms even have a flat-screen TV. On a coffee table there’s a dish of assorted fruits, a second dish with assorted cookies, a bottle of water and even a small bottle of merlot.

Drawbacks? One for sure: The Assumptionists probably hadn’t considered this in 1882, but the thick limestone walls of Notre Dame make it pretty darn tough to get a wi-fi connection.

Tips to getting around the Holy Land

Domes and cropped bell tower of Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo from

Pat McCarthy, a retired Catholic newspaper editor in New Zealand, has turned a retirement project into an online resource for Christians around the world who are considering a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

The site  is an online guide to the history and significance of most of the sites on a pilgrim’s itinerary, describing with words and photographs the Christian, Jewish and Muslim holy places in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Egypt. McCarthy, the founding editor of New Zealand’s national Catholic newspaper, NZ Catholic, has led pilgrimages to many of these sites and has visited almost all of them, some several times.

The website, launched in May, also includes pilgrim information describing authenticity of sites, travel tips and how to organize a pilgrimage.

McCarthy said pilgrims not only get a spiritual benefit from visiting places where Jesus lived but their presence also show solidarity with the declining number of Christians still living in the Holy Land.

His research on the holy places has turned up interesting facts on sites that have disappeared, some that have been rediscovered and others that are not what they claim to be.  And he’s not done yet. After more than three years of research, he says the website is still a work in progress, with more holy places to be added.

Holy Land journey: I leave with fears and hope

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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Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem at final news conference. (Photo by Mazur/

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.

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Holy Land journey: A creative initiative; the sadness of Hebron

By Bishop Gerald Kicanas
One in a series

DAY NINE: Jan. 13, 2010

JERUSALEM — Two experiences highlighted our gatherings today. The first was an opportunity to spend some time with the Maronite archbishop of Haifa and the Holy Land, Archbishop Paul N. Sayah. Our conversations covered a wide range of important issues.

One of the valuable and creative initiatives he has taken was a program entitled “Encounter” which he organized with a team of associates that included a rabbi, an Anglican priest and a group of lay people. They invited Jewish, Christian, and Muslim young people to come together both here and in England to dialogue with one another in order to break down stereotypes and come to know one another as people.

Archbishop Sayah cited a study done by the University of Haifa which looked at attitudes of Israeli young people toward Palestinians. The results were striking, although not unexpected. The young people saw Palestinians as threatening and unlikeable. Were one to ask the same questions of Palestinian young people, the answers would probably be quite similar.

These stereotypes only further divide these two peoples and make it so difficult to reconcile. Programs like Encounter can make a world of difference. Some of the young people’s comments after their extensive dialogues and opportunities to participate in conflict management experiences proved that attitudes can change by engagement.

Archbishop Sayah has much wisdom to share about the experiences in the countries where he serves. I learned much. And he treated us to a fabulous Lebanese meal that made us wonder whether we would ever eat again.

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The afternoon was spent in Hebron. This proved to be the most difficult experience of the trip. I remember visiting Hebron many years ago. My recollection was that of a bustling city. I remember the crowds of people around the tombs of the patriarchs which is so central to this town. The city pulsated with life. Stores flourished with business.

Now the central areas of Hebron are like a ghost town. The shops are all closed and shuttered, the streets abandoned. On the walls of the stores are written in Hebrew harsh words toward Arabs. Soldiers with automatic rifles and local Israeli police are everywhere in the section titled H2, where around 35,000 Palestinians live amid four small settlements within Hebron and one on the outskirts. There is one army solder for each settler, about 750 in the town.

The only vehicles we saw in the center of town were military vehicles often accompanying a settler’s car.

An Israeli policeman stops a tour group, including Bishop Kicanas, center, on a street in the West Bank city of Hebron Jan. 13. Bishop Kicanas was visiting Hebron with members of B'Tselem, a human rights organization operating in Israel and the West Bank. (CNS/Debbie Hill)

While we were walking through this abandoned section, an officer told us we could not be here because we were more than 10 people. We were 11. Our guide asked, “Why?” We were told that is the law. Our guide, who knew the law, questioned the officer further. “It is not against the law, we can be here. We are just walking.”  An argument in Hebrew ensued but in the end, without any reason, we were told to move on. It is frustrating when an authority can make up a law to suit their needs.

The history of Hebron includes tragedies wrought upon the Jews by Arabs and vice versa. Many have suffered on both sides and now a strong military presence separates the two peoples. In some areas of the H2 sector Palestinians are not able to drive but only walk. On other streets they are able to do neither even though they may live along the street.

We visited a Palestinian family that experienced stone throwing as well as an individual settler firing his gun at them. The settlement from which they came is located just above the Palestinian family’s home. This conflict situation was videotaped by a Palestinian. The tape made clear what had happened and who was at fault. Had there been no video of the conflict, the Palestinians could have been blamed.

Such videos of incidences of human rights violations are being taken by a number of trained Palestinians in order to make clear what has taken place and who is at fault. This protects Palestinians who can be blamed for instigating the situation. This video program developed by a Jewish human rights group might help others to learn about the difficult and frightening situation faced by Palestinians, at times, in Hebron.

Bishop Kicanas looks at a camera with a Palestinian boy in the West Bank city of Hebron Jan. 13. Shops on the street had been closed by order of the Israeli military. (CNS/Debbie Hill)

Clearly there are no winners in this situation. Jews have suffered. Palestinians have suffered. Jews feel threatened. Palestinians feel threatened. Jews strike out at Palestinians and Palestinians strike out at Israelis. But all the force in the world will not lead to peace and reconciliation.

For many years Hebron was a model community where Jews and Arabs lived alongside of one another, shared their community together and benefited by one another’s presence. Many Jews fled after the first massacre by Arabs many years ago. The settlers want to recover their lost lands. More recently a number of Arabs were massacred by a Jew. Since then harsh measures have been put in place against Palestinians because the Israelis feared that there would be revenge by the Arabs.

Now the city of Hebron is like a ghost town, a town under siege. The tragedy of the situation torments you. There must be another way for human beings, people of faith as Jews and Muslims can live together.

When we were in the tomb of the patriarchs we saw a number of Jews in prayer while at the same time we could hear the imam announcing the call to prayer. These peoples are peoples of faith. That faith can lead them to reconciliation. That needs to be our prayer. That certainly is our hope.

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.

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/

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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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/

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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