Bishops support ‘dispirited’ people of Gaza16 January 2014 | by James Macintyre
A delegation of Catholic Bishops celebrated Mass with the Catholic community in Gaza last Sunday, expressing solidarity with local Christians and the wider people of the Palestinian strip of land governed by Hamas.
The two-day Gaza visit was the focal point of the week-long Middle East trip by the bishops as part of the Church’s Holy Land Co-ordination, chaired by the Bishop of Clifton, Declan Lang.
The 14 bishops from across Europe, North America and South Africa concentrated on the plight of the Palestinian people and especially Palestinian Christians, staying for the rest of the trip this week in Bethlehem.
Speaking from Jerusalem, Bishop Lang told The Tablet that he came away from Gaza “with a feeling that the people there are very dispirited.” The Bishop asked local people what they have to get up for in the morning and the answer he received was “not a lot – there is not a lot of hope.”
Bishop Lang added that Gazans “feel an imprisoned people and a forgotten people.” He met with the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Alexis in Gaza, who Bishop Lang said pointed out that “it is not just Christians who are oppressed but the whole [Gaza] population.”
The Bishops observed the work of Christian agencies and visited local vocational schools. “We saw boys making furniture and doing metal work, giving them skills for life, and we visited a Christian centre for the deaf which serves the wider community.”
Archbishop Stephen Brislin from Cape Town told The Tablet: “Gaza was a very moving and touching experience, especially as we celebrated Mass. Our aim was simply to express solidarity with people, so that they know they are not forgotten and also to pray with them and to learn a lot more about their situation. What struck me was the resilience of people. They are living in hardship but their spirit seems very strong and daily life continues. I hope we gave them some hope that they are not a forgotten people.”
There are 2,500 Christians living in Gaza, of whom around 300 are Catholic. The population of Gaza is over 1.7 million. On Monday 13 January, the Bishops met with diplomats in Tel Aviv and discussed the latest Israel-Palestine peace initiative being led by US Secretary of State John Kerry. The Bishops spent the rest of their visit in Bethlehem, in the West Bank, seven miles from Jerusalem. East Jerusalem, home to many Christian holy sites, was annexed by Israel after the 1967 war.
In Bethlehem, the Bishops visited projects focusing on education and youth unemployment and met with representatives of Palestinian civil society. On Wednesday 15 January the Bishops visited the Cremisan Valley on the outskirts of the town where a proposed extension to the security wall threatens the livelihoods of over 50 Christian families.
The Bishops’ trip concluded on Thursday 16 January with a visit to the Armenian Patriarchate for Mass and prayers. Pope Francis is to visit the Holy Land, including Bethlehem, in May.
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