A group of Catholic bishops will next week make their annual visit to Israel to stand "in solidarity with Christian communities in the Holy Land".
The Holy Land Coordination will focus on the theme: “Christians in Israel; challenges and opportunities.”
The Holy Land Coordination is made up of Catholic bishops and and one Anglican bishop from across Europe, North America and South Africa who have been visiting the Holy Land and surrounding countries in a pastoral capacity for two decades.
Based in Haifa, the bishops will visit Christian hospitals, schools and villages.
Bishop of Clifton Declan Lang, chair of the Holy Land Coordination said: “We have come to stand in solidarity with Christian communities in the Holy Land, who are an important part of our family and make a rich contribution to society, both in Israel and Palestine, as we will see in visits to Christian schools, hospitals and in dialogue with local politicians.”
On the Sunday the group will travel to the Palestinian town of Zababdeh, an under-developed region of the West Bank where three-quarters of the population is Christian, to celebrate Mass with the local community.
"While the Holy Land Coordination is not a fund-raising or project-based body, considerable development investment and growth in pilgrimages have developed directly as a result of the bishops’ visits," a spokesman said in a statement. "Prayer is the framework of the annual meeting, with daily celebration of the Eucharist, often in different rites."
The bishops will visit Catholic communities and share in their Sunday liturgy. The visits bring long-term benefits to the Christian communities in Israel who can feel beleaguered. For example, many bishops’ conferences have successfully encouraged pilgrimages, helping many whose livelihoods depend on pilgrims.
The bishops will also speak at a high-level to 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," the statement said.
Bishop Alan McGuckian SJ, Bishop of Raphoe, who is among the 17 bishops from Europe, North America and South Africa who will be taking part in the visit, and who chairs of the Irish bishops’ Council for Justice and Peace, said: “Christians are a tiny minority in both Israel and Palestine and in recent years their numbers continue to fall. It is our duty and a privilege to stand in solidarity with them as we seek to understand the pressures that force that decline in population. Our presence here is also an outward expression of support to them as our brothers and sisters.”
Others attending are the Most Rev Stephen Brislin, Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa; Most Rev Timothy Broglio, Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA; Rt Rev Peter Burcher, Bishop Emeritus of Reykjavik, Iceland; Rt Rev Rodolfo Cetoloni, Bishop of Grosseto, Italy; Rt Rev Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark, The Church of England; Rt Rev Kevin Dowling, Co-President Pax Christi International, South Africa; Rt Rev Michel Dubost, Bishop Emeritus of Evry-Corbeil-Essonnes, France; Rt Rev Lionel Gendron, Bishop of St. Jean Longueuil, Quebec, Canada; Rt Rev Felix Gmur, Bishop of Basel, Switzerland; Rt Rev William Kenney, Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham; Rt Rev William Nolan, Bishop of Galloway, Scotland; Rt Rev Jose Ornelas Carvalho, Bishop of Setubal, Portugal; Rt Rev Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor; Most Rev Joan Enric Vives Sicilia, Archbishop of Urgell, Spain.