Bishop Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor, and Bishop Alan McGuckian SJ, Bishop of Raphoe, will be taking part in this year’s annual ‘Holy Land Coordination’ group visit in support of the Christians of Israel and Palestine. This year’s group visit, which starts tomorrow, will focus on the theme ‘Christians in Israel; challenges and opportunities’, and will go until 17 January.
Seventeen bishops are leading this year’s Holy Land Coordination group visit, representing countries from across Europe, North America and South Africa. Prayer is the framework of each annual visit of the group with the daily celebration of Mass, often in different rites. Episcopal representatives have been undertaking this annual pastoral visit to Israel and Palestine for the past twenty years. The meeting will be held in the city of Haifa, including visits to Christian hospitals, schools and villages. The bishops will also take part in inter-faith encounters.
Speaking ahead of his departure Bishop McGuckian, chair of the Irish bishops’ Council for Justice & 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.”
Bishop Declan Lang, chair of the Holy Land Coordination group 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.”
This coming Sunday, 13 January, the Coordination group will travel to the Palestinian town of Zababdeh to celebrate Mass with the local community. Zababdeh, where three quarters of the population is Christian, is located in the poor, under-developed and often overlooked Northern Region of the West Bank.
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. The bishops will visit Catholic communities and share in the Sunday liturgy. In difficult times the visiting bishops have often heard pleas for more pilgrims to come from their home countries, and there has been a concerted and successful effort on the part of bishops’ conferences to encourage pilgrimages, assisting many whose livelihoods depend on pilgrims.
The bishops also speak at a high-level to their own governments, parliamentarians, Israeli and Palestinian ambassadors, and to the media, about a wide range of issues affecting the lives of Christians in the Holy Land. 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 bishops are present every year, and through their presence they hope, above all else, to remind the “living stones” of the Christian communities in the Holy Land that they are not forgotten by their brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.
Mandated by the Holy See, the Holy Land Co-ordination meets every January with a focus on prayer, pilgrimage and persuasion. Its aim is to act in solidarity with the Christian community as it experiences intense political and social-economic pressure in the Holy Land. Since 1998 the Coordination group has met at the invitation of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land.
The bishops participating in this year’s Holy Land Co-ordination visit are:
Rt Rev Stephen Ackermann, Bishop of Trier, Germany
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
Bishop 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 Saint Jean Longueuil, Quebec, Canada
Rt Rev Felix Gmur, Bishop of Basel, Switzerland
Rt Rev William Kenney, Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham, England & Wales
Rt Rev Declan Lang, Bishop of Clifton, England & Wales
Rt Rev Alan McGuckian, Bishop of Raphoe, Ireland
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, Ireland
Most Rev Joan Enric Vives Sicilia, Archbishop of Urgell, Spain
Amongst their support staff participating in this year’s visit will be Dr Emer Crooke, Research Coordinator with the Irish Episcopal Conference’s Council for Justice & Peace and Mr Sean Farrell, Head of International Development with Trócaire, the overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland.