(Vatican Radio) The Holy Land Coordination has concluded its annual pilgrimage to the region, and issued a statement saying the Christians of the land of Christ “are not forgotten.”
The pilgrimage brings together bishops from North America, Europe, and South Africa to the Holy Land every year as a sign of solidarity.
“We have come to see people who are often forgotten by other people,” said Bishop Declan Lang, of the English Diocese of Clifton.
Listen to the interview with Bishop Declan Lang:
“I think it was very significant or time in Gaza. I think also meeting again the people in the Cremisan Valley, and … meeting refugees from Iraq in Jordan,” he said.
“I think the importance of the Holy Land Coordination is that we are present with our brothers and sisters,” Bishop Lang told Vatican Radio.
“We belong to the same Church, and we need to hear one another’s story, and support one another in faith, and to pray with one another,” he said.
“The purpose of the Coordination is to pray to be on pilgrimage and when we go home to advocate the cause of those we have seen with our governments and with the ambassadors of the particular countries from which we have come,” concluded Bishop Lang.
The full statement by the bishops of the Holy Land Coordination is below
'You are not forgotten' - Statement by Bishops to vulnerable Christians in the Middle East
• Statement of the Coordination of Bishops’ Conferences in support of the Church in the Holy Land
• “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.” (Laudato Si 229).
As the Bishops of the Holy Land Coordination, we echo Pope Francis' plea in his recent Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si (Praise Be to You), to remember our interdependence in an integrated world. Here in this land holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, we have been reminded during our visit of the Church's enduring presence among the weak and vulnerable and those who are too often forgotten. We take away our experiences and the stories that we have heard, and we are determined to give a voice to the voiceless.
The ongoing violence makes it all the more urgent that we remember and assist all, especially those on the margins, who seek to live in justice and peace.
To the Christian community and young people of Gaza, you are not forgotten. The 2014 war led to the destruction of thousands of homes and the physical and social infrastructure of Gaza, as well as the deaths of both Israelis and Palestinians. One and a half years later, while there are signs of hope and the resilience of the population is remarkable, many remain homeless and traumatised by the war. The blockade continues to make their lives desperate and they effectively live in a prison. At Holy Family Parish we were told: "In this Year of Mercy, one of the acts of mercy is to visit prisoners and I thank you for visiting the largest prison in the world." The ability of so many Christians and Muslims to support each other in this situation is a visible sign of hope and, at a time when many seek to divide communities, an example to us all.
To the Christian community of Beit Jala, outside of Bethlehem, where the Israeli confiscation of land and the expansion of the separation wall in the Cremisan Valley, in violation of international law, further undermines their presence in the Holy Land, you are not forgotten. Throughout 2016 we shall raise your plight nationally and internationally.
To those Israelis and Palestinians who seek peace, you are not forgotten. The right of Israel to live in security is clear, but the continuing occupation eats away at the soul of both occupier and occupied. Political leaders across the world must put greater energy into a diplomatic solution to end nearly fifty years of occupation and resolve the ongoing conflict so the two peoples and three faiths can live together in justice and peace.
To the Christian refugees we met in Jordan, you are not forgotten. We heard about the trauma and difficulties in trying to rebuild their lives. For most, returning home is no longer an option. Jordan is struggling to cope with almost a quarter of its population now made up of refugees. The efforts of the local Church and NGOs in reaching out to all refugees - both Christian and Muslim - are significant and commendable in terms of addressing the refugees' loss of human dignity, but the international community must do more to alleviate their plight and work for peace across the region.
To the priests, religious communities and lay people of the Church in Jordan, you are not forgotten. The Church in Jordan is vital and growing, but Christians are fearful of the growing extremism in the region. It is to be hoped that the coming into force on 1 January of the Comprehensive Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Palestine, offers us a model of dialogue and cooperation between States that respects and preserves freedom of religion and freedom of conscience for all people.
With a promise of active solidarity, we make our own the prayer of Pope Francis in Laudato Si: “O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.”
Archbishop Stephen Brislin, South Africa
Bishop Peter Bürcher, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden
Bishop Oscar Cantú, United States of America
Archbishop Rodolfo Cetoloni, Italy
Bishop Christopher Chessun, Church of England
Bishop Michel Dubost, France
Bishop Lionel Gendron, Canada
Bishop Felix Gmur, Switzerland
Bishop William Kenney, England and Wales, COMECE
Bishop Declan Lang, England and Wales
Bishop John McAreavey, Ireland
Bishop William Nolan, Scotland
Bishop Thomas Maria Renz, Germany
Archbishop Joan Enric Vives, Spain