(Vatican Radio) For fifty years the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza have languished under occupation. An occupation – reads the final communiqué of the Holy Land Coordination 2017 – that violates the human dignity of both Palestinians and Israelis.
As the group of Catholic Bishops who make up the “Holy Land Coordination” wrap up this year’s pilgrimage in support of those enduring the occupation, it is calling for justice and peace in the Holy Land and reminding the rest of us that “it is a scandal to which we must never become accustomed”.
The theme of this year’s pilgrimage focused on the 50th anniversary of the occupation of Palestine.
As the Bishop of Clifton and Chair of the Holy Land Coordination, Declan Lang, told Linda Bordoni, we all have a responsibility to show our solidarity, to encourage non-violent resistance, to promote a two-state solution and to help the local Church in the land where Jesus was born.
Bishop Lang says the group has been able to spend time listening to the stories of those who have lived under the occupation; he recalls, in particular, the students of Bethlehem University, whom he says, have never known any other reality.
He says the Bishops have also had the occasion to speak to families and representatives of different communities, something that has helped them to understand and reflect on the effects of the continuing occupation and how it has restricted people’s lives.
“Perhaps that was most seen in Hebron where there is a great restriction on people’s lives, on where they can walk, where they can live, where they can shop…” he said.
The aim of the annual pilgrimage of the Holy Land Coordination is to show solidarity with and to support, especially Christian, communities in the area. Bishop Lang says the group was able to visit Christian communities, to celebrate Mass in the Parishes and Seminaries, to meet with Church leaders and with ordinary Catholics.
“But I think one of the things we are especially aware of this year is our responsibility to help bring to an end the occupation so that people can live with dignity” he said.
So, Bishop Lang says, once back in our various countries (the participants of the Holy Land Coordination pilgrimage come from different nations across the globe) we will be encouraging people to do three things:
“one is to keep the Middle East Churches in their prayers – that’s something they’ve always been asking for; to become more aware of the situation in Palestine and Israel – because I think sometimes, because people’s lives are so busy, they become unaware of the wider world, and we are asking Christians to become more aware of the situation; and then to follow that by action – which can be coming on pilgrimage and supporting the local economy, it can be by buying goods from the Holy Land; and perhaps also writing to their MPs and telling them that we must support the bringing about of the end of the occupation and the achievement of a peaceful solution because living in fear does no good either to the Israelis or to the Palestinian people themselves” he said.
Bishop Lang who has returned each year to the Holy Land says the situation has changed little with perhaps more tension to be felt, today, in Hebron.
In Bethlehem, he says, people seem to be almost resigned to the occupation. Unfortunately, he points out, there seems to be no progress or very little progress. However, with the political changes in other countries, the people are waiting to see what impact these will have, especially as regards to the United States.
But as regards the inauguration in the Vatican of the first Palestinian State Embassy to the Holy See Bishop Lang says this is seen as a very positive event and “it gives the Palestinians a standing they are not accustomed to, and it gives them the recognition that they have a cause that is just.”
“What Pope Francis has said and what Pope Francis has done has been very significant to the people here and it is much appreciated” he said.