It’s disappointing that Pope Francis has had to put on record that his visit to Palestine and Israel next week (in that order) is for religious purposes only – disappointing but totally understandable.
In point of fact religion and politics can never be easily separated. Politics is about people, and so you can no more separate religion and politics than you can religion and people, and there is no doubt that Francis’ visit has the potential to have an enormous impact on the political situation across the Levant.
Even so, Francis is not being dishonest. As he spells out, his primary goal is meet with his ‘brother’, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I. What could be more religious than healing a one thousand year old schism in the church. Of course, renewed fellowship between the Catholic and Orthodox wings of the church will have ramifications that touch every level of society but that doesn’t make the meeting any less religious!
The same can be said of the priority Francis has given to Palestine over Israel in his itinerary (see here). Is the fact that he is going straight to Bethlehem from Jordan and not going via Jerusalem (let alone Tel Aviv) a de facto recognition of the State of Palestine on the part of the Vatican?
Certainly many will see it that way, and many Palestinians will gain new strength and hope from such recognition, but it is hard to accept that Francis is doing anything more than his religious duty in dispensing comfort and hope. 🙂
TEXT IN ENGLISH:
The following statement is impressive, in my view. What is more impressive though is the very fact that this team of church leaders from around the world took the time to travel to Gaza and stay there for a five-day period!
The presence of these men in Gaza at such a dark time in Palestine’s history speaks far more loudly than the most eloquent statement! Let’s pray that this is the start of a trend that may lead to a visit of the Pope to Gaza.
Here below is the statement released by Co-ordination of Bishops’ Conferences in support of the Holy Land, who have just completed a five day visit to the region.
January 15th 2014
“As bishops from Europe, South Africa and North America we came to the Holy Land to pray with and support the Christian community and the cause of peace. In Gaza we witnessed the deep poverty of the people, and the courageous presence of the small and vulnerable Christian communities there.
Gaza is a man-made disaster, a shocking scandal, an injustice that cries out to the human community for a resolution. We call upon political leaders to improve the humanitarian situation of the people in Gaza, assuring access to the basic necessities for a dignified human life, the possibilities for economic development, and freedom of movement.
In the seemingly hopeless situation of Gaza, we met people of hope. We were encouraged by our visit to tiny Christian communities, which day after day, through many institutions, reach out with compassion to the poorest of the poor, both Muslim and Christian. We continue to pray for and support the priests, religious and laypeople working in Gaza. They exercise a ministry of presence, care for disabled children and the elderly, and teach the young.
Their testimony of faith, hope and love gave us hope. This is precisely the hope needed at this moment to bring peace, a peace that can only be built on justice and equity for both peoples. Palestinians and Israelis desperately need this peace. For example, in the Cremisan valley the route of the security barrier threatens the agricultural land held for generations by 58 Christian families. The current peace talks come at a critical time. Now is the time to ensure that the aspirations for justice of both sides are fulfilled.
We urge public officials to become leaders of hope, not people of obstruction. We call upon them to listen to the words of Pope Francis, who recently said to the Diplomatic Corps: “The resumption of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians is a positive sign, and I express my hope that both parties will resolve, with the support of the international community, to take courageous decisions aimed at finding a just and lasting solution to a conflict which urgently needs to end” (13 January, 2014).
As we leave the Holy Land, the bishops and people of the local Church remain in our hearts. They are not alone. Together with them we are people of hope. We pray that the visit of Pope Francis to the Holy Land will reinforce hope in the region. We believe a lasting peace is possible.
Archbishop Stephen Brislin, South Africa
Bishop Pierre Burcher, Scandinavia
Bishop William Crean, Ireland
Bishop Michel Dubost, France
Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher, Canada
Archbishop Patrick Kelly, England and Wales
Bishop William Kenney, England and Wales
Bishop Declan Lang, England and Wales
Bishop Denis Nulty, Ireland
Bishop Richard Pates, United States of America
Bishop Thomas Renz, Germany
Bishop Janusz Stepnowski, Poland
Archbishop Joan Enric Vives, Spain”
This latest criminal act has me stupified! What could be the reason behind it?
It makes sense that Netanyahu would upscale the development of settlements in order to ensure the failure of the so-called ‘peace talks’ but why alienate the Christian community at this stage?
Is Netanyahu really thumbing his nose at John Kerry or is there some more subtle rationale at work? Either way, this can only serve to further isolate Israel!
Holy Land: Israel demolishes house belonging to Latin Patriarch
In the same week that US Secretary of State John Kerry has been visiting the Holy Land in an effort to broker peace talks beween Israel and Palestine, bulldozers of the Jerusalem Municipality, accompanied by Israeli Security forces, demolished a house belonging to the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Mgr Fouad Twal. The residential property on the Jerusalem-Hebron road, near the northern checkpoint number 300 was home to a family of 14 people.
The Patriarch inspected the demolished home yesterday, in the company of Bishop William Shomali, Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem, and Bishop Giacinto Boulos Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar for Israel, Fr Humam Khzouz, General Director of the Patriarchate, Fr George Ayoub, Chancellor; a number of other priests, the director of the Patriarchate Endowment, lawyers, engineers; consuls of foreign countries, including Italy and Belgium; representatives of churches and institutions; and a crowd of journalists from local and foreign news agencies.
In a press conference held at the site of the demolished home, the Patriarch said: “looking upon a painful and upsetting scene raises discontent and anger. There is no justification for the demolition, but when the municipality and the Israeli government enact demolitions and displace people from their homes, these practices increase hatred and endanger the future of peace. This land has belonged to the Latin Patriarchate long before 1967. The Patriarchate possesses the official deed, and all legal paperwork proving ownership. Even worse, the legal tenants of the property, Mr Salameh Abu Tarbush and his family, were taken by surprise by the demolition.”
The Patriarch added “We are the rightful/lawful owners, and you will hear our voice before all governments worldwide, and we will take legal action in appropriate courts to rectify this injustice, to bring back justice and rebuild this home. We have willpower and a spirit of belonging to this land of our ancestors, this sacred land which is home of our past, present and future.”
The home’s residents spoke about the displacement, which was carried out in the early hours of the morning, rendering them suddenly homeless. Their living situation is now tragic, in the open without shelter. The Red Cross is providing them with tents and assistance.
The lawyer of the Latin Patriarchate, Mr. Mazen Copti, confirmed the illegality of the demolition of this home and land declaring: “We will take all legal measures against the municipality of Jerusalem and the Israeli Ministry of the Interior to rebuild the house as it was.”