A group of European and North American bishops is visiting the Holy Land from 12th to 18th January this year. This is an established group, which was set up at the request of the Holy See in Jerusalem in October 1998.
A group of European and North American bishops is visiting the Holy Land from 12th to 18th January this year. This is an established group, which was set up at the request of the Holy See in Jerusalem in October 1998. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops initially co-ordinated a group of bishops who began to visit Catholic communities in the Holy Land each year. The group is officially known as the Co-ordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church in the Holy Land, and has been organised for the last three years by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, under the leadership of Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool. Local arrangements are made jointly with the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem, on behalf of the Association of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land.
This year, there will be bishops from Canada, England and Wales, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the United States of America, as well as the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) and the Commission of the Episcopates of the European Union (ComECE). Given that Nigerians are the most numerous pilgrims to the Holy Land, a Nigerian bishop was invited for the first time this year, but it has proved impossible for him to come. Caritas Internationalis, Catholic Relief Services, Pax Christi International, the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, the Pontifical Mission Society, Vatican Radio and the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation will also be represented.
The 2007 programme includes a visit to Bethlehem; there participants will join a children’s celebration and visit various institutions, for example Bethlehem University and the Caritas Baby Hospital. Some participants will also visit Gaza en route to Nazareth, where the whole group will gather for input from various speakers and meetings with Catholic groups. A very important part of the time in Nazareth will be joining Catholic parish communities for mass on Sunday. The final stage of the meeting will be in Jerusalem; a smaller group of bishops hope to visit the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Ehud Olmert, and the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. The whole group will gather to assess the visit and plan future activities.
During the 2006 visit, Bishop William Kenney suggested that the Co-ordination could focus its activities in terms of three “p’s”: prayer, pilgrimage and pressure. All the participants join in prayer with local Christians, and almost all of them become personally involved in particular projects to offer practical help – this is something bishops take back to their own dioceses and bishops’ conferences. Despite people’s understandable fears, pilgrims are beginning to return to the Holy Land. Palestinian and Israeli officials stress that no pilgrim has ever been injured there. Several of the bishops who take part in these meetings have themselves led pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and numbers are slowly growing again. Pressure is what the bishops and their staffs do between the annual visits: they work to obtain solutions to various practical problems facing Christians, by keeping open the doors of conversation – difficult though it can be – with Israeli diplomats in their home countries, and by asking their elected representatives to bring the fate of the people on all sides of the conflict in Israel and Palestine to the attention of the European and international political institutions.
St. Gallen, 10th January 2007
Names of participants and the organisations they represent:
Bishop Christopher BUDD, Bishop of Plymouth, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales
Bishop Mgr Pierre BÜRCHER, Auxiliary Bishop of Lausanne, Geneva & Freibourg, Swiss Bishops’ Conference
Most Rev Gilles CAZABON OMI, Bishop of Saint-Jérôme (Province of Québec), Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
Dr Stephen COLECCHI, Director, International Justice & Peace, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Mr Alexander DES FORGES, Director, Catholic Communications Network, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales
Bishop Mgr Michel DUBOST, Bishop of Evry, French Bishops’ Conference
Msgr Peter FLEETWOOD, CCEE (Council of European Bishops’ Conferences)
Mr Hermann-Josef GROSSIMLINGHAUS, Executive Director, German Bishops’ Conference Commission for International Church Affairs, Vice-President of German Association of the Holy Land
Archbishop Patrick KELLY, Archbishop of Liverpool, Vice-President of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales
Bishop William KENNEY, Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales
Mgr Stanislas LALANNE, General Secretary, French Bishops’ Conference
Fr Paul LANSU, Pax Christi International
Bishop Dr Reinhard MARX, Bishop of Trier, President of German Commission for Justice & Peace, Vice-President for German Bishops’ Conference Commission for International Church Affairs
Mgr Mario PAQUETTE PH, General Secretary, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
Rev Robert PELLERIN, Archdiocese of Montreal, Canada
Mr Ulrich PÖNER, Director, German Bishops’ Conference Department for International Church Affairs and Migration
Mr Rateb RABIE KCHS, President, Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation
Dr David RYALL, Assistant General Secretary, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales International General Secretary, Holy Land Co-ordination
Bishop William SKYLSTAD, President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Dr Rudolf SOLZBACHER, Director, Department for International Church Affairs and Mission, Archdiocese of Cologne, Board member of German Association of the Holy Land
Mgr Piergiuseppe VACCHELLI, Under-Secretary, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Italy
Bishop Joan Enric VIVES i SICILIA, Bishop of Urgell and Co-Prince of Andorra, Spanish Bishops’ Conference
Dr Michael WHELAN KGCHS, Lieutenant, Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of England and Wales