One of the key components of this year’s Holy Land Co-ordination was a two-day visit to the Gaza Strip.
The international delegation, led by 12 bishops, made the short but important visit that started on Sunday, 12 January, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, with a Eucharistic celebration in Gaza’s Holy Family parish.
Mass began two hours late, due to the slow transition through the Erez checkpoint. The parishioners had been waiting patiently and greeted the visitors with the usual local warm hospitality.
Two further visits were organised by the heads of Catholic Relief Services. The first was to the school of crafts for children of the refugee camps run by the Near East Council of Churches.
The second was in Rafah, on the border with Egypt, to see the famous ‘tunnel’ – now closed. As is widely known, this was a way, in some cases the only way, to get products into Gaza from Egypt. The inhabitants of Rafah explained that this is a major problem that must be solved, otherwise many people will be without food and medicine.
The visit to an association that looks after the deaf and handicapped concluded the first full day of excitement and surprises – even for the bishops. They did not expect to find such desolation.
On Monday morning, the Bishops celebrated Mass with the priests of Gaza at which the religious sisters participated.
The delegation also got to see, at close quarters, the work of the Sisters of Mother Teresa who welcome children with problems and the elderly living alone – an extraordinary charitable work that moved several members of the delegation. Before leaving there were affectionate hugs of gratitude for Fr Mario da Silva and all the sisters.
If this visit will not bring major changes for Gazans, it will definitely remain vividly in the hearts of the Bishops and other members of the delegation. When one comes to Gaza and sees the situation first-hand, one cannot remain indifferent upon returning home. That’s what has happened to the shepherds in Bethlehem on Christmas night and that’s what has happened to our pastors in Gaza.
The Christian community of Gaza is made up of 2,500 people, of whom Catholics number around 300, in a total population of over 1.5 million.
Source: Padre Mario Cornioli
Today the bishops will visit projects supported by their individual Episcopal Conferences of the Holy Land Co-ordination focusing on education and youth empowerment schemes.
This afternoon the delegation will visit the Cremisan Valley where the planned building of an Israeli security wall threatens the livelihoods of over 50 Christian families based in Beit Sahour and Beit Jala in the Bethlehem area.
Since 1998, the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has organised the annual meeting of the Coordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church of the Holy Land and at the invitation of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land. It’s often more simply called the Holy Land Co-ordination.
Mandated by the Holy See, the Holy Land Co-ordination meets every January in the Holy Land, focusing on prayer, pilgrimage and persuasion with the aim of acting in solidarity with the Christian community there and sharing in the pastoral life of the local Church as it experiences intense political and social-economic pressure.