The Catholic Church in the Holy Land, in the face of “painful suffering,” must “raise our voices to say ‘enough’” to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories, to killings, to other human-rights violations and to “the logic of violence,” said the coadjutor of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Addressing more than 100 members of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher here, Coadjutor Archbishop Fouad Twal made a heartfelt appeal for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians “mediated by an impartial party” and an end to “threats and violence from both sides,” and said that Christians have a vital role to play in building peace in the Holy Land.
“In front of this painful suffering, we raise our voices to say ‘enough’: enough to the occupation and the suffering of human beings; enough to killing and to unchecked violence; enough to the lack of security and stability; enough to the violations of human rights and human dignity of all men and women, whoever they may be; enough to the logic of violence,” he said.
“It is time to stand in front of God, who is the father of all, and the judge of all, in order to change our ways and return to him,” he added.
The archbishop, who was on his first visit to Ireland since becoming coadjutor in 2005, was here to help celebrate the investiture of new members of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, a long-standing organization dedicated to undertake charitable works in support of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and Christian sites in there, and to respond to the needs of Catholics in the Holy Land.
Archbishop Twal, who noted that he is set to “take the responsibility of the Latin Patriarchate” from Patriarch Michel Sabbah in 2008, said that Jerusalem is “the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict … the key to peace in the Middle East … and that (which) urges us to scrutinize the future.”
While noting that the Christian community there, made up of about 370,000 of 17 million living in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Territories, is a “demographically modest” 2 percent of the population, the archbishop stressed that “it still has great influence and can help shape the future of the Holy Land.”
Yet, the Holy Land community of Palestinian and Jordanian Arab Christians, Israeli Hebrew-speaking Christians, foreign-born Christians coming from Eastern Europe, Asia and other countries and pilgrims from throughout the world is under siege, Archbishop Twal said.
“Many suffer from the killings, home demolitions and imprisonment, and others from lack of security and stability. The list of sufferings is quite long, and affects all men and women who lived or still live in this Holy Land,” he said.
“This sad situation created separation among individuals and peoples, man became the enemy of man, and the language of force and violence prevailed. Our churches were affected negatively: closed borders separated our faithful, and obscured the hopes for living in dignity and for a better future; many have left the land of their ancestors, diminishing the size of our Christian communities,” the archbishop said, noting that the number of Christian Palestinians, who live outside the Holy Land, is more than double the number still living there.
It is a paradox, he said, that the conflict that exists is centered in the place that is the home to the world’s three major monotheistic religions.
“Conscious of the unique significance of Jerusalem ,” the archbishop said, “in front of God and humanity, we find it fitting, that the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faithful, work together, with sincerity and in mutual trust, so that this city, may truly be able to fulfil its divine calling: a universal symbol of fraternity and peace and a place of encounter and reconciliation among religions and peoples.”
Archbishop Twal said that it is now “time to intensify action” through negotiations that can lead to an end of the Israeli occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
Such a state, with “borders clearly defined,” can give both Israelis and Palestinians “human dignity, security and equal opportunity.”
Negotiations, he added, cannot be “made under threat” if they are to be effective. “The negotiations we need require real dialogue, mediated by an impartial party,” he said.
“Unfortunately, what we see, threats and violence from both sides.”
Yet, noting that 40 years has passed since the 1967 Israeli-Arab war, the archbishop pointed out that, while Israel has “won almost all the wars with the Arabs, till now Israel never won peace and security.”
Israel, he said, “relies only on its military power, rather than on international rules and resolutions.”
“Only a return to the negotiating table on an equal footing, with due respect for international law, is capable of disclosing a future of brotherhood and peace for those who live in this blessed land,” he said.
“All individuals [must] see their fundamental rights guaranteed: both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people are equally entitled to live in their own homeland in dignity and security.”
The Catholic Church of the Holy Land must work through the frustration and desperation of “the ongoing injustice and the lack of peace,” Archbishop Twal said.
The church there has a vocation and a mission, he stressed. “Our vocation is to remain, despite our small number, in the land, where Jesus preached, redeemed humanity and founded the church,” he said.
“Our mission is to be witnesses of the gospel of love and reconciliation, being a bridge amidst a Moslem and Jewish majority.”
During the Mass that preceded Archbishop Twal’s remarks, Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh and primate of All-Ireland, addressed the current plight of the Christian community in the Holy Land and the need for a new initiative to establish a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
“It is very sad to see so many Christians leave the Holy Land. What a shame to hear Bethlehem, so dear to Christians, now described as a vanishing Christian community, an isolated town, with boarded up shops and surrounded on three sides by an eight-meter high concrete wall. I believe the Christian presence in the Holy Land is a moderating influence and is essential to achieving peace.”
Renewing the call for both Jewish and Palestinian leaders to continue to work towards bringing all the interested parties to the negotiating table, Archbishop Brady said that “the future of all peoples of the Holy Land depends on the securing of a just and lasting peace.”
“Only a just and lasting peace with the Palestinians will offer security to Israel. Only a just peace will set Israel free from its present anxiety. That just peace will only be found if and when the needs of the weak are given priority over the wishes of the powerful and both sides begin to hear each others voices and to recognize each others rights,” he said.
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