Conflicting Christian narratives reflected in bishops Holy Land visit

Bishop Declan Lang (far right) and the Bishops of the Holy Land Coordination prayed in solidarity with the Gazans at the Erez crossing - the Israel/Gaza border during their 2015 visit. (Photo: The Catholic Church for England and Wales)

Fourteen senior Roman Catholic bishops and clergy from across North America, Europe and South Africa completed their annual Holy Land Coordination visit last month themed Prayer, Pilgrimage and Persuasion.

The group visited the West Bank, Hebron and East Jerusalem. Three of the Bishops also visited Gaza.

Prayer included daily Eucharist celebration, often with local Catholic representatives. Pilgrimage involved visits to local Catholics and political figures, responding to Palestinian requests for greater contact with the wider Christian community. Persuasion referred to representation of the Palestinian situation to politicians and the media back home.

The group controversially referenced Leviticus 25:10, the Jubilee, calling for an end to the “scandal” of “50 years of occupation (by Israel) to which we must never become accustomed.”

“This de facto annexation of land not only undermines the rights of Palestinians in areas such as Hebron and East Jerusalem but, as the UN recently recognized, also imperils the chance of peace,” according to a statement signed by 12 bishops.

The bishops represented the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community and the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, as well as other European bishops.

“So many people in the Holy Land have spent their entire lives under occupation, with its polarizing social segregation, yet still profess hope and strive for reconciliation,” the statement continued. “Now, more than ever, they deserve our solidarity,”

Addressing the third objective, persuasion, the bishops called on Christians worldwide: “to recognize our own responsibility for prayer, awareness and action.”

The bishop’s stand was clearly anti-Israel and failed to address Hamas and the Palestinian Authority’s public advocacy of terrorism and the fact that most persecution of Christians in the Holy Land – including martyrdom – is perpetrated by Islamic communities in Gaza and the West Bank.

The bishops’ call for ‘prayer, awareness and action’ from the wider ‘Christian’ community back home did not offer alternative narratives of the root causes and potential solutions for Palestinian suffering, which many Christians and Messianic Jews do subscribe to. The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), for example, maintains objectives like those of the Holy Land Coordination visits, yet with an understanding that the land of Israel is covenanted by God to the Jewish people (Genesis 12:7, 13:5).