A special delegation of bishops from Western nations has pledged action for the most pressing need in the Holy Land: peace.
Bishops from the U.S., Canada and all over Europe and the Holy Land convened in Jerusalem Jan. 10-13 as part of an annual meeting known as the “Holy Land Coordination.” In its 11th gathering, the group explored ways of bringing attention to the struggles and hopes of the area and make strides towards peace in the region.
Bishop-delegates come together with local Church leaders to show the solidarity of the world to the Christians in the area.
The 2011 encounter was convened with the special purpose of engaging all Christians in the area, to "build bridges" in the search for peace.
The four-day meeting concluded with the release of the final statement called "A Pledge of Prayer, A Call for Pilgrimage and a Commitment to a Just Peace."
In it, the bishops underscored the importance of Christian communities surviving in the region, and that the world take responsibility for establishing a lasting peace there.
The communique reads like a mission statement, with the bishops' pledges to the local community and appeals to civil and religious leaders and all citizens.
The bishops pledged their commitment to pray for "just peace" and the protection of the lives, dignity, rights and religious freedom of all people in the Middle East. They expressed solidarity with all who "desperately" seek peace and greater justice in a grave situation mired by "fear and mistrust, even hate and destruction."
They urged Holy See-Israel negotiations to quickly reach an agreement to allow freer movement of Catholic priests and religious in the area. They are aware, they said, of the "strain" placed on people in Gaza by measures implemented for "security" purposes.
The Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad told the gathering during the meetings that "for the first time" there are more Palestinians coming into its borders than leaving.
He and the government have been investing in civil works projects to make Palestine more livable, he told them on Jan. 11. Fayyad said, "we need a vibrant Christian presence in Palestine. Otherwise what is the Holy Land without Christians?"
Even with numbers in the black, the bishops expressed their concern over the "too many cases" where people's dignity is not upheld. They stated their "commitment to stand with agents of justice and peacemakers here in the Holy Land" and to seek others to join them.
Lasting peace through the two-state solution in the area - security and recognition for Israel and independence for Palestine - is needed, they said.
"We will work for a future where the lives, dignity and rights of both Palestinians and Israelis are protected and respected," declared the bishops.
They insisted that all religious leaders, including themselves, must be more courageous and responsible in their positions of leadership.
The civil leaders of the countries that make up the Holy Land "need to summon the will and find the ways to take courageous steps for justice and peace" and leaders of other world nations have "inescapable responsibilities" to bring it about.
"We pray that the Lord may indeed give strength to his people and bless his people, all his people, with peace, especially in the land we all call holy," they stated.
Using the words of Christ himself, the bishops urged people to "Come and see," making pilgrimages to Holy Land sites.
In the joint statement, they encouraged people to continue visiting both for their own benefit and for that of the local Christian community. As the disciples were changed by going, they said, "our time in the Holy Land has changed us as well."
The names of nine bishops from places like England, Albania, Iceland and Canada were on the document. Not physically present for its release was the U.S. representative, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona, who left early because of the Jan. 8 shootings in Tucson.
In an interview with Vatican Radio on Jan. 13, Auxiliary Bishop William Kenney of Birmingham, England said he was "very happy" with how the meetings went this year."
"We've learned an awful lot about the relationship of the local church to various institutions within society, which has been very useful," he said.
The "most pressing need" for people there at the moment is for peace, he said. Following the meetings, Bishop Kenney thinks that all of the bishops have "a renewed sense" that more contact with governments and Israeli ambassadors in their respective countries is necessary.
He also said that publicity is important, "to make people aware of the situation here and that crying need for peace so that ordinary people can live their lives."