Catholic bishop walks length of Gaza Strip in support of cease-fire

Bishop Bart van Roijen Bishop Bart van Roijen walked the length of the Gaza Strip on April 29 in support of those suffering due to the Israel-Hamas conflict. | Development and Peace - Caritas Canada

A Catholic bishop walked the length of the Gaza Strip on April 29 in support of those suffering due to the Israel-Hamas conflict. 

Bishop Bart van Roijen of the Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador in Newfoundland, Canada, walked 42 kilometers, a little over 26 miles, from York Harbor to Corner Brook and ended his journey with a prayer service at the Cathedral of the Holy Redeemer. 

People around the world are participating in similar walks to call for a cease-fire in Gaza and for peace in both Israel and Palestine. 

Van Roijen told CNA in an interview that he felt called to do this walk because he wanted “to quietly witness to the sufferings of both citizenries and to make a strong statement that the atrocities, damage, and indignities that are being done must end.”

He explained that just a few days before being approached to take part in the walk, he was speaking with someone about the difficulties he was having with the “unresolved conflicts in the world and how they were perpetuated by endless justifications, open acts of aggression, and an unwillingness to dialogue in a meaningful way.”

“I expressed a tiredness with the whole idea of taking sides when it was clear that atrocities have, and continue to be, committed by both sides and that the civilian populations, on both sides of a conflict, are always the ones who pay the price,” van Roijen said.

He added: “The idea of a 42-kilometer walk helped me focus some of this energy on something constructive that was building greater awareness and solidarity with a civilian population that was forced to migrate 42 kilometers from the North to the South of Gaza, and helped me to appreciate how difficult this must be when dealing with possessions, children, infirmities, checkpoints, ongoing conflict, and the possibility of being targeted.”

Van Roijen emphasized that the walk allowed him to “move from my response to the atrocities committed by both sides to a spirit of offering it to God.”

The bishop completed the walk in six hours and 45 minutes. The weather hovered between 46 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit and, despite the rain and wind, the clergyman did not take any breaks and managed to stay dry thanks to his umbrella and rubber boots. 

He credited his four-mile walk to and from his office each day during the winter months for being properly prepared. 

“Walking along the Bay of Islands, from York Harbor to the Cathedral in Corner Brook, gave me some nice views of the bay and the surrounding hills and villages,” he said.

“It also gave me the sense of the Gaza Strip in its proximity to its own body of water and the narrowness of its borders,” he said, adding: “By walking and praying I was given a sense of peace — a peace that I was able to integrate into the prayer service that followed at the cathedral.”

As for what Catholics can do to aid in the current situation, van Roijen said: “Ours is a role of intercession, healing, and reconciliation, not of judgment or condemnation,” adding: “Though we should be strong in our insistence of the inviolable and inalienable dignity of all people, and that atrocities have been and are committed by both sides.” 

“Catholics need to stand with the Palestinian and Israeli citizens who have had their human rights and dignity violated, to insist that all forms of violence cease, all hostages be released, and all channels of dialogue be opened,” he said.

“This conflict, like all conflicts big or small, is perpetuated by all those who contribute fuel to the fire, either in word or deed. The more resources and arguments that are provided to each side, and the more we divide ourselves into factions, the more conflict rages,” he expressed. 

He urged the faithful to “be wiser in regards to conflict within our Church, communities, countries, and world.”

“Rather than perpetuate it by immediately taking sides,” he continued, “we need to challenge it and expose it for what it is: a failure to be truly human in word or deed, an affront to our dignity as humans and as brothers and sisters to one another.”

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