Bishops representing the North American and British episcopal conferences will travel to the Holy Land this week in an effort to better understand the pastoral challenges facing the Church and the region, and to encourage inter-religious dialogue.

The bishops will travel from Jan. 11 to 18th. During this time, they will attend a meeting of the Co-ordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church of the Holy Land, which was established at the Vatican’s request in 1998.

The Co-ordination represents the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, and the Catholic bishops’ conferences of Austria, Canada, England and Wales, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States.

Representatives from the respective bishops’ conferences are scheduled to meet with a range of civic, political and religious leaders during the eight-day visit, including a possible meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. A meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been scheduled in Ramallah and will be followed by a public Mass.

The clerics traveling to the Holy Land for this meeting include: Bishop William Skylstad (United States); Bishop Christopher Budd of Plymouth and Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool (England & Wales), and Bishop Gilles Cazabon, OMI, of Saint-Jérôme and Msgr. Mario Paquette (Canada).

Bishop Skylstad will be joined by Stephen Colecchi, director of the U.S. bishops’ International Justice and Peace office. The U.S. delegation also plans to visit Gaza, Bethlehem and other Palestinian territories with representatives of Catholic Relief Services, the official international relief and development agency of the U.S. Catholic Church.