Bishops visit Gaza

Last month the Christian community of Gaza was the focal point for this year’s visit to the Holy Land by Bishops from across Europe, North America and South Africa in support of the local Christian communities; among those taking part was Archbishop Emeritus Patrick Kelly, who celebrated Mass at the Carmelite Monastery in Bethlehem.

The Bishops also visited Sderot, an Israeli town hit by rockets fired from Gaza during the conflict; Bethlehem, where they prayed at the dividing wall; and Hebron. They returned to the Cremisan valley, where the planned building of an Israeli security wall threatens the livelihoods of over 50 Christian families, and also visited Bethlehem University and the seminary in Beit Jala. In addition, the Bishops met with His Beatitude Patriarch Twal.

At the end of their trip they called for human dignity to be the basis of peace, saying: 'We witnessed the tragic consequences of the failure of both local and international politicians to advance peace. Human dignity is given by God and is absolute. The ongoing conflict assaults the dignity of both Palestinians and Israelis, but in a particular way our commitment to the poor calls us to lift up the suffering people in Gaza. A year ago we called Gaza “a man-made disaster, a shocking scandal, an injustice that cries out to the human community for a resolution.” In the wake of the terrible destruction caused by last year's war, our presence reminded the small Christian community that they are not forgotten.'

Archbishop Kelly summed up these days with two images. The first, a woman’s shoe in the midst of the destruction in Gaza, was a reminder that this story is not about numbers or statistics but hundreds of personal stories of death, wounds, bereavement, fear and assaults that touch body, mind and spirit. The second, clocks made by deaf children and young people in Bethlehem which use broken mirrors, broken tiles and general stone refuse; the youngsters do not restore the mirrors or tiles, but design and achieve new beauty in a labour of patient endurance. 'We met that same quality in teachers in Gaza, in students in Bethlehem University, and in Martha’s house for Christian widows in Bethlehem who say: "Our human dignity is assaulted, but we shall never fail to work for a new creation where justice and so peace shall dwell."'

Pics attached: Archbishop Emeritus Patrick Kelly celebrates Mass in Bethlehem Carmelite Monastery; the Bishops at the dividing wall in Bethlehem