Bringing Peace to the Middle East: U.S. bishops plan to be stronger advocates for Israeli-Palestinian peace

American bishops were returning to their dioceses after a nine-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a stronger resolve to advocate for peace and to urge the U.S. government to take a leadership role in ushering Israelis and Palestinians toward peace, a member of the delegation said.

"Framed by Pope Francis' encouragement of encounters in Christ with the poor and suffering, (we have encountered) in the Holy Land Palestinians and Israelis who live sometimes with fear, sometimes with hate," Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, told Catholic News Service Sept. 18.

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"In Gaza, we have witnessed the destruction, death and loss of family. We feel an urgent need to bring attention to this," he said.

Representing the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops, the clerics met with Israeli and Palestinian religious and political leaders, spent time meeting local residents and prayed at holy sites during the pilgrimage that began Sept. 11. Bishop Cantu was among five bishops who also visited Gaza a month after the recent 50-day Gaza war ended.

Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger, of Salina, Kansas, who had served as a chaplain in Oklahoma City after the 1995 bombing of a federal building there, said he had never expected to see such destruction and suffering again.

He described what he saw in Gaza as "painful to see."

Electrical service remained sporadic and school was suspended while children healed from the trauma.

"All this makes us realize that there is no price too high to pay for peace," Bishop Weisenburger told CNS. "(We need) the international community to coalesce to help both parties to come together for the sake of justice for both sides who have known suffering. Both sides have the right to have stability and peace."

Just a few short years ago, the bishop noted, he had thought there would never be peace in Northern Ireland, but now peace has come.

"Hope makes it possible to envision a new future," he said.

Bishop Bernard J. Harrington of Winona, Minnesota, said he was struck by the difficult situation in East Jerusalem in terms of building restrictions and lack of freedom of movement for residents.

"We met some wonderful Israelis who are truly interested in peace and also some who talk about peace but say there are too many restrictions, namely the issue of security," he said of some Israeli leaders.

At the same time, explained retired Oklahoma City Archbishop Eusebius J. Beltran, both Israeli and Palestinian leadership has failed their people, with Palestinians lacking "sincere leadership" while Israeli leaders have become increasingly more aggressive.

Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, New York, noted the intensity of the experience, and admitted that he was returning home with a greater sense of the situation's complexity because of its parallel narratives.

"I am going to have a lot more learning and thinking and praying to do," he said. "People on both sides need to open their ears to the other side, especially the ears of their hearts."

While calling for the removal of the Israeli separation barrier, which he said serves only as a sign of exclusion, retired Bishop Michael D. Pfeifer of San Angelo, Texas, said the warm relations shared by Christian and Muslim students in Catholic schools was inspiring. He suggested their cooperation could serve as a model for further grass-roots encounters between Israelis and Palestinians.

"I think promoting (encounters) like this could promote change on the grass-roots level while we do work on the higher levels within the USBCC," he said. "I think youth can bring about change."

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Christopher Rushlau
3 years 8 months ago
Finally the conflicted Israeli Palestinians get the pastoral attention they so desperately deserve. Who knows better the burden of living in a two-tier society than Israeli Palestinians? Who understands better the insult of "some are more equal than others"? Palestinian Israelis are usually ignored, as in the title and opening sentence of this piece by Sudilovsky, an overlooking which "episcopal" never intended and which endorses implicitly either the expulsion route or the extermination route. Well, what would Jesus do? Is it better to lop off the ends of the problem that don't fit the theory, or to change the theory? For that matter, I have rejected the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis on Israel's lobbying power in the US. I suppose I've become a Chomskyist. I call the overlord "the WASP Establishment", which uses Israel as a racist cat's paw in the WASP Establishment's own racist game of global domination, which it has been pursuing for five hundred years (with a little initial interference from the Spanish and Portuguese). As Chomsky said, it would be odd if that pursuit suddenly ended just when events made it finally achievable: the end of the Second World War and now finally the unipolar world. You think I'm kidding now? Explain the "pivot to the Pacific" without a racist subtext. I think if we presented Israel with a plan for Israeli Jews to accept minority bloc status with some preservation of Jewish assets backed up by a US guarantee (the bulk going in reparations to Palestinians) and a respectable war crimes process for leading Jewish defendants in this multi-generational genocide attempt, flanked by a comprehensive severing of US ties with autocrats in the region (we've no doubt told the Israelis that a Saudi King, etc., make for a stable region, but I think now we value that King more than a "Jewish state" because kings and racism just kind of go together, especially takfiri kings) replaced by a comprehensive support for democratic forces, including Shia majorities in Lebanon, Bahrain, Yemen, and obviously Iraq and Iran, backed by a credible commitment to civil rights all across the board by the US--starting in the USA--, Israel would say, "Well, we were waiting for you to make up your mind: we want to live."
William Atkinson
3 years 8 months ago
Chris, a great article, brings some light to the long age old religious embattlement that's been and always will go on. I'd rephrase the title to say "Bringing War to the Middle East", for Americans, so hugely divided in their own Christian ways, it would seem as they would be more focused on what the practical problem is.

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