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Syrian refugees putting ‘enormous strain’ on Holy Land, say bishops

By on Thursday, 10 January 2013

The bishops, including Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, centre, celebrate Mass at Amman in Jordan (Photo: Mazur/

The bishops, including Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, centre, celebrate Mass at Amman in Jordan (Photo: Mazur/

Bishops visiting the Holy Land from Europe and America have said refugees from Syria are putting an “enormous strain” on the surrounding region.

In a statement at the end of their trip, the Bishops of the Holy Land Co-ordination said that people in the Holy Land had lived “through dark and dramatic events”, including the conflict in Gaza, civil war in Syria, and “increasing polarisation within Israel and Palestine”.

They said these developments were causing “profound anxiety for all”, particularly Christians.

Among the bishops visiting the Holy Land this week were Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton and Auxiliary Bishop William Kenney of Birmingham.

The bishops’ statement in full, issued on January 10 2013.

Since the Bishops of the Holy Land Co-ordination gathered in January 2012, the people in this region have lived through dark and dramatic events: conflict in Gaza and southern Israel; civil war in Syria, which has resulted in huge numbers of refugees pouring into other countries and putting an enormous strain on their resources; and increasing polarisation within Israel and Palestine. These developments have caused profound anxiety for all in this region, for the Israelis, Palestinians, Jews, Muslims, and particularly for the dwindling Christian population.

This year we met Christian communities in Gaza, Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Madaba and Zarqa. In the Cremisan Valley we heard about legal struggles to protect local people’s lands and religious institutions from the encroachment of the Security Barrier (“the wall”). We promise to continue urging our respective governments to act to prevent this injustice. We heard moving testimony from religious women involved in the care of migrant workers, trafficked persons and prisoners.

Our faith was enriched by the strength and fortitude of the people we met: those with whom we shared in a vibrant celebration of Mass in Zarqa in Jordan; those who care for the vulnerable, like the refugees from Syria and Iraq fleeing terror and violence; those struggling in the face of oppression and insecurity across the countries that make up the Holy Land. We are inspired to promote a just peace and call upon Christian communities in our home countries and people of goodwill everywhere to support the work undertaken in this region to build a better future. Good examples are two agencies we visited: Catholic Relief Services in Gaza and the Caritas refugee programme in Jordan.

We are also called to recognise and tell others how faith in God brings light into the lives of people in the Holy Land. One of the ways in which this happens is the Church’s commitment to education, a tangible investment in the future. Nowhere is this more evident than in the University of Bethlehem, where we were struck by the stories from students, and the American University of Madaba in Jordan. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI called upon staff and students in the region to be builders of a just and peaceful society composed of peoples of various religious and ethnic backgrounds.

With the local Bishops, we encourage practical support for the vulnerable, the formation of young people and every effort for the promotion of peace. We encourage Christians to come on pilgrimage to the Holy Land where they will experience the same warm hospitality we received. We shall work hard to persuade our respective governments to recognise the root causes of suffering in this land and to step up their efforts for a just peace. We echo the call Pope Benedict made recently in his speech to the Holy See’s diplomatic corps: “Following Palestine’s recognition as a non-member observer state of the United Nations, I again express the hope that, with the support of the international community, Israelis and Palestinians will commit themselves to peaceful co-existence within the framework of two sovereign states, where respect for justice and the legitimate aspirations of the two peoples will be preserved and guaranteed. Jerusalem, become what your name signifies! A city of peace, not one of division”.

In the words of one of the Psalms, which we prayed together each day: “for the peace of Jerusalem pray” (Psalm 122, v.6).

Signatories to the Final communiqué:

Archbishop Richard Smith – Edmonton, Canada
Archbishop Joan-Enric Vives – Urgell and Andorra, Spain
Bishop Gerald Kicanas – Tucson, USA
Bishop Stephan Ackermann – Trier, Germany
Bishop Michel Dubost – Evry, France
Bishop William Kenney – ComECE Representative
Bishop Peter Bürcher – Reykjavik, Nordic Bishops’ Conference
Bishop Declan Lang – Clifton, England and Wales.

  • Daniel

    I think that people want peace so much that one of these days government had better get out of their way and let them have it

  • Sweetjae

    Evil and tyrannical leaders of the world like in Syria should be removed, good people everywhere can not stand by idle and just watch people being slaughtered. History again.

  • John McCarthy

    The Holy Land needs peace,pray for it.

  • Nat_ons

    My heart goes out to all the peoples of the Middle East; nonetheless, violent terror can draw souls together as much as drive men apart. What must be of as much concern – for the souls suffering spiritual trauma in N. America and Europe – is the shuffling indifference to all and any authentic public worship of God .. after all, this form of horror can only mark out man’s alienation from God the more clearly. Yes, the political message of the episcopal tour does speak loudly, crying ‘Peace! Peace!’ but amid the other shrieking voices of the area these will sound hollow where there is no peace – and especially when the jolly nice bishops pack up and fly home; all that is left to man as real comfort, then, is a bunch of pleasant, well-intentioned and politically active religious leaders drooping, listless, bemused, around an altar – the very archetypical mish-mash imposed by one-time liturgical experts on Paul V’s nobly simple New Order of Mass.

    A Pontifical High Mass alone would not end the reign of terror, nor will military intervention – no one can imagine these could! 

    Still, I ask you, in all honesty, what message is silently sent out in the still ubiquitous half-baked ‘Hey-Kids-I-Know .. Let’s-Just-Do-It-Ourselves!’ / ‘Ach! sure any auld kind of folksy liturgy we throw together will do for God’ type of worship; is it not that of just one more N.G.O among so many .. and each with their own kind of man-centred rituals in publicity? 

    No, that is not good enough; the Magi wrought a more perfectly divine and heavenly worship in offering up their gold, and frankincense and myrrh to the helpless and persecuted child in a manger, so too the poor sheep-herders in bringing the loving alms of their own Christ-centred empty hands; turn man’s self-centred heart and mind from himself and toward God, for to this neither Moslem, Christian nor Jew can rightly object .. and man guided by the Holy Ghost cannot err in its witness.

    OK, I admit these genuinely concerned pastors have the right words, but they seem to seek the wrong end; these princes of the church catholic do understand the power of symbol, yet they point primarily to themselves not the One whose power counts. I apologise in advance, naturally, for any offence taken by my tedious rant .. but for heaven’s sake, gentlemen, bishops: Epiphany, showing forth its meticulous effort in divine service and its angelic garnering of attention to human struggle. Now that is the Gospel message: God our Saviour is revealed, and with that only one’s very best offering is good enough to mark God’s glory, and only the fullest gift of oneself is proper in charitable service among His People .. thereafter, lead those souls entrusted to your care in the blessed pilgrimage which you so eagerly advocate (AKA put your money where your mouth has been).