Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Holy Week and the Holy Land

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Holy Land is often referred to as “the fifth Gospel.” Just as the pages of the four canonical Gospels speak to us of Jesus, his work and his times, so does the land where he was born, lived quietly for 30 years, acted publicly through preaching and healing to tell people of God’s plan for the salvation of the world, the place where he was crucified, died, was buried and rose from the dead, speaks to all who see it. To see the places Jesus saw, to walk where he lived and walked, forms images in one’s mind that change the way we read the Gospels themselves. To visit Bethlehem, Galilee, Capernaum, Bethsaida, Nazareth, the Sea of Tiberias, the Mount of the Beatitudes and Jerusalem itself is to receive a sense of treading in Jesus’ footsteps and learning the part of the world that was his.

But the Holy Land today, while visited by pilgrims, is home to citizens of Israel, of Jordan, of the Palestinian territories; and their long-standing political and social problems color ordinary life. The U.S. bishops have long asked the U.S. government, which still has some influence on all parties, to help create a framework agreement as a basis for resolving the long-standing conflicts. This is a project that Secretary of State John Kerry has committed himself to doing in the next several weeks. His efforts deserve our prayers.

The ever-fragile talks are often jeopardized by violent acts on both sides. Palestinian rockets are fired into Israel from Gaza, and Israeli settlers attack Palestinians in the West Bank. There are strong minorities on both sides who seek to undermine negotiations, hoping that the opposing party will disappear into the air or the sea. Undermining the negotiations is literally a dead end; a just and lasting peace is necessary for the future of all who live in the Holy Land.

Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the Holy Land on May 24-26. He has expressed the “hope that both parties will resolve, with the support of the international community, to take courageous decisions aimed at finding a just and lasting solution to a conflict which urgently needs to end.”

Any lasting solution must not only be political but must also recognize the legitimate aspirations of the three faiths of the Holy Land. The Christian community is increasingly vulnerable in the countries surrounding Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories. We need only consider Iraq, Syria and even Lebanon. The percentage of Christians able to live in peace in the Middle East keeps shrinking. Persecution of Christians for their faith keeps growing. The Christians in the Holy Land continue to emigrate in significant numbers because of intolerable conditions. Peace would stabilize their situation and assure their presence in a land that is at the heart of our faith. The shrines would become mere museums for visitors should all the Christians resident in the Holy Land pick up and leave.

Recent years have seen seemingly intractable situations significantly resolved: Northern Ireland and South Africa are cases in point. The peoples in conflict in the Middle East should not be abandoned by the international community.

Traditionally, on Good Friday, the collection is taken up for the Holy Land and the upkeep of the shrines there. Let our generosity this year be accompanied by fervent prayer, that hearts may be moved and minds opened. May the Lord bless Pope Francis during his days of pilgrimage, and may God hear and answer our prayers for peace in the Holy Land.


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