Please unite in prayer with bishops on pilgrimage to Holy Land
During this past summer, we were deeply saddened by the tragic death, injuries, and destruction caused by hostilities between Israel and Hamas. More than 1,800 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in Gaza, and more than a quarter of the 1.8 million residents in Gaza have been displaced. Fresh water reserves have become contaminated with raw sewage and 15,000 tons of solid waste fills the streets. Israelis live in fear of Hamas’ indiscriminate rocket attacks on civilian areas as well. Violence cannot be overcome with violence. Peace is possible. We must pray that the God of peace arouse in all an authentic desire for dialogue and reconciliation.
As you read this column, I and 17 other bishops from the United States will be in the Holy Land participating in a “Bishops’ Prayer Pilgrimage for Peace in the Holy Land.” This Prayer Pilgrimage, from September 10-19, is sponsored by the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace with assistance from Catholic Relief Services.
Our Prayer Pilgrimage for Peace, while more extended, is patterned after the May 24-26 visit of our Holy Father to Israel and Palestine. Masses and carefully prepared prayer services are held each day at significant shrines related to the life and death of Jesus. In the prayer services, we will pray alongside Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans, Evangelicals, Muslims, and Jews. We sometimes pray together and at other times take turns offering prayer suited to our own faith. Our prayers are always directed to God in behalf of peace for the peoples of this Sacred and Holy Land.
Each day we bishops offer Holy Mass at a sacred shrine marking a key mystery in our redemption, such as at the Basilicas of the Annunciation, of the Birth of Jesus, and of His death and resurrection. We also visit projects of Catholic Relief Services which serve poor and destitute Christians and Muslims. Finally, we spend considerable time in dialogue with public officials.
Please unite yourself in spirit with us during these days. Pray that God move Christians, Israelis, and Muslims to seek and find a path which builds upon the things that unite them and overcomes the things that divide. May our God and Father of all help these three parties to see themselves as brothers and sisters in the Lord and no longer as adversaries and enemies.
You may recall that while our Holy Father was in the Holy Land, he proposed to Presidents Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas that they join him and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios I at the Vatican to pray for the gift of peace for the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. They accepted his invitation for a special prayer for peace for the Holy Land and for all its inhabitants. It took place on June 9th in the Vatican gardens.
In his remarks, President Shimon Peres spoke these touching words to Pope Francis: “During your historic visit to the Holy Land, you moved us with the warmth of your heart, the sincerity of your intentions, your modesty, and your kind ways. You touched the people’s hearts – regardless of their faith or nation. You emerged as a bridge-builder of brotherhood and peace. We are all in need of the inspiration which accompanies your character and your way. Thank you.” We would all do well to follow Pope Francis’ inspiration and intentionally strive to be bridge-builders and peace-makers within our communities and beyond.
Despite the intensification of violence during this past July and August, it is the fervent hope of the bishops that this “Bishops’ Prayer Pilgrimage for Peace in the Holy Land” build upon the prayerful initiative of Pope Francis. Please join us in praying for its success and for the building of a lasting peace in that land which Christians, Jews, and Muslims hold so very holy and sacred. Prayer for peace is needed now more than ever.
Editor’s note: Follow Bishop Melczek as he blogs about his experiences in the Holy Land during this Bishops’ Prayer Pilgrimage for Peace by going to nwicatholic.com.