The “scandal” of Gaza” “

Interview with father Remerij (CCEE): "Giving peace a chance". Christians' role

“Gaza is a shocking scandal, an injustice that demands an urgent solution for the human community”, wrote the bishops of the Holy Land Coordination (HLC) in their message released at the end of the annual visit to the Holy Land. “We call upon political leaders to take action to improve the humanitarian situation of the people in Gaza, ensuring access to basic products for a dignified human life, possibilities for economic development and freedom of movement”. The visit brought them – from January 11-16 – to Gaza, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, where they had meetings with representatives of local Christian communities, political representatives and leaders of civil society, to try and understand in person the situation of the local population and the difficulties experienced in every day life, marked by a decades-long conflict. SIREurope asked father Michel Petrus Remerij, vice-Secretary general of the Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe – CCEE. In the EU the HLC comprises the bishops of Spain, England, Ireland, Poland, France, Germany, and Scandinavia. What balance can be drawn at the end of the visit? “We haven’t only seen, we have lived the situation with the people in Gaza, a prison where over one and a half million people are enclosed. The delegation was impressed by the joy expressed by the small local Catholic communities, which in Gaza consist of less than 200 people. When we arrived they welcomed us with open arms, a sign of great attention for us. We prayed with them and conveyed our solidarity”. The final declaration is a clear condemnation of the situation in Gaza …”There are people in Gaza, a whole population. After having witnessed their living conditions the bishops couldn’t refrain from describing as a “shame” the humanitarian disaster under way. It is necessary to remedy this situation, as stated in the appeal to the authorities”. A recurring theme in the meeting with political leaders and personalities was the peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. What was your impression listening to the different sides? Are there still chances of reaching an agreement? “I noticed that many are aware that this is perhaps the last chance of reaching an agreement. There is hope that a just, sustainable solution will be found. On my part I side with those who believe that a dignified solution exists. There is hope, which must be nurtured in order to bring new life to this land”. In their message the bishops said they were encouraged by the testimony of hope and faith of the “very small local communities”. What can they teach to a relativistic, secularised Western world? “They teach us to hope despite all the suffering, to hope with faith, most of all. I was impressed by the extent to which they take care of each other, especially of the poor and vulnerable. While in the Western world there are attempts to confine religion to the private sphere, here religion is the driving force that prompts sharing, solidarity, feeling of identity and belonging. Faith enroots them in their land. And while there are many who leave there are many who want to continue living in that land. This rooted faith must prompt reflection and serve as an example”. What can the bishops do in concrete terms to further the commitment taken towards these communities and peoples after having returned to their home countries? “To pray first of all. The bishops will share what they have seen with their dioceses and their bishops’ conferences. Moreover, the final declaration contains an appeal to institutions to take action, become leaders of hope and not erect obstacles. It could be useful to put pressure on the respective governments to raise awareness on the peace process and the humanitarian situation at local level”. Further help could come with the upcoming visit of Pope Francis… “The local population awaits the Pope with great anticipation. They hope the visit may bring about a real change. It happened in Syria with the day of prayer and fasting. But the Pope’s visit will also step up the Christian presence in the Holy Land. Christians are men and women of relations, dialogue, capable of creating networks and relationships. Their presence in the Holy Land is necessary for the establishment of justice and peace”. Daniele Rocchi – from Jerusalem

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