WASHINGTON (June 14, 2001) -- The nation's Catholic Bishops today heard an impassioned plea from the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem on behalf of the people of the Middle East, and he urged the continued advocacy of the U.S. Bishops for a resolution to the crisis there.
"We in the Holy Land are living through the most difficult period of a century-long conflict between two peoples," said Patriarch Michel Sabbah. "Despite our hopes, these last eight months have been marked by swelling waves of violence."
He called violence an unacceptable means for resolving conflicts.
"Israelis and Palestinians alike should understand this," he said. "I mourn all victims, Palestinians and Israelis, Christians, Muslims, and Jews. I am particularly saddened for the death of children and young on both sides, Israelis and Palestinians."
Patriarch Sabbah noted that both sides have legitimate grievances, and said that the most recent violence "is only the visible aspect of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. ... But we must understand that violence has a cause and the most effective way to remove the violence is to address the cause. That cause is Israeli occupation of Palestinian land."
He said Israeli annexations, confiscations, settlement, and other actions "made the establishment of a viable Palestinian state seem an impossible dream. These actions built up an
enormous reservoir of mistrust which burst forth in the intifada. God willing, inshallah, the new cease-fire, will make way for genuine peace."
In a departure from regular practice, the Bishops also heard from Ambassador Dennis Ross, the Clinton Administration's special envoy to the Middle East and a key participant in last year's negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. He agreed with Patriarch Sabbah that a cease-fire must be the first step to achieving a solution in the crisis.
Ambassador Ross said the confluence of circumstances last year offered the best hope for peace in the Middle East in years. He said changed circumstances will make it difficult in the near term to find solutions but that "just because you can't deal with the core issues doesn't mean you can't have diplomacy."
Cardinal William H. Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore and the Catholic moderator in both Jewish-Catholic and Muslim-Catholic interreligious dialogues, offered a pastoral perspective on the situation in the Middle East.
He said it is important for the Church in the United States to be engaged because "what happens over there touches religious communities here."
He suggested the Bishops reach out to Jewish and Muslim leaders locally and regionally to discuss the current situation in the Middle East. He also suggested interreligious prayer and an exchange of position papers with Jewish and Muslim organizations as practical ways to share mutual concerns.
Just as Cardinal Keeler stressed an on-going dialogue between Catholics and Jews and Catholics and Muslims, Ambassador Ross stressed the importance of rebuilding trust among Israelis and Palestinians through "people-to-people" programs. He said one of the great failures of the last seven years has been not focusing on this aspect of a solution. These "bottom-up" programs help to break down the demonization of the other side which sows mistrust, he said.
Tomorrow, the Bishops, who are meeting in Atlanta in general assembly, will take up a resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The resolution calls for a cease-fire as the first step to a resumption of a just and lasting peace, and calls attention to the increasingly marginalized status of Christians in the Holy Land.