WASHINGTON (April 4, 2002) -- Pledging to continue working for a just peace in the Middle East, the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops today condemned "the escalating violence, terrorism, and warfare" in the region, and called for "stronger efforts" by the United States and the international community.
Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville (IL), late today issued a statement deploring the latest developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and renewing "with even greater urgency" the need for an immediate cease-fire.
The full text of Bishop Gregory's statement follows:
"As President of the USCCB, I deplore and condemn the escalating violence, terrorism and warfare in the Middle East. We join with the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem in their urgent appeals for action 'to end the suffering of so many peoples' in the Holy Land.
"These terrible events have included people killed as they participated in a Passover meal and other attacks on innocent civilians. They have also included tanks and gunfire at the Church of the Nativity, Israeli military invasion of Bethlehem University, and Palestinian militia occupation of a Franciscan convent. This growing tragedy requires greater solidarity and more effective action to stop this horrific cycle of violence.
"We renew with greater urgency the recent call of the USCCB Administrative Committee 'that the parties embrace an immediate cease-fire and return to the arduous task of negotiating a just peace, without delay or pre-conditions. Only negotiation can lead to an end to violence and occupation, a secure state for Israel and a viable state for Palestinians.'
"It is clearer than ever, as the Committee said, 'that the status-quo is unacceptable. Israeli occupation cannot be sustained – militarily or morally – nor can the indiscriminate use of force in civilian areas. Palestinian attacks on innocent civilians cannot be tolerated – both because they are morally indefensible and because they undermine the legitimate claims of the Palestinian people. This deadly cycle of action and reaction, suicide bombing, and aggressive attacks must be ended.'
"We renew with even greater urgency our call for the U.S. 'government to use every means to persuade leaders on both sides to turn away from actions which permit, incite or employ violence and to return to the search for peace based on mutual respect and equal justice for Palestinians and Israelis.'
"These events require a clear and unequivocal condemnation of suicide bombings and effective action to stop attacks on civilians. They require a rapid withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank. They require stronger efforts by the United States and the international community to bring to an end the violence and terror, occupation and attacks which are destroying so many lives and hopes.
"We pledge to continue to work for a just peace, heeding Pope John Paul II's Easter call: 'Christian communities on every continent, with trepidation and hope, I ask you to proclaim that Jesus is truly risen and to work so that his peace may bring an end to the tragic sequence of atrocities and killings that bloody the Holy Land, plunged again in these very days into horror and despair.' Therefore, I call on my brother bishops and others of good will to do all they can in prayer and public advocacy to bring about an end to this terrible violence and a new beginning of negotiations for a just peace.
"We extend our solidarity and prayers to all those whose lives have been damaged or destroyed in this terrible conflict. Having come through the holiest of weeks for many believers, we pray that the promise of the Resurrection will sustain all those who seek peace in the midst of war and mutual respect in the face of bitter hatred."