WASHINGTON (November 12, 2004) — The death of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat brings "a time filled with both opportunities and dangers," said two leaders of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who expressed solidarity with the people of the Middle East and called for renewed U.S. leadership toward peace in the region.
"Without active engagement and strong leadership from the United States, we fear this moment will be lost and the region will continue to be torn apart by the violence and retaliation, occupation and despair that have frustrated the hopes and destroyed the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians," said USCCB President Wilton D. Gregory in a letter to President Bush.
"Now is the time to insist that the leaders of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority renew and make effective the pledges they have made to you and to each other to seek an end to violence and occupation, pursue a path of dialogue and negotiations, and take steps that will lead to two peoples and two independent and sovereign states living in peace and security," he said.
Bishop Gregory called specifically for President Bush's personal involvement in engaging Israelis and Palestinians in the peace process "in order to improve the possibilities for peace …" He called the president's attention to the twelve "Urgent Steps for Peace" developed and promoted by the National Interreligious Initiative for Peace in the Middle East, an "unprecedented group" of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious leaders.
Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, chairman of the USCCB's International Policy Committee, expressed the sympathy of the bishops to Arafat's family and to the Palestinian people.
"We stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people at this time of loss and remain committed to a just peace that is built on the twin foundations of a viable state for the Palestinian people and security for the people of Israel. We also express our solidarity with the people of Israel at this time of uncertainty and tension."
"As people of faith we believe that death does not have the final word," he said. "We pray this time of transition brought on by the death of President Arafat will lead to new life for his people and to progress toward peace and justice for Palestinians, Israelis and all who live in the land we call holy."
NOTE: The full text of Bishop Gregory's letter and Bishop Ricard's statement can be found on the Web at: www.usccb.org/sdwp/international/arafatbush.htm
The "12 Urgent Steps for Peace" developed by the National Interreligious Initiative for Peace in the Middle East, can be found at: www.usccb.org/sdwp/international/12stps.htm