A group of Bishops from Europe and North America arrived in the Holy Land for the annual visit in Support of the Church of the Holy Land.

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In this podcast Archbishop Patrick Kelly, one of the organisers but unable to attend because of the winter storm in the UK, spoke about the focus of this years gathering.

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Building bridges of solidarity and hope

2010 will see the annual visit (10-14 January) to the Christian peoples and Churches in the Holy Land by a 26-strong delegation of bishops and representatives from Bishops Conferences and church bodies from Europe and North American countries. The annual visit is organised by the Co-ordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church of the Holy Land (Holy Land Co-ordination) and the Assembly of Catholic Bishops in the Holy Land.

This year, at the explicit mandate of the Presidents of the Bishops Conferences members of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE), which met in Plenary session in Paris from 1-4 October 2009, the CCEE General Secretary, Fr Duarte da Cunha, will be part of the delegation.

With this visit, the European bishops want to express their desire to better understand and share the problems of the peoples in those territories and at the same time to offer a tangible sign of the closeness that our Churches have towards the Christians of the Holy Land and their friendship towards the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, said Fr Duarte da Cunha.

In the next few days we will listen, with humility, to the joys and hopes, the needs and difficulties, not only of the various Christian and Catholic communities present in the Holy Land, but also of the Israeli and Palestinian populations. The Church in Europe needs this type of encounter to build bridges of solidarity and hope with the Christian communities in the Palestinian territories and in Israel and to better determine the type of interventions in support of our Christian brothers and sisters.

The delegation will begin its journey meeting the Christian communities in Gaza and parishes in the West Bank. Subsequently, there are scheduled meetings with the local populations, young priests and seminarians, a visit to the University of Bethlehem and Beit Safa Seminary. Particularly important will be the meetings, on Wednesday 13 January, with President Shimon Peres and President Mahmud Abbas. The visit will end on Thursday 14 January in Jerusalem with a celebation at the Holy Sepulchre and a News Conference.

St Gallen, Friday 8 January 2010

Origins of joint visits to Holy Land

The origins of this particular co-ordination date back to the 1990s when the Bishops Conference of the United States was working in close contact with the Church in the Holy Land on issues concerning the future of Jerusalem in particular. In 1997 the American Bishops Conference asked the European Bishops Conferences to share with them this commitment in support of the Church in the Holy Land. This led to the Co-ordination which since 1998 has undertaken an annual visit in solidarity. The secretarial work of the Co-ordination is currently entrusted to Dr. David Ryall from the Bishops Conference of England and Wales.

The Council of the Bishops Conferences of Europe (CCEE)

The Council of the Bishops Conferences of Europe (CCEE) gathers the Presidents of the current 33 European Bishops Conferences of this continent, represented by their Presidents, and the Archbishops of Luxembourg, the Principality of Monaco, and the Maronite Archbishop of Cyprus, as well as the Bishop of Chişinău (Moldavia).

The President is Cardinal Pter Erdő, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, Primate of Hungary; the Vice-presidents are Cardinal Josip Bozanić, Archbishop of Zagreb, and Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, Archbishop of Bordeaux. The CCEE General Secretary is Fr Duarte da Cunha. The headquarters of the Secretariat is in St Gallen (Switzerland)