By Lydia O’Kane
Bishops from across Europe and North America are continuing their annual visit to the Holy Land in support of the local Christian community there.
As part of their itinerary, the group visited Gaza at the weekend to see for themselves the political and socio-economic realities for the people that live there.
In 2012, the United Nations published a report which found that by the year 2020 Gaza would become unlivable. As this new decade begins, people there still don’t have safe drinking water, unemployment is high and it still suffers from an electricity deficit.
Gaza a place of isolation but also of hope
“On entering Gaza one is struck by the isolation; of the place, of the territory and immediately by the evident poverty”, said Bishop Noel Treanor of the Diocese of Down and Connor, which encompasses Belfast in Northern Ireland.
Speaking to Vatican News, he noted the amount of young people walking around who were not attending school. But, what he was also able to witness was a light of hope as visited the Catholic parish in Gaza run by Argentinian priest Fr Gabrielle Romanelli.
The Bishop stressed that he was particularly impressed by a centre run by religious sisters which provides care to children with disabilities and those who have been abandoned by parents. He also said, he was struck by the love, care and attention provided by the sisters to their little charges.
Life for young people
Asked about the sense of frustration young people feel in Gaza regarding a lack of opportunities, Bishop Treanor said that unfortunately, it was a factor of life and he could understand the temptation of young people to feel isolated, especially when prospects for the future are impeded and blocked.
But, he added, the young people that he and his fellow bishops encountered, had what he called, “another narrative”. On a visit to a training and job creation project in Gaza, Bishop Treanor said what he witnessed was a group of young people interested, “notwithstanding the difficulty of their context and its complexity, in forging a future for themselves, to develop their own skills, their own talents.” Each of them in different ways, he commented, “touched upon their desire, (A) to remain in Gaza, (B) to have a normal life there; thirdly, to engage in peace promotion and the search for justice.”
From Northern Ireland to Gaza
Bishop Treanor himself comes from a land which for many years suffered conflict and division and he remarked that while he was wary of oversimplifying comparisons, it was interesting to hear, on a visit to the Foreign Ministry of Israel, “that they had studied the reconciliation processes in Northern Ireland in search for norms for advancing peace and understanding.”
He also said, it was interesting to hear that at the Foreign Ministry, there was a department for world religions and that the importance of dialogue was stressed.
The Bishops of the Holy Land Co-ordination group visit continues until the 16th January.