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Supporting the Holy Land

Interview With Spanish Bishop Vives Sicilia

URGELL, Spain, JAN. 31, 2007 (Zenit) - On his return from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with other bishops from around the world, Bishop Joan Enric Vives Sicilia called on Christians to visit the area without fear.

Bishop Vives Sicilia of Urgell, was the delegate of the Spanish episcopal conference for the Holy Land pilgrimage.

In this interview with us, Bishop Vives Sicilia tells of his experience there.

Q: On their return from the Holy Land, the bishops who participated in the pilgrimage ask pilgrims to continue visiting the country. Is this more necessary than ever?

Bishop Vives Sicilia: After last summer's fighting in southern Lebanon, it is appropriate that pilgrims visit the holy sites again, without fear and always with the desire to strengthen their faith in the Son of God made man for us and their knowledge of his country and footprints.

Above all through Christian agencies, which are very well prepared, they will experience the warm and hope-filled welcome of the Christian communities of the Holy Land. It is a question of visiting the holy places of Scripture and the living stones of the present communities that transmit their faith to us.

Q: In addition to prayer, what can Christians of other parts of the world do for the Holy Land?

Bishop Vives Sicilia: Of course we must believe and trust in the power of prayer for peace, forgiveness and mutual recognition of brothers in conflict.

We must also be courageous and go on pilgrimage to those places, being concerned about the concrete situation of the communities that witness the faith there with so much fortitude of spirit.

And we can and must share their needs with authentic solidarity on our part. If all those who need support and reconstruction must be helped, how much more so for those who live in places that our sacred to us.

And given that we recognize the rights of these two nations, Israel and Palestine, to live in peace, justice and freedom, we must be a voice of moderation and peace before the local authorities and also before the authorities of our own countries.

We must support as brothers those who are a minority there, but very significant.

Q: What changes have you seen on this new pilgrimage?

Bishop Vives Sicilia: On the Israeli side there is much fear and ineffectiveness, and on the Palestinian side despair and great frustration after the latest democratic elections.

The Lebanese war, the situation in Iraq and tension with Iran loom over the peace process, which is envisioned with great difficulties.

The situation has not improved this past year, but continues to be very difficult, and is very serious in the Gaza Strip, Bethlehem and Galilee.

We were able to visit those isolated populations, which do not see a way out of their painful situation.

The Christian community is a small minority, but a seed of joy and hope, and must be able to count on the support of the whole of Christianity.

I have returned very impressed by the pastoral work carried out in Gaza for Christian and Muslim children and young people, who live together in harmony, as well as by the existing good relationship with the civil and religious authorities of Gaza.

Q: What is the reaction of the Israeli and Palestinian political leaders when they see the Catholic Church's interest in that land?

Bishop Vives Sicilia: I suppose they understand that we are anxious for an improvement in the daily life of Christian brothers, and I think they appreciate our communion with the ordinary bishops of the Holy Land, presided over by His Beatitude Michel Sabbah.

They know that we Christians have a duty to the Holy Land, to which, through baptism, we all belong in some way, and that the Christian communities of our Western countries ardently desire that bridges of peace be built and that the rights of all to live in a just peace are concretely reaffirmed.

Q: Have you returned more hopeful or worried than on other occasions?

Bishop Vives Sicilia: I am concerned about the weakness of the present leaders of both sides, but as President Abbas said to us, we cannot but be optimistic now that the United States wishes to be involved again in the peace process, and hopefully some concrete improvements will be obtained.

We Christians can never lose hope.

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