Bishop Shomali speaks at Lugano conference   2011/09/16
By: JJ

Bishop William Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop of Jerusalem is in Switzerland from September 15th to 17th. He was in Lugano (Ticino) to discuss « the daily life conditions of Christians in the Holy Land. »  
Bishop Shomali celebrated Mass with Monsignor Luigi Mazzetti, canon of the Cathedral of Lugano on Thursday. He gave a conference on Christians’ life in the Holy Land at the Faculty of Theology of Lugano. « How can this Christian minority live or survive?» and « What hope have they for the future?»

The presentation was in three parts which dealt with the economic, political and socio-religious context that characterizes the life of Christians in the Holy Land. For reasons of methodology and time Bishop Shomali focused his conference mainly to Palestinian Christians. He spoke briefly about Christians from Jordan and Israel.

In addition to foreign aid, particularly European and American aid which reached one billion dollars a year, there are three main resources for the Palestinian economy: stone industry, religious tourism (and craft industry), and everything related to Education and Health. « In the Bethlehem area, Catholic institutions (schools, hospitals and Bethlehem University) provide employment to a third of the Christian population of the region» highlighted Bishop Shomali. However, wages are generally low. An employee normally receives between 400 and 1,000 Euros a month. The great advantage of being an employee is the health insurance coverage which only 20% of the population has access, and others must arrange for coverage as they can. « For this reason, the Catholic Church of the Holy Land continues to intervene and help poor people, especially those who are without health insurance. Every day cheques are sent by the Latin Patriarchate to different hospitals in the region to cover surgical and medical care expenses.» The Bishop did not forget to mention other resources: the Christian Churches in the West, the Good Friday collection, and the Solidarity of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. «During the difficult years of the intifada, when unemployment reached 60% and the Christian community suffered from extreme insecurity and poverty, we felt an immense solidarity from our brothers of the West. History will remember this magnanimity.» Bishop Shomali also spoke about difficulties that Christian Palestinians face: checkpoints, travel from the Amman airport instead of Tel Aviv, real estate construction, emigration, family reunification and water issue.

Hope against all hope

About politics, Bishop Shomali spoke about the Palestinian bid for UN membership and the meetings that will take place in the UN General Assembly next week. « It is likely that Palestine will be accepted as a non-member state because there will be an American veto in the vote at the Security Council. » The Bishop continued, «despite the continuing conflict that does not seem to have a promising solution in the near future, we must “hope against all hope” (Rom.4:18), and pray.» The fate of this Christian community and its survival depends on the evolution of the peace process but also on the ability of our Christians to live as free and equal citizens in the midst of two majority blocks: Islam and Judaism. It also depends on their ability to find within their faith a force to remain Christians, to be proud of it and to offer a beautiful testimony to others of their faith.

About religion, the Bishop clearly said: « The Synod did not claim to find a solution for all problems of Christians but it provided a necessary light to look at the reality through the eyes of God. An example may illustrate this: to make Christians stay in the Holy Land, we must persuade them that their permanence is a true vocation to live and be witnesses of our faith in the land of Jesus. » Christians of the Holy Land are proud to be Christians. The sacramental practice of baptism is 100%. All are married in the Church. They often go to the Church for social occasions. Sunday practice is up to 30%. « Yet we still want to improve and desire to deepen the faith of our Christians; faith that often seems superficial and social. We work to improve catechesis and encourage the daily reading of the Word of God.» said Bishop Shomali.

Bishop Shomali also met with the Swiss Lieutenancy of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem and guests.

Christophe Lafontaine


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