Europe’s Church leaders have urged the president of Israel to resolve a crisis threatening Christian schools that has kept them closed for several weeks.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Archbishop Éamon Martin of Armagh, Ireland, said schools had been faced with “impossible cuts” and were facing a “real crisis”.
“They have been ‘on strike’ since September 1 and the children have not been having any lessons. The sustainability of their schools is critical to the well-being, identity and confidence of these Christian communities. We communicated these concerns to President [Reuven] Rivlin when we met him,” they said.
They also referred to “widespread dismay and exasperation” over the building of a security barrier through the Cremisan Valley. “Fifty-eight Christian families will be separated from their lands and their means of livelihood,” they said.
The two Church leaders were among presidents of Europe’s bishops’ conferences at the plenary assembly of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE) meeting in Galilee and Jerusalem.
Cardinal Nichols and Archbishop Martin said they were deeply moved by their encounters with Christians in Israel and Palestine and visited Christians at Bethlehem, Nazareth and Mil’ya, a town near the border with Lebanon.
They said: “We came as pilgrims to some of the most sacred places for Christianity. We wanted to express our closeness and concern for the communities who live there and to pray with them and for them.
“We were met by Christian communities who have a deep love and attachment to the homes and towns in which they and their ancestors have been living for many centuries. The Christian qualities of charity, hospitality, faith and hope shone out on the faces of the people, young and old. They yearn for peace and the stability of knowing that their property and livelihoods will be protected,” the two Church leaders said.
“In Nazareth and Mil’ya we were overwhelmed by the youthful dynamism of their faith which was evident in their prayers and singing. In Beit-Jala, at the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation, which specialises in care for disabled people, we witnessed first-hand the healing outreach of Christian people who seek to build bridges through health and education.
“However at times we also sensed the isolation that Christian communities are experiencing – their fear of being neglected or even forgotten by their brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. We heard accounts of so many families who have already left because of fear or lack of confidence in a prosperous future for their children and grandchildren,” Cardinal Nichols and Archbishop Martin said.
They urged faithful in Britain and Ireland to keep the Holy Land’s Christians in their prayers. Their full statement is here.