With Israel threatening to escalate its military action in Gaza, the Most Rev Patrick Kelly, Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool and vice president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, has called for an alternative to more violence.
In a statement issued on the eve of his current visit to the Israel-Palestine with bishops from Europe and North America, Archbishop Kelly declared: "Everyone I meet at this time speaks with immense sadness of the suffering and destruction taking place in Gaza and the fears of the people in Israel because of rocket attacks. Having visited the Holy Land many times and Gaza once, this sadness reflects my own heart at this time."
He continued: "The conflict has deep roots but the priority now must be the immediate end to all violence. Violence is evil; especially when it blocks humanitarian relief desperately needed. Because the roots are so deep and complex this outburst of violence cries out for such wise and courageous leadership that justice for all those for whom the Holy Land is home is achieved so that all violence is relegated to the past and peace shall be secured for generations to come."
The statement went on: "Because of my brief visit to Gaza and messages from there in recent days I am also very conscious at this time of the small Christian community living in Gaza. The people, religious sisters and parish priest, Fr Manuel, need our prayers as they struggle to witness to the Gospel of Peace. The Church in the Holy Land has a unique vocation and this week Bishop William Kenney CP and I will be travelling to Bethlehem along with bishops from Europe and North America to be in solidarity with the Latin Patriarch and the Local Church through the Holy Land Coordination. This is one of the means by which we seek to stand alongside the Christians living throughout Israel, the West Bank and Gaza."
The Archbishop concluded: "The purpose of the Holy Land co-ordination has always been to accompany the Churches in the Holy Land in their fidelity to two God-given tasks: never to be silent in the face of injustice or violence and always to proclaim and live the reconciliation accomplished by our Lord on a hill called Calvary. The situation in Gaza makes this visit of solidarity, above all in prayer, by Bishops from North America and Europe a clear call from the Holy Spirit as we begin 2009."