By John Pontifex
A LEADING Catholic charity is launching an appeal for prayer for peace in the Holy Land and across the Middle East amid reports of escalating violence.
Just back from a trip to the Holy Land, Neville Kyrke-Smith, UK director of Aid to the Church in Need, described the situation as “tense” and reported on how Christians and their leaders in the region had highlighted their increasing concern about the growing conflict.
Mr Kyrke-Smith was leading a pilgrimage in the Holy Land on Wednesday (14th November) when the top military commander in Gaza was killed, sparking a massive escalation in tension between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
More than 100 people – the majority of them Palestinians – have died in the conflict that has followed.
It comes amid fears of the violence deepening after Egypt’s President Mohammed Mursi warned of “serious repercussions” following Israel’s decision to mobilise 75,000 reservists, a move that sparked reports of an imminent land invasion.
Calling on people to pray for peace this Sunday, the Feast of Christ the King, Mr Kyrke-Smith said: “The current conflict could be the taper that lights the fuse-wire of an even more widespread conflict in the Middle East.
“The Christian community must not stand back hoping that conflicts like this will burn themselves out. We have to act now for the people of the Middle East and encourage our politicians to do the same.
“Our Lord prayed for the peace of Jerusalem. We must pray too, for the peace of Jerusalem and the wider Middle East.
He went on: “Following in the footsteps of Christ, I walked the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem along with 52 other pilgrims, helping to carry the cross.
“Through our presence, through our prayer and through our charity, we are offering the hope of the Resurrection even in periods of darkness when it seems the light of the risen Christ cannot be seen.”
And in a statement from ACN International Ecclesiastical Assistant, Father Martin Barta wrote: “In the Holy Land, where the Lord proclaimed to all people and for all times the message of peace, people are dying under a hail of bombs and missiles.
“We ask Christ, the Prince of Peace, for peace in the land of his birth. He himself tells us that we should ‘stay awake and pray’.
“Let us unite with the Christians and all people in the Holy Land in prayer to Christ, that peace might come to the Middle East.
Meeting bishops, priests, lay faithful and diplomatic representatives during the ACN trip, Mr Kyrke-Smith urged Christians to continue going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
He also went on to encourage continued support for key ACN projects in the Holy Land, describing how he and the pilgrims met families benefitting from the charity’s help for carpenters and others who make items including olive wood rosaries, crosses, cribs and greetings cards.
Mr Kyrke-Smith and the pilgrims visited the Latin seminary in Bethlehem and made an important trip to the Solidarity Village, a low-cost housing scheme for Christians in Beit Safafa, east Jerusalem, supported by the charity.
The ACN UK director said the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali has stressed to pilgrims the importance of continued support for Holy Land Christians.
Bishop Shomali said that, while the percentage of Christians had declined over the past few years, their numbers had remained stable.
By John Pontifex