BEIT SAHOUR, West Bank (CNS) -- Retired Bishop
Placido Rodriguez of Lubbock, Texas, remembers the smell of woodworking and the
feel of wood in his hands from when he was a child in his family furniture
factory in Celaya, Mexico.
"Here they are working with olive wood;
in Mexico we worked with cedar. We see the connection with our brothers here,"
Bishop Rodriguez said as he walked through the small family-run Odeh Factory,
which produces traditional olive wood statues and souvenirs to sell to pilgrims
and tourists. "I see the effort that is needed, and the talent, (to do
this work) as a way to support and feed their families. I can see this is the
work of Christians. I don't have to be told that, you can see it in their work."
Bishop Rodriguez was among 10 bishops who participated
in the Jan. 18-27 USCCB Hispanic Bishops' Pilgrimage for Peace in the Holy
Land. They met with local Christians as well as with other Palestinians and Israelis
to get a firsthand understanding of the situation and to advocate for "bridges
not walls." Many bishops said the pilgrimage gave them a better
understanding of the Palestinian Christian reality in the Holy Land and gave
them the opportunity to express their solidarity with the community, which
makes up less than 2 percent of the Palestinian population.
On Jan. 27, Catholic Relief Services hosted
the bishops in the traditionally Christian village of Beit Sahour, near
for a tour of the CRS Fair Trade Partner Holy Land Handicraft
Cooperative Society, and a visit to one of the artisan workshops CRS
renovate to improve working conditions.
"It has given me a special
understanding of the reason why the number of Christians in the Holy Land is
decreasing and the difficulty of living here because of the occupation,"
said Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez of St. Augustine, Florida. "While I
have felt a great sadness at their situation, I have also marveled at the
resilience of the Holy Family Parish in Gaza."
Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Cleveland described
Gaza with its 2.3 million people as a "virtual human prison," where
residents cannot leave and others cannot enter. While there is a political
aspect to the situation, the humanitarian side of it cannot be ignored, he
"People have the right to freedom of
movement, right to life. I would hope that somehow, someday this will get
resolved," he said. "Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have
their narrative, but (the situation must be dealt with) in a way which respects
the dignity of the human person."
He said although the students of Bethlehem
University with whom they spoke gave him hope as they expressed desire for
peace, their prospects for gainful employment were minimal, and many young
Christian Palestinians emigrate because of lack of work.
"We can't judge one side over the other
but ... justice and peace must reign between these two communities living here,"
said Auxiliary Bishop Alberto Rojas of Chicago. "This is possible only if
each one recognizes the dignity of the other."
"We have been exposed more to the
reality of life here and have heard ... of the fear of Israelis near the Gaza
border," said Bishop Perez. "I could relate to the fear of being shot at. People have died. That was
as disturbing as seeing the limitation of movement of people from Gaza."
"There have been situations in the
world where, in their moments, people felt there was no hope and there was
nothing to be done," he added. "But history has shown through God's
grace and intervention and goodness of people situations have changed."