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Bishop returns from Catholic Relief trip to Middle East



From: Goshen News

By BISHOP KEVIN C. RHOADES 26 January 2017


PHOTO CONTRIBUTEDBISHOP RHOADES shares a moment with a disabled boy in Gaza at the Missionaries of Charity home.


Editor’s note: The Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades, Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, recently returned from a trip to the Middle East with Catholic Relief Services. To read the entire article, visit Today’s Catholic online at

I had the privilege to travel to Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Jan. 15-22 with Catholic Relief Services.

Hosted by the staff of CRS in the Holy Land, Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas, and I, along with two CRS staff from the U.S., seven board members and benefactors and the CRS regional director participated in the trip.

The work of Catholic Relief Services in the Holy Land began in the 1940s and focused on assisting refugees displaced by the devastation of World War II. CRS has offices today in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Gaza.

East Jerusalem

Our first full day was spent in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian section of the city annexed by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. The 308,000 Palestinians of East Jerusalem are not citizens of Israel, but are classified as permanent residents with limited rights.

We were able to look out over an area of an Israeli settlement and a Palestinian neighborhood on two hills separated by an area called E-1. We traveled north to Ramallah in the central West Bank. It was historically an Arab Christian town, but today has a Muslim majority. We visited the Muqata’a, the government headquarters and presidential compound of the Palestinian National Authority.


We began our second day in Jerusalem with Mass at the chapel on Mount Golgatha, within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, followed by a tour of the site of our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection. The experience of entering the Edicule, the shrine that encloses Jesus’ empty tomb, was indescribable. The Edicule is being restored and is covered with scaffolding. I was happy that it is still open for pilgrims. A few months ago researchers found the original rock surface, the bed of Jesus’ burial, under the marble slab where people pray. The limestone cave walls of the tomb are also intact.

Later we visited the residence and offices of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Patriarchate is governed by Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, an Italian Franciscan. He shared his concern about the diminishing population of Christians in Jerusalem, now numbering only 12,000. He also expressed gratitude for U.S. pilgrims to the Holy Land who support the local Christians.


We traveled to Hebron and visited Tomb of the Patriarchs, the burial place of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. This is the second holiest place in the world for the Jewish people. King David began his reign in Hebron. Many Jews were praying or studying in the synagogues and halls within the building of the Tombs when we visited. Hebron, a Palestinian city in the West Bank, is now divided, with parts under Israeli control and parts under the Palestinian Authority. There are no Christians in Hebron. It truly felt like an occupied city, with Israeli soldiers everywhere and Israeli checkpoints throughout the city.


We proceeded to Bethlehem through the “Wall” (Separation Barrier), celebrating Mass in the Saint Jerome Chapel near the Grotto of the Nativity in the crypt of the Church of the Nativity. The chapel is located in the cell or cave where Saint Jerome lived for 30 years and translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin (the Vulgate).

Our group also met with the De La Salle Brothers and students at Bethlehem University, a Catholic University with a Muslim student body. We also visited one of several olivewood workshops renovated with CRS funding and the Fair Trade, a Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative Society Shop.


We celebrated morning Mass in the Church of the Agony (also called the “Church of All Nations”) in the Garden of Gethsemane. In front of the altar, a large rock formation in the ground is said to mark the place where Jesus prayed in agony before his arrest on Holy Thursday night. We also saw the ancient olive trees in the Garden that have roots going back to the time of Jesus.

Near Gethsemane, also on the Mount of Olives, we visited the Orthodox Church which contains what the Orthodox believe to be the Tomb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, where her body was laid before the Assumption. An Armenian liturgy was taking place while we visited there.

I visited the four quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem: Christian, Armenian, Jewish and Muslim. I prayed at the Western Wall and spent a good amount of time placing more than 1,000 little slips of paper with prayer petitions from the Bishop Dwenger students in the crevices of the wall. I especially enjoyed some prayer time at Saint Anne’s Church and the ruins of the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed the paralytic.


We spent two days in Gaza, where 90 percent of CRS’ work in the Holy Land takes place. The water is contaminated and electric power is sporadic. Thousands of families still need safe and adequate housing today. Gaza has the highest rate of unemployment in the world, about 40 percent. It is governed by Hamas, designated by the U.S. and Israel as a militant Islamist terrorist organization. Hamas has refused to renounce violence. Entering and leaving Gaza involved going through three checkpoints: Israeli, Palestinian Authority and Gaza’s Hamas authority. The people of Gaza are like prisoners, since they are unable to leave except for rare emergency or other special situations. The people of Gaza rarely see visitors from outside, since few are allowed entry to Gaza.

The week in the Holy Land was certainly a blessing. I invite you to pray for these brothers and sisters and for peace and reconciliation among peoples in the Holy Land.

Bethlehem University Foundation
Phone: +1-240-241-4381
Fax: +1-240-553-7691
Beltsville, MD USA
Bethlehem University in the Holy Land
Phone: +972-2-274-1241
Fax: +972-2-274-4440
Bethlehem, Palestine