The Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark, writes…

It is always a privilege to be able to visit the sacred places of the Holy Land.  I have recently returned from accompanying an international group of Roman Catholic Bishops on their annual visit there to support the local Church and promote dialogue and peace.  Known as the Holy Land Coordination and mandated by the Vatican this is the sixth consecutive year that I have been able to join with the Bishops.

During our visit we encountered many people from the local Christian communities and were inspired by the enduring resilience of those we met in Gaza, East Jerusalem and Ramallah in the West Bank despite the worsening situation.   We were able to see and hear about the many challenges that they face in their daily lives.  The situation for the Christian communities in the Holy Land is deeply challenging and yet they have strong hope and faith for the future.  As much as we were inspired by those we met, we echoed the local bishops’ lament at the international community’s failure to realise justice and peace in the land of Christ’s birth.

You can see the communique from the group in which the Bishops prayed for the peace of Jerusalem and implored governments to help build a new political solution rooted in dignity for all at http://www.cbcew.org.uk/we-must-not-ignore-the-voice-of-people-in-the-holy-land/

Photo ©Mazur/cbcew.org.uk

In making our pilgrimage together to the places and people of the Holy Land we will be showing solidarity with them and experiencing for ourselves what St Jerome described as the Fifth Gospel, ‘Come and See’. During our pilgrimage we will also visit the L’Arche community in Bethlehem which is one of my Lent Call projects for this year and visit the work of the Comboni sisters in Bethany where their orphanage has become surrounded by the Separation Barrier.  Such visits help us to see for ourselves the effect that the political and social situation is having on people’s lives and this helps inform our prayers.

This will be the fourth Diocesan Pilgrimage to the Holy Land I have led with the Dean of Southwark but our first Ecumenical Pilgrimage with the Archdiocese of Southwark.  We have always travelled together in Lent – a wonderful time in the Church’s year to be following in Jesus’ footsteps and pealing back the layers to First Century Palestine.  I am especially pleased that Bishop Paul Hendricks (one of our Ecumenical Canons) and the Dean of St George’s Cathedral (who serves on the Cathedral Council) will be part of the leadership team.  

As we walk the Way of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa to the Holy Sepulchre constructed on the site of Calvary I shall pray we will be renewed in the task we share with Christian communities from all denominations across our Dioceses to work together to share God’s Good News. In journeying together I am sure that we will learn more about each other and all that we share together as disciples of Jesus Christ who prayed that we may all be one.  It is my hope and prayer that our pilgrimage together in March will be a time of great blessing.