Bishops from North America, Europe and Africa called on international leaders to act immediately so people living in the Gaza Strip can have access to basic necessities, reports The Catholic News Service.
'Gaza is a man-made disaster, a shocking scandal, an injustice that cries out to the human community for a resolution. We call upon political leaders to improve the humanitarian situation of the people in Gaza, assuring access to the basic necessities for a dignified human life, the possibilities for economic development and freedom of movement,' they said in their January 16 statement.
The bishops spent the two days of their January 11-16 trip visiting Christian schools and social and health institutions in Gaza, as well as meeting with the local parishioners. Their visit, known as the Holy Land Coordination, is an annual event which began in 1988 at the request of the Vatican.
Each year they come at the invitation of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land and focus on prayer, pilgrimage and advocacy with the aim of acting in solidarity with the local Christian community.
The tiny Christian community of Gaza is made up of about 2,500 Christians out of a total Gazan population of more than 1.5 million people. The majority of the Christians belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, with slightly fewer than 200 Catholics living in Gaza. Israel has blockaded the Gaza Strip since Hamas took control in 2007, although it loosened restrictions in 2010. Egypt opened one border crossing to Gaza in 2011.
'In the seemingly hopeless situation of Gaza, we met people of hope,' the bishops said. 'We were encouraged by our visit to tiny Christian communities which, day after day, through many institutions, reach out with compassion to the poorest of the poor, both Muslim and Christian.'
At least one bishop remarked on the destroyed buildings and pock-marked facades that remain from Israeli shelling of Gaza.
In their statement, the bishops noted the warmth with which they were received in Gaza, and also the Christians' request that they not be forgotten by the world's Christians, whom they asked to pray for them and support them in whatever way they can.
The delegation also visited Palestinian Catholic schools in Gaza, East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, West Bank.