Representing the U.S. Church, Bishop Oscar Cant√∫ of Las Cruces, New Mexico, joined a delegation of 12 bishops from North America, South Africa and Europe in a “solidarity visit” to the Holy Land, Jan. 13-18. 

The bishops visited Gaza, met with schoolchildren there in the West Bank and in Israel, as well as with students at Hebrew University and Bethlehem University. They also visited l’Arche in Bethlehem and a home for the elderly in Beit Emmaus. 

In a communiqué issued at the end of their visit, the bishops expressed concerns about unemployment among Palestinian youths in the West Bank and Gaza, and said these young people are “justified” in being angry at the failures of “both their own leaders and the international community.” 

The bishops also criticized the U.S. government’s recent decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem, calling the move “morally and legally unacceptable.” 

Bishop Cant√∫, who heads the U.S. bishops’ international justice and peace committee, said the lack of opportunity for young people was contributing to the shrinking number of Catholics in Gaza. “Not long ago, there were 1,700,” he said. Now only 130 Catholic parishioners remain.