Stressing the importance of prayer, a delegation of U.S. bishops returning from a peace-focused pilgrimage to Palestine and Israel said peace in the region is possible “because God is our hope.” “We are compelled by the Gospel of Peace to share the fruits of our prayers and encounters with Israelis and Palestinians,” the delegation said in a Sept. 22 communique. “Two peoples and three faiths have ancient ties to this land. Sadly, Jerusalem, the City of Peace, is a sign of contradiction. We were told more than once that the city could erupt in violence as it has on far too many occasions.” The delegation’s bishops said they found “pain, intransigence and cynicism” in the aftermath of the recent military conflict, but also “signs of inspiration and hope.” Eighteen U.S. bishops visited Israel and the Palestinian Territories Sept. 11-18 as a prayer pilgrimage for peace. They celebrated Mass at holy sites, with the Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem, and with local Christian communities in Jiffna, Nablus and Gaza, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reports. Among the members of the delegation were Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, and Bishop Oscar Cant√∫ of Las Cruces, the chair-elect of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace. “The miracle we need is the transformation of human hearts so each side is less deaf to the concerns of the other,” the bishops said. “In solidarity with our brother bishops and all people in the region, we urge alternatives to the cycle of hatred and violence. Peace is possible.” The bishops met with Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious leaders, as well as government leaders like former Israeli president Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah of Palestine and Hanan Ashrawi of the Palestinian National Council. During their visit, the bishops’ delegation voiced its concerns about religious minorities, especially the region’s shrinking Christian population. “We met with people of goodwill, Palestinian and Israeli alike, who yearn for peace. We were inspired by the commitment of the staff and partners of Catholic Relief Services, the Pontifical Mission, and the local Christian community, who are providing relief to the people of Gaza; by the efforts of Christians, Muslims, and Jews who are building bridges of understanding; and by the mission of the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre.” The bishops said they were “profoundly” moved by their visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. They praised the Catholic Church’s schools that are “open to all,” as well as Bethlehem University, a Catholic institution that instructs both Christians and Muslims. The delegation’s communique noted several “signs of contradiction,” including the wall dividing Israelis from Palestinians and the poor situation of Palestinian Christians. While Israelis see the barrier wall as a sign of security, the bishops said, Palestinians see it as “a sign of occupation and exclusion.” The bishops said that Patriarch Twal told them the unresolved conflict and occupation “undermine human dignity and the ability of Christians to raise their families.” Israeli policy in East Jerusalem bars Christians who marry outside the city from living with their spouses, while security policies restrict Christians’ movement and can result in land confiscation, undermining Christian families’ prospects for economic survival. “The harsh realities of occupation force them to leave,” the bishops said of Palestinian Christians. “Muslims also suffer similarly, but have fewer opportunities to emigrate.” The bishops’ delegation condemned violence on all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying it “undermines the trust needed to achieve peace.” They said that many people told them the window of opportunity for peace is “narrowing rapidly.” “For the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians, the United States must mobilize the international community to support both parties by adopting parameters for a lasting solution, including borders, an open and shared Jerusalem, and a timeline,” the bishops said.