Christians and Muslims are coexisting peacefully in Israel and Palestine, but the political will for peace is not yet there, said the leader of a recent bishops’ pilgrimage to the Holy Land. “It does not seem that there has been any bad, difficult or ruptured relationships between the Muslims and the Christians in the Holy Land. I don’t think that has been an ongoing issue so much,” Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines told CNA. “I think at this point in time, perhaps the biggest problems are political in nature.” Bishop Pates, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, led a delegation of 18 bishops on a “prayer pilgrimage for peace” to the Holy Land from Sept.11-18. The bishops prayed with local Christian communities, as well as Jews and Muslims, and met with political leaders of Israel and Palestine. After they returned to the United States, the bishops published a communiqué about their pilgrimage, stating that “prayer is powerful, peace is possible and…support for a two-state solution is an essential dimension of pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace.” Bishop Pates insisted that residents of the Holy Land desire peace and the leaders of Israel and Palestine have acknowledged that it is “possible.” “It is in the deepest desire of all of the, I would say, the common folk of both Israel and Palestine,” he affirmed, adding that “there are three of four perhaps proposals that could be put on the table that would be workable, that would be feasible to achieve peace.” However, he added there is currently not enough political will to achieve a solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. “I think that Israel is in a particularly strong position at this particular point in history, and the suggestion is that they consider this position and move forward to really achieve peace,” Bishop Pates said. The bishops prayed with Jewish and Muslim leaders during their visit, evidence that peaceful unity exists between members of different religions. “The ability to pray with both Muslims and Jewish indicated that we do identify one God that exists for all of us,” Bishop Pates said. He pointed to Bethlehem University, where Muslim students attend school alongside Christians, as another example of peaceful coexistence. “The ongoing interaction between Christians and Muslims is exemplified at Bethlehem University. It is indeed a very important component to move forward with peace,” the bishop said. Another member of the delegation, Bishop Richard Higgins of the Archdiocese for Military Services, also praised Bethlehem University. “Having young people of that age being educated together and living basically together spiritually, where there are particular cultures, day by day, that is a very positive force as far as I am concerned,” he told CNA. “I believe the resolution down the road will be between educated people who have lived alongside each other for years and understand both cultures and respect each other.” When asked what Americans could do to help achieve peace in the region, Bishop Pates cited prayer and a realization that there is no “black and white” narrative to the political conflict. “And then we would continue to advocate for prayer and to say that peace really is possible but we have to have the will, and for us Americans to see that there’s plenty of blame to be spread around on both sides,” he said. “When there’s hostilities that you can identify no matter who is contending against another, oftentimes it’s not clear black and white,” he added.
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