The Bishops of the Holy Land Coordination (HLC) have cancelled their annual visit to Israel and Palestine because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They will hold a virtual meeting instead. The visit has been taking place every year in January since 2000 at the invitation of the Holy See, with the aim of supporting the Holy Land's local Christian communities as they experience the political and socioeconomic realities of living in the region.
In the light of the present situation, the group has decided to meet on line from 16 to 21 January, while hoping that a smaller delegation will be able to visit the Holy Land as soon as the pandemic situation eases, hopefully next summer. The meeting will involve 11 bishops representing 15 Bishops' Conferences from Europe, North America and South Africa.
The new Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Bishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, and the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli will also take part. The aim, again, is to express the on-going solidarity of the universal Church with the Christian communities in the Holy Land and to call international attention to their plight.
This attention is ever more necessary this year in the context of the pandemic, a communiqué published on German Bishops' Conference (Dbk) website stresses. Many local Christians live on tourism and pilgrimages, which are the most hit sector by COVID-19, and subsequently have lost their livelihoods, which has made their lives even more difficult. During the virtual meeting, the HLC bishops will share information and discuss future prospects for these communities in the light of this new crisis. They will also be briefed on the current situation in the Gaza Strip and discuss the situation of Christian schools in the Holy Land with both teachers and students, with a specific focus on the educational context in Gaza.
The Holy Land Coordination was created in the late 1990s at the invitation of the Holy See. Its action is focused on three "P"s : Prayer, Pilgrimage and Persuasion. "Prayer" is the framework of the annual meeting, with daily celebration of the Eucharist, often in different rites. The "Pilgrimage" to the local Catholic communities is the most important part of the meeting, in which the bishops sometimes also meet local political leaders. Finally, "Persuasion" refers to their work after they go back to their respective Countries, namely speaking to their own governments, parliamentarians, Israeli and Palestinian ambassadors and the media about a wide range of issues affecting the lives of Christians in the Holy Land.