Increasing Tensions Make Life Difficult for Catholic Aid Workers and Priests in Jerusalem

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Photo: Catholic Herald

Catholic aid workers and clergy are finding that life in Jerusalem increasingly difficult as violence between Israelis and Palestinians mount.

Acts of violence, seemingly one retaliatory measure after another, have occurred since June. Then, riots broke out in Jerusalem following the murder of a Palestinian boy. Authorities said he was killed in retaliation for the killing of three Jewish high school students outside of a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

Since then tensions have spilled into religious sites, with the most recent episode occurring November 18 at a synagogue in West Jerusalem, leaving four worshippers, a policeman and two attackers dead.

Priests at the two Jerusalem parishes – St. Saviour and the Hebrew-speaking parish of the House of Simeon and Anne – have offered support to parishioners who have become accustomed to the rising violence.

Father Rafic, who leads the Hebrew-speaking parish in Jewish West Jerusalem and refrains from using his last name, said that during Sunday Mass silent prayers for peace are offered. While parishioners who live within the Israeli society may have differing political points of view, politics are not discussed in the church, he said.

People are worried about the tense situation but they are not yet experiencing a sense of trauma, he said. The prayers, which are said together, and the regular Mass readings which speak of peace and tolerance are a help to his parishioners, Fr Rafic added.

“We live with this daily,” Fr Rafic said.

Fr Feras Hejazin, whose St Saviour Parish is located within the Old City, said people have grown accustomed to living with financial, social and political instability.

“Nothing is stable in Jerusalem. No one can think about their future in their businesses because of the instability,” he said.

Many Christians are involved in the tourist industry, which has been hard hit in recent months as tourists and pilgrims refrain from visiting Jerusalem because of the violence, Father Hejazin explained. Other business owners also have suffered economically as well because people are less likely to go out nowadays, he added.

“It is a problem for us, many families are in need. Even before, it was not good,” Fr Hejazin said. “All we can do is to encourage the people.”

The support comes not only in words, he said, but financially as well as the parish tries to help the people most in need.

“We are with the people in their need,” he said. “Jerusalem is becoming difficult. There is no security.”

For Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the situation in Jerusalem has made finding funding for dialogue or peacebuilding projects challenging, said Matthew McGarry, the agency’s country representative for Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza.

“It is not a conducive environment right now,” he said, explaining that his office recently completed a budget proposal for a cross-border peacebuilding project, but that prospects for finding funding to support it are slim…Read More

Source and Original Content by Catholic Herald

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