This month, Bishop Richard J. Malone will be among a group of American bishops embarking on a trip to the Holy Land in hope of encouraging domestic prayer for a land of political unrest. From Sept. 11 until Sept. 19, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has organized the Bishops' Prayer Pilgrimage for Peace in the Holy Land, during which they will pray for an end to conflict.
According to Bishop Malone, the pilgrimage to the Holy Land is part of a collaborative project between the USCCB and Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Church's international humanitarian relief agency responsible for sending volunteers to provide aid in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the islands of the Caribbean, as well as the Middle East. It gives needed supplies and care to people affected by natural disasters, war, hunger, poverty, HIV/AIDS and other emergency circumstances.
"We will be visiting some of the historic biblical sites over there, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and all those places, so there is that personal, spiritual dimension, but the main purpose is to have, I think, 20 bishops from this country who will be there to raise consciousness in our own country about the need to pray for peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land," Bishop Malone said.
During the trip, the bishops will hold a prayer of dedication of prayer pilgrimage for peace and entrust the pilgrimage to God's care at the Holy Sepulchre. They will also participate in an interfaith prayer service between Christians, Muslims and Jews at the Mount of Olives, meet Palestinian Christians in Gaza, tour Eastern Orthodox churches and may meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas or Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, or have an audience with other local dignitaries if they cannot.
Bishop Malone emphasized the need for the American people to realize struggles of others, especially the Palestinian Christians, overseas, and the group plans to regularly send press releases to media in the United States with updates from several days and messages of prayer for those at home.
"That's the whole point of (the trip), to try and give a witness on the part of the American Catholic Church, through the bishops, witness to the need for peace and justice, and another way of resolving the situation of violence," the bishop added. He said he had been on trips to the Holy Land twice, but on a spiritual pilgrimage only, not one with this specific purpose. Last month, Bishop Malone also emphasized another aspect of this pilgrimage to which he will be looking forward.
"I always look forward, I've only been there twice but not for 20 years, but to walk in the places where Jesus and the apostles walked, and of course some of the Old Testament people, important people of the Hebrew scriptures, is powerful," Bishop Malone added. "I found out the first time I went, that once you've been there and, for example, stood in the Garden of Olives, you never, never hear or read those gospel stories, those scriptural stories, again the same way. You just don't."
The bishops will tour the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock, have a Mass at the Church of the Flagellation with prayers for all victims of violence and have a ecumenical prayer service for peace near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in a coming together of representatives of the Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Lutheran and Anglican churches.
Other officials the bishops might may include Dr. Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian negotiator, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, general secretary of the Palestine National Initiative, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, the first woman elected to the Palestinian National Council and director of the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy and Shimon Peres, president of Israel from 2007 to 2014.
"I also think (the pilgrimage is) a very, very serious and, I hope, promising opportunity for us to get some attention in this country, in the sense of inviting more prayer and advocacy, for a peaceful way to resolve what seems like an endless conflict over there between the Palestinian Authority and Israel," Bishop Malone added. "I am looking forward to it."
Bishop Malone will be posting updates on his new Twitter account. Follow him @bishoprjmalone.