As most of you know, I returned recently from a Bishops' Prayer Pilgrimage for Peace in the Holy Land. You can read more about that experience online. It was an intense experience that will take me some time to process, both in my mind and in my heart.
Much of our schedule, the eight days we were there, was given over to meetings and dialogue with Palestinian and Israeli government officials, as well as Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious leaders. We also met with parishioners and university students, and with CRS staff in Gaza.
The topic of discussion first and foremost on everyone's agenda was, of course, the conflicted and tense state of affairs in Israel and the Palestinian Territories that has resulted in such violence and suffering for so many. Please join me in prayer for a peace based on justice that will come about, I believe, only by a two-state solution that ensures both Palestinans and Israelis a defined, recognizable, viable and secure land in which to live and thrive.
This is important not only politically, but also for the spiritual welfare of the people of the three great religions who call the Holy Land home: Jews, Christians and Muslims. The shrinking Christian community there is a major concern in itself.
One of the more serene moments of the pilgrimage was the day we spent at the Sea of Galilee, the beautiful place where so many significant moments in the life and ministry of Jesus occurred. As I stood there contemplating the encounter of Jesus with Peter that happened on that spot ("Simon Peter, do you love me?" "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." "Then feed my sheep"), I pondered my own responsibility as bishop, with our good priests, to shepherd our flock here in the Diocese of Buffalo. I prayed for all of you. And I prayed that I would become an ever more faithful and loving shepherd after the heart of Christ. I would ask your prayers for that same intention.
I also reflected that afternoon at Galilee's shore on the many and varied good works that go on daily in the diocese in our parishes, schools, social service agencies and other ministries, works carried out by faithful and generous disciples in the name of Christ. I am so grateful to the throng of laity, clergy and religious who quietly and consistently witness by word and action to the Kingdom of God in Western New York.
As I have often observed, while we have much to do to advance the mission of the New Evangelization and strengthen the Church, there is still a robust Catholic base here on which to build as we move forward. Together, with hope and complete confidence in the Holy Spirit's guidance, let's do just that. And please pray for peace, in the Holy Land, throughout the world ... and in our hearts.
God bless you and all those you love.