Bishop of Salina diocese making overseas trip
By DOUG WELLER
By DOUG WELLER
Special to The Hays Daily News
SALINA -- Bishop Edward Weisenburger said his upcoming trip to the Holy Land is even more important now in the midst of violent conflict.
He and 17 other U.S. bishops and archbishops will travel to Israel, the West Bank and possibly Gaza on a "Bishops' Prayer Pilgrimage for Peace in the Holy Land."
Weisenburger, who has led the Catholic Diocese of Salina since May 2012, will leave the United States on Sept. 10 and return Sept. 20.
Each of the nine days the bishops are in the Holy Land includes tours and official meetings, but prayer and liturgy are the focus, as is sharing their experiences with the faithful back home through social media.
"The goal is to talk to local people as much as possible. Both sides have a narrative and an important story that needs to be heard," Weisenburger said.
The Vatican and the U.S. bishops support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with recognition and security for Israel and a viable and independent state for Palestinians.
But with escalating violence between the two sides, Weisenburger said he fears the Palestinians' story won't be heard by his group.
"I'm strongly certain that Gaza is out," he said. "That's why it's very disappointing that we may not be able to get into Gaza. That side of the story may be limited."
The latest hostilities began in early July, when Israel began launching airstrikes into Gaza in retaliation to missiles being fired into Israel by Hamas militants. Since then, more than 1,800 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed and more than a quarter of Gaza's 1.8 million residents have been displaced, according to Gazan officials. More than 60 Israeli soldiers have been killed.
The bishops' trip, however, isn't in response to the latest violence.
"The trip was scheduled many months ago, even before the Holy Father decided to go" in May, Weisenburger said. "So it's not in response to the current chaos and violence, but it's all the more important that we go."
The bishops are being asked to share their experience with people back home.
"They want us, if possible, to do daily postings on social media to let people see and understand who we're talking to and what we're seeing," Weisenburger said.
He invites people to read his accounts on his Facebook page.
"Whether I can do that daily will depend on the technology and any limitations there, but I'll have my iPad and cellphone," he said.
The delegation of 18 bishops and archbishops will be led by Des Moines Bishop Richard Pates, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. bishops.
They will be joined by Dr. Stephen Colecchi, director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the U.S. bishops, other USCCB staff and Catholic Relief Services representatives.
Joining Weisenburger is his former archbishop of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City -- where he was a priest for 25 years -- Archbishop Emeritus Eusebius Beltran. Other bishops are from the Archdioceses of the Military Service and Portland in Oregon and the Dioceses of Allentown, Pa., Stockton, Calif., Savannah, Ga., Kalamazoo, Mich., Orange, Calif., Las Cruces, N.M., Winona, Minn., Albany, N.Y., Buffalo, N.Y., Owensboro, Ky., Gary, Ind., Rockville Centre, N.Y., and San Angelo, Texas.
Each bishop is paying his own airfare, and the Holy Land Incoming Tour Operators Association is underwriting the rest of the costs -- with assistance from CRS, the U.S. bishops' aid agency.
In a July 10 email to the travelers, the USCCB's Colecchi spoke about the recent violence and advised his staff and CRS closely are monitoring the situation.
"CRS has excellent security protocols, and we will only enter Gaza if the security situation improves and is stable," he wrote.
The bishops' group isn't the only one praying for peace in the region.
The Justice and Peace Commission of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land issued a statement July 8 titled, "Call for a Courageous Change." Its conclusion states:
"Our role, as religious leaders, is to speak a prophetic language that reveals the alternatives beyond the cycle of hatred and violence. This language refuses to attribute the status of enemy to any of God's children; it is a language that opens up the possibility of seeing each one as brother or sister.
"Pope Francis at the invocation for peace cried out: 'We have heard a summons, and we must respond. It is the summons to break the spiral of hatred and violence, and to break it by one word alone: The word "brother." But to be able to utter this word, we have to lift our eyes to heaven and acknowledge one another as children of one Father.' "
The statement continued, "Religious leaders are invited to use language responsibly so that it becomes a tool to transform the world from a wilderness of darkness and death into a flourishing garden of life."
The bishops' tentative schedule includes these Masses and prayer times:
* Sept. 11 -- Mass at the Franciscan Chapel of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
* Sept. 12 -- Mass with the Latin patriarchate of Jerusalem and prayers for peace at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
* Sept. 13 -- Mass at the Church of the Flagellation in Jerusalem and ecumenical prayer service near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
* Sept. 14 -- Mass with local Palestinian Christians and prayer for peace with Muslims at Al-Shati Camp in Gaza, if travel there is possible. If not, Mass with local Palestinian Christians and prayer for peace at Jacob's Well in Jifna village in the Ramallah District in West Bank, north of Jerusalem.
* Sept. 15 -- Prayer for the dead and wounded and for peace at Sderot in southern Israel and Mass at the Mount of the Beatitudes in Galilee.
* Sept. 16 -- Mass at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth and prayer for peace in Ramallah.
* Sept. 17 -- Mass at the Church of the Visitation in Jerusalem and prayer for peace and victims of the Holocaust near Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.
* Sept. 18 -- Mass at the Nativity Church in Jerusalem, prayer for peace at Bethlehem Bible College and Muslim-Christian prayer for peace at Bethlehem University.