From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Bishop Skylstad returns from international delegation to the Holy Land; 'We must continue to hope'

by Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor, Inland Register

(From the Feb. 6, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

On his previous three trips to the Holy Land, Bishop Skylstad traveled as a student, or as a pilgrim.

Last month, he returned, but as part of a symbolic series of meetings with leadership in the troubled area, helping express the support of the global Church for those suffering through political and diplomatic impasses.

He was a member of a delegation of bishops from North America and Europe meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, in his role as vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The bishops were attempting to express a sense of solidarity with all those struggling for peace.

This is the second year for the meetings. The Vatican has encouraged the meetings with the local church in the Holy Land, but also meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

The meetings allow the bishops “to coordinate our advocacy with other episcoapl conferences, in support of the Patriarch and the people in the Holy Land,” said Bishop Skylstad.

The political impasse between Israel and the Palestinians can seem hopeless, he admitted in a recent interview. Neither side presented “any hope of compromise.”

Nevertheless, “We really have to have hope,” he said. “Even though people are dispirited, and see very little hope for the immediate future, part of our Christian tradition is to live the tradition of hope, trusting somehow that the resolution of this whole conflicted area will come,” he said.

The political stalemate has an impact on the entire area, he said, including the economic health of the country. At this point, 80 percent of the people living in the Gaza Strip live below the poverty level, he said; West Bank unemployment reaches 70 percent.

Much of the dire economic news comes as a direct result of the dramatic decrease in tourism in recent days.

The series of formal meetings began Jan. 14 and continued through the morning of Jan. 16. The group met with Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem; Israel’s President Moshe Katsav; and Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Other informal meetings took place as well with Israeli government ministries.

Few residency permits are being granted for foreign nationals, which also has an impact on visiting scholars and students. There is some fear that foreign nationals would come to Israel for work, taking lower-paying, entry-level service jobs, similar to the situation in the United States, where many immigrants fill jobs shunned by other citizens.

Meetings were conducted most in English, he said, though he was consistently impressed with the multilingual abilities of participants.

Although there was security at the airports, as the group traveled about there was no sense of danger or fear, Bishop Skylstad said. Tensions are increasing over the threat of war with Iraq, with fear of reprisals should war break out.

Still, “we must continue to hope,” he said.

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