Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

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

‘Prayer partners initiative’ pairs Eastern Washington parishes with Holy Land communities

by Pam Vail, for the Inland Register

(From the Jan. 15, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

The road to peace in the Middle East is a long and hazardous journey and those of us living in the United States are often dismayed by what we see on nightly news broadcasts of the violence and destruction in the place we call the Holy Land. But here in the Diocese of Spokane there is a hopeful sign amid the discouraging headlines – a small step towards understanding that began with a journey too, just a year ago.

In January of last year Bishop Skylstad traveled to the Holy Land as a member of a delegation of Church officials from various Western countries. The bishop had the opportunity to meet with many people who live and work in the area, including leaders of Palestinian and Israeli organizations, staff workers with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Caritas Internationalis, and Palestinians living in refugee camps.

The bishop listened to accounts of the hardships faced by the residents of the Jerusalem, Gaza and West Bank region and he was moved by what he saw and heard.

When Bishop Skylstad returned to Spokane, he expressed a hope that the diocese might consider reaching out to our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land. The bishop’s vision was to develop a twinning relationship between Palestinian Catholic parishes and parish groups in the Holy Land and similar groups in our own Diocese. The twinning project would emphasize the exchange of prayer intentions, daily news and cultural and spiritual information. Individuals could learn from each other and share stories of their common and different experiences.

Members of the Diocesan Catholic Relief Services Committee discerned the many possibilities for launching such a project. It was decided to begin simply by asking individual groups within the diocese to consider a prayer partnership. By developing an outline for the Prayer Partners Initiative and coordinating with the CRS representative in Jerusalem, two parishes (one near Jerusalem and the other near Nazareth) are now in the process of being linked with two groups in Spokane. There are other parishes in the Holy Land who wish to join the project and an invitation is extended to parishes and groups in our Diocese to prayerfully consider participation.

In addition to the twinning relationship our diocese has also been exploring ways to assist Palestinian craftspeople and artisans who are struggling to make a living in the midst of a crippling economic crisis. Last summer the diocese purchased 2,000 olivewood rosaries handmade by special needs children, adults and their families who live in Bethlehem, Beit-Sahour and Beit-Jala. Bishop Skylstad has been distributing these rosaries to young people around our diocese when they receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The declining number of tourists due to the escalation of violence throughout the region has had a severe impact on the communities. Even more hard hit are those who suffer from disabilities and injuries sustained by the violence. The Bethlehem Society for Rehabilitation (BASR) is an organization that provides rehabilitation services to disabled children and adults through medical, educational and vocational services. BASR trains special needs people and their families to make olivewood rosaries. The crafting of olivewood is a local art form with a history dating back to the 16th century. Pruned and discarded parts of young olive trees are gathered after the olive harvest and fashioned into rosaries and other religious articles. The rosaries acquired by the Diocese are a simple yet tangible way for the children in our Diocese to connect with children and their families in the Holy Land.

Father Louis Hazboun, pastor of Jaffa Parish in Nazareth, writes, “With great joy I received your e-mail telling about twinning parishes through the prayer partner’s project. Bishop Skylstad of the Spokane Diocese was inspired by the teaching of our Lord who said: ‘For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.’ I welcome such a twinning relationship.” With these small steps people of faith can begin to move together in the direction of peace, unity and understanding.

(To learn more about the Rosary Project or the Prayer Partners Initiative, please contact Scott Cooper, Parish Social Ministry Coordinator: 358-4273.)

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