Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

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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

Colbert pastor joins Catholic Relief Services Global Fellows program with visit to West Bank

the Inland Register

(From the July 2, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Edgar Borchardt (front row, third from right) was among the Catholic Relief Services Global Fellows who met with Fouad Tawal, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem (front row, center) as part of their trip with CRS to the Holy Land and West Bank. (IR photo courtesy of Catholic Relief Services)

Father Edgar Borchardt, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Colbert, remembers visiting a Vatican-owned center between Jerusalem and Bethlehem 15 years ago and being able to walk by moonlight along a goat path to a restaurant in Bethlehem.

In May, when he returned to the same place as part of a Catholic Relief Services (CRS) program for American clergy, he was dismayed to see a section of the separation wall built by Israel blocking that route. It was a stark symbol of the increasing division between Israel and the Palestinian territories in which CRS works, and the increasing isolation of the Palestinian communities – Christians and Muslims – struggling to survive in the West Bank.

In late May and early June, Father Borchardt joined eight other Americans, all seminarians, deacons or priests, for eight days of visits to projects and sites in the Holy Land supported by Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas development and emergency relief agency.

As a CRS Global Fellow, Father Borchardt will speak in other parishes – both within the Spokane Diocese and outside – about his experience and the work of CRS. He says he was inspired to apply for a Global Fellow position by Msgr. Frank Bach, the only other Global Fellow in the Spokane Diocese. Msgr. Bach continues to travel with CRS and support their work in his retirement. Catholic Relief Services’ world status as a uniquely efficient relief and development agency was also a reason for applying.

The trip included visits to numerous holy sites, including Shepherds Field in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but focused on CRS partners – agencies and non-profits assisting the people of the West Bank to survive in a desperate economic situation. Father Borchardt met highly educated and motivated Palestinians who were forced to do piecework making tourist trinkets, for lack of any more substantial employment – a clear indicator of the gradual degradation of the social and economic infrastructure in the West Bank.

CRS’s work in the West Bank focuses on three main areas: food vouchers for those unable to work, food for work or training, and emergency relief.

CRS also supports fair trade organizations such as the Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative Society, which allows traditional olivewood craftspeople to earn a sustainable livelihood. Each year, Bishop Skylstad gives a rosary made of olive wood to each person he confirms in the diocese – rosaries made in Bethlehem by this CRS-supported project.

The ongoing crisis in the Holy Land is the primary international policy concern of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Father Borchardt urged Catholics in the U.S. to educate themselves about the situation there, particularly as diplomatic efforts between the American and Israeli governments intensify. He also asks American Catholics to stand in solidarity with the Christians of the Holy Land, a minority that is rapidly decreasing because of the poor economy and political tensions.

“Palestinian Christians provide critical neutral space for dialogue between the Muslim and Jewish people,” he said. “They have a key role to play in any eventual solution to the current crisis because Palestinian Christians have centuries of experience in the region” that helps them to build bridges.

Along with CRS, the USCCB encourages American Catholics to contact their Congressional delegation and President Obama to support immediate bold and sustained U.S. leadership toward the a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The USCCB, CRS, and more than 10 individual Catholic bishops and other organizations signed a June 4 ecumenical letter to President Obama urging such American leadership for peace in the Holy Land. Catholic Bishops and CRS urge all U.S. Catholics to also sign this ecumenical letter to President Obama supporting strong U.S. peacemaking efforts now.

The letter is online at:

Several Catholic Bishops, including Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, also signed an interfaith letter to President Obama in mid-May – along with Muslim and Jewish leaders – pressing for high-intensity diplomatic efforts to seek a two-state solution.

More information is available online: and at

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