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Bishop del Riego joins U.S. bishops’ delegation on Holy Land pilgrimage for peace

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JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Rutilio del Riego was one of 10 Hispanic bishops from the United States to make a Pilgrimage for Peace in the Holy Land January 18-27.

 With the theme “Bridges not Walls,” the trip served as an opportunity for the participating bishops to meet with Israelis and Palestinians to get a better understanding of the Holy Land situation.

 Bishop del Riego was the presider at the second Mass celebrated by the delegation of bishops, which took place on the morning of January 20 at the Church of the Flagellation in Jerusalem. They prayed with a special intention for victims of violence.

 The delegation visited and celebrated liturgies at many sacred Holy Land sites including the Mt. of Beatitudes, the Church of Nativity, Nazareth, Galilee, and the Western Wall. They also visited Gaza on January 21, where they celebrated Mass, met with a team of Catholic missionaries there and prayed with the people.  In Jerusalem, the bishops met with a family of Palestinian Christians and on January 26 they met with the Mayor of Bethlehem.

 The presence of Hispanic U.S. Bishops and the theme, “Bridges not Walls,” drew parallels between the strife in the Holy Land and immigration policy disputes on the U.S.-Mexico border.

 Building walls, whether between Israel and the Palestinian territories or the United States and Mexico, can only serve to separate people and create more isolation, the participating bishops pointed out.

 “Walls can’t bring any positive aspect to any country,” said Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo of Seattle, one of the 10 bishops, during a Jan. 21 visit to the West Bank village of Jifna. “The image is very negative. ‘I am keeping you out of my life.’ … It creates more resentment and isolation. It makes it impossible to see the other.”

 While acknowledging that terrorist violence was one of the push factors for the creation of the Israeli separation barrier - which includes a series of 25-foot cement walls and fences and is expected to extend more than 400 miles - Auxiliary Bishop Arturo Cepeda of Detroit said the whole use of the concept of walls prevents people from “seeing the other as a human person.”

 Father Firas Aridah, parish priest at St. Joseph Church in Jifna, told the visiting bishops there are more than 140 Israeli settlements and 636 Israeli checkpoints within the West Bank.

 “We need the recognition of the simple human principle: No people has the right to impose his occupation on another people. We are waiting for the day when our churches will ring their bells, celebrating freedom and justice for all, Palestinians and Israelis,” Aridah said.

 The Holy See and the United States Conference of Catholic 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.

 In addition to Bishop del Riego, Bishop Cepeda and Bishop Elizondo, the delegation of Hispanic U.S. Bishops on the pilgrimage included of Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace; Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Cleveland, Chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs; Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez of St. Augustine, Florida; Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros of Brooklyn, New York; Bishop Armando X. Ochoa of Fresno, California; Auxiliary Bishop Alberto Rojas of Chicago; and retired Bishop Placido Rodriguez of Lubbock, Texas.