Belfast Telegraph

Living through Northern Ireland Troubles helped me relate to young people in Holy Land, says bishop

By Cate McCurry

Bishop Donal McKeown has said his experience of living through The Troubles has helped him reach out to young people during a trip to the Holy Land.

The Bishop of Derry was speaking after returning from a visit where he met with young Palestinians and Israelis in Gaza, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. He was part of the Co-Ordination delegation of 15 bishops from across Europe, North America and South Africa.

The annual visit, which has taken place for 20 years, aims to support - through pilgrimage, prayer and persuasion - the Holy Land's Christian communities in Palestine and Israel.

This year's study trip focused on young people from divided Palestinian and Israeli communities. It was the first time the Bishop of Derry took part in the week-long visit which he described as a "sad but hopeful" experience.

"There were three of us who have come from divided communities and had that something in common," he explained.

"There was the South African and German bishops and myself from Belfast and it really struck us that we had all come from what seemed to be hopeless situations some 30 years ago. From apartheid, the Berlin wall and Northern Ireland - so our first thing to say was we thought nothing could ever change in any of those circumstances and yet in a remarkably short period of time all of them seemed to find a way forward.

"We have experience of what may look like a hopeless situation and confrontation, but we were able to bring a message that hope is possible and we can see that in our own countries."

The Bishop also spoke of the tight Israeli security and how he had to access Palestinian communities through dirty tunnels.

One of their many roles in the Holy Land was to encourage the small Christian community to stay. There are around 2,000 Christians living in Gaza. He said: "We wanted to tell them that the Christian churches in the West support them. They can feel very threatened and insignificant.

"They are intelligent young people who want to study. But some people are travelling around in horse and carts so there's a huge resentment against the system that's forcing them to live in that environment. They would like to leave but it's very hard to leave - you need to get permission from the Israeli authorities."

He added that like the vast majority here who want peace, young people in the Holy Land are "not concerned about fighting" but more for their future.

Belfast Telegraph

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