(News.va/Abouna.org) The second day of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land by a delegation of Catholic Bishops from Europe, North America and South Africa saw them celebrating Mass in Gaza, talking with Western embassy officials in Tel Aviv and meeting religious sisters involved in pastoral care of Christian migrants and asylum seekers. The Bishops tour the Holy Land every January to show solidarity with Christians living in the land where Jesus was born, carried out his ministry and met his death.
Our visit to Gaza gave us a first- hand experience of the lengthy and stringent security measures set up by Israel to screen all those entering and leaving the territory. Our organisers had calculated just over an hour to cross over from the Israeli side to Gaza and a slightly longer time on our return but this turned out to be over-optimistic as more than two hours was spent going through the numerous and intricate screening processes plus the searching of luggage and personal effects.
After our departure from Gaza, we headed to the bustling modern metropolis of Tel Aviv with its gleaming high rise buildings and pristine shoreline. It provides a striking contrast to the ramshackle housing, widespread poverty and unhygienic conditions that reign in Gaza, where we saw abandoned garbage strewn across almost every available open space. But even a modern city like Tel Aviv has its hidden underbelly of poverty and deprivation and a sizeable proportion of those living in these poorer neighbourhoods are migrants or asylum seekers. Many of these people come from the Horn of Africa area, the Philippines, India and Sri Lanka and they include many Christians. We met a group of Catholic migrants together with a couple of religious sisters who minister to them and were struck by their strong faith and mutually supportive network. With the Israel government recently tightening its restrictions on illegal migrants, these vulnerable people face an increasingly uncertain future.