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KNIGHTS-TWAL Aug-8-2008 (780 words) xxxn

Latin patriarch seeks 'new mentality' to bring Middle East peace

By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service

QUEBEC CITY (CNS) -- Nearly six weeks into his new position, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem called for a "new mentality" of collaboration among Christians, Muslims and Jews to achieve the elusive goal of peace in the Holy Land.

Neither religious communities nor politicians, working on their own, will be able to resolve the long-standing differences between the largely Muslim Palestinian population and the Israelis, Patriarch Twal told Catholic News Service.

"We need to start again from zero with a new mentality, with a new direction, with a new culture," he said in an Aug. 5 interview that followed his presentation on the dire state of Christians in the Holy Land to the 500 delegates from around the world who gathered for the Knights of Columbus 126th annual convention, held in Quebec City.

"I think if the Jews and the Muslims and the Christians and our parliament, (if) we start speaking about a culture of peace, a culture of reconciliation, one day we can have peace. It's a question of the human element more than the instrument. Change the mentality," said the patriarch, who was installed June 22 as the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land. The patriarchate includes Jordan, Cyprus, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

At the same time Patriarch Twal suggested that all parties must realize that peace and security rest in finding a political solution whereby questions regarding land and civil rights are fully addressed. He said the cycle of violence -- in which one side attacks the other and leads to an environment where retaliation always seems necessary -- must be broken.

"Everybody now, I think, is tired, tired, tired. I said often in my interviews we need courageous people doing courageous gestures to get to this peace. Although I respect everybody ... I am not sure we have these leaders today," he said.

The Catholic Church can play an important role in any peace effort, but its work will have to be done in less public ways, the 67-year-old patriarch said. He acknowledged that the declining number of Catholic Christians leaves the church with diminishing influence.

However, he held out hope that by bringing children from Christian, Muslim and Jewish families together in different settings, the historical barriers between people gradually will fall.

"We think it is the wish for us to have children playing together, eat together, study together in the same school," he explained, citing examples of 44 schools where young people are mixing together.

In the mind of the patriarch, the 24-foot-tall Israeli barrier that separates large numbers of Jewish settlements from Palestinian territories also must be addressed in any drive toward peace.

Meandering through much of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the wall is being built by the Israeli government in an effort to protect Israelis from Palestinian attacks. But Patriarch Twal said recent incidents involving Palestinian bulldozer drivers attacking civilians occurred in areas secured by the barrier.

"For me the wall is stupid, stupid," he said. "The wall is the realization of many other walls in human beings. Before building the wall we have the wall of hate, of mistrust, of ignorance. The wall is an obstacle, something that you can see, so they don't want you to know something behind the wall.

"It is not with walls that we can find a solution, that we can find peace for all, security for all," he said.

Regarding the health of the church, the patriarch said parishes remain dynamic and worship at Mass is lively and faith-filled. Still, he expressed concern that the violence is driving away Christians, leaving a smaller minority of Catholic Christians in the Holy Land each year.

Even so, Patriarch Twal remains hopeful for the future of the church in the region because of the number of men studying for the priesthood. Overall, 28 men are enrolled in the major seminary with another 45 in the minor seminary. Many of the men come from Jordan, the country with the largest Christian population in the patriarchate.

"Many, many things show positive signs," he said. "For two, three years we have many pilgrims, tourists, bishops' conferences coming to us, visiting us, praying with us, praying for us, helping us."

As a way to support the church, Patriarch Twal asked Catholics to keep in mind the "three Ps": prayer, persuasion for politicians and projects that help people in their everyday lives. He also urged the faithful to feel "co-responsible" to keep the small Christian community in place in the Holy Land.

"Remember that our church is their church, the mother church," he said.


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