His Eminence visited the Holy Land last week (28th April – 2nd May), along with Rev Roy Cooper, President of the Methodist Church, Dr John Finlay, Presbyterian Moderator and Archbishop Alan Harper, Church of Ireland Primate, to express a desire for peace in the area and offer Christian hope in a situation where continuing hostilities are causing increased hardship for ordinary people. The leaders’ visit focused mainly on Bethlehem and Jerusalem where they met local church leaders and representatives from the Palestinian Authority and Israeli Government and as well as seeing at first hand the relief and development work that is being undertaken by partners of Christian Aid and Trócaire.

The leaders will also took part in a joint service with local Christians at the Shepherds’ Field near Bethlehem on the theme of ‘keeping watch; a service of hope for peace’ and visit the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem.

Cardinal Brady, who visited the area last January, and who accompanied the Latin Patriarch on a pastoral visit to Gaza on Wednesday 30 April morning, recently described the situation as one of terrible tension and trouble. “The situation in the Holy Land and the continuing hostilities are causing great hardship to both Palestinian and Israeli, and to Jew, Muslim and Christian in both jurisdictions. There is a sense of absolute desperation and that hope is running out. It is in this kind of situation that voices of moderation need to be heard; that actions of kindness and solidarity need to be undertaken; that all the people of faith in God need to join together and work together for peace.”

Unfortunately, the visit wasn’t without incident. The delegation was barred from visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem on May 1 because some of the clerics were wearing pectoral crosses. The group made an unscheduled visit to the Western Wall, when a Jewish worshipper confronted them, objecting to their crosses. A security guard agreed that the group could not approach the wall– the remaining section of the old Temple– unless they agreed to remove their crosses. The clerics refused to do so.

Cardinal Brady later sought to downplay the incident, suggesting that further negotiation might have resolved the problem and allowed the Christian leaders to pray at the site. But a tight schedule made it difficult for the delegation to continue talks with security officials at the site. “We were under constraints of time,” the cardinal told the Irish RTE television network; “and we decided to move on.”

Cardinal Brady reported that the delegation had received an apology from a senior Israeli government official, social minister Isaac Herzog, and said the group considered the matter closed. The Israeli government had not been informed in advance about the clerics’ plan to visit the Western Wall.