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Answer to Prayer, Call to Suffering

Rebuilding Palestine will take grace.

by Louise Perrotta

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Father Guido Gockel, an upbeat, gregarious missionary who can function in a dozen or so languages, is usually never at a loss for words. But words and natural optimism failed the Dutch priest as he stepped off a humanitarian aid convoy truck and made his way around the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. An overwhelming odor hung in the air as Father Guido surveyed the devastation left by tanks, helicopter gunship missiles and bulldozers.

Home to some 14,000 Palestinians, Jenin was completely closed off from the world for 16 days in April while Israeli forces carried out a military operation that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said was necessary to root out terrorists. Since the second intifada, or uprising, broke out at the end of September 2000, the fighting has all but extinguished any common ground between Israelis and Palestinians.

As Father Guido made his way through the camp, one dazed man sat on a piece of mattress sticking up from the heap of rocks and cement that had been his home. As the man began speaking, Father Guido was overcome: “What can you say to someone who has lost everything except a few scraps of cloth? I couldn’t answer him. I just cried.”

Invited to Serve. Father Guido, a member of the Mill Hill Missionary Society, has been moved to tears more than once since 1996, when he joined CNEWA’s Jerusalem staff. CNEWA, through its operating agency in the Middle East, the Pontifical Mission, supports the local churches and a variety of community development projects, offers emergency aid and sponsors reconciliation programs involving Palestinians and Israelis. He said his appointment was both an answer to prayer and a call to suffering.

“I had just completed a 30-day retreat,” he said. “A few days later, some members of my family discovered I had never been to the Holy Land and invited me on a pilgrimage led by Msgr. Robert Stern.

“It was moving to visit the holy sites and to meet Arab Christians, but shocking to learn about the suffering of the Palestinians. I felt called to respond.”

Within six months, and with his superior’s blessing, Father Guido joined CNEWA.

As Regional Director for Palestine, Israel and Cyprus, he seeks to “help churches, schools and other institutions, while supporting projects providing employment that benefit the whole community.”

These projects are mostly on hold now, displaced by relief efforts that have taken different forms as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict deepens. Father Guido has focused on organizing convoys of food, water and medical supplies for Jenin, Ramallah, Bethlehem and other areas that have been occupied and blockaded.

“There is now almost a full-time curfew,” he said. “Just getting food to people is a priority. We hope to be able to resume our other work, but the soldiers will be here for a long time.”

Yet, people who know Father Guido comment on his joyful faith in God and his ability to communicate hope. That hope is evident as he continues to plan for the day when hostilities will cease and CNEWA can focus on rebuilding homes and facilities, lives and dreams.

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Tags: Palestine Occupation Second Intifada