New Media ReleaseSecretary General of Caritas Jerusalem in New Zealand

Claudette Habesch, Secretary General of Caritas Jerusalem for the last 25 years, is in New Zealand as a guest of Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand for its annual Lent Appeal. Catholics in New Zealand are invited to pray for peace in the Holy Land this Lent, while hearing firsthand about efforts to bring healing and hope to a land where Christ continues to suffer.

"We are pleased to be hosting someone of such experience and standing in the Caritas network for Lent," says new Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand director Julianne Hickey. Ms Habesch has also been a past President of Caritas Middle-East and Northern Africa region (Caritas MONA) and a Vice-President of Caritas Internationalis.

As part of a liturgy of prayer for peace in the Holy Land, Ms Habesch will give a public address at Wellington, Palmerston North, Christchurch and Auckland cathedrals on how Caritas Jerusalem promotes healing, hope and justice within Palestinian society.

Catholics in both dioceses are also invited to join Ms Habesch, Caritas staff and local supporters on a pilgrimage to Hiruharama – Jerusalem on the Whanganui River. Ms Hickey says the visit to Hiruharama will be a spiritual journey linking concerns for health, healing and wholeness in both lands.

In New Zealand, Ms Habesch will be working with Catholic school students, and meeting with church groups, Parliamentarians, inter-faith communities, members of the Palestinian community, the media and anyone interested in issues of peace and justice for the Holy Land.

"Her visit to our shores provides an opportunity for prayer and reflection on the current reality in the Holy Land," says Ms Hickey. "This is a place rich in both historic and symbolic meaning for Christians and other religious groups, yet scarred by violence and injustice."

Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is currently supporting Caritas Jerusalem to expand its community health care to communities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza territories, with support from the New Zealand Aid Programme of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade.

Caritas Jerusalem was founded in the aftermath of the Six-Day War in 1967, to provide immediate relief – food, water and medical care – to war victims in the occupied Palestinian territories. Health care remains the core of its mission, but it has expanded its work to include employment programmes, children’s health camps, care of the elderly and counselling.

"We serve the people at large," says Ms Habesch. "We serve all the children of God ... immaterial of their religion, race or colour. ... and in whatever way it is possible we try to help."

Ms Habesch’s visit will also promote prayer for the Holy Land through the Peace Lamps project – an initiative of the Christian community of Taybeh on the West Bank. This project encourages people of faith around the world to pray for peace, particularly in the Holy Land. It also provides employment in Palestine through the production of lamps and olive oil. These are available from Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand.

Ms Habesch herself experienced the dispossession and exile of the Palestinian people when her family were expelled from their Jerusalem home in the 1948 war. In speaking about the effect on her life and work, she says:

"I am prepared to forgive, but I will never forget the years of suffering by the little girl of seven, in whose bed another child was sleeping and whose bicycle another child was riding… I recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist in 78 percent of the territories of Mandatory Palestine, but I do not recognise its right to expel Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem."

She is a member of the Committee for Christian Affairs of the Palestinian Authority (PA), and of the Islamic-Christian Commission funded by the PA to support Jerusalem and the Holy Sites. She has been active since 1992 in the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) and in the Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees. She also participates in the inter-religious activities of Rabbis for Human Rights.

Claudette Habesch will be participating in a number of public events around New Zealand.
Liturgies ‘for the Peace of Jerusalem’, including an address by Claudette Habesch. will be held in Wellington, Palmerston North and Auckland Cathedrals.

Public meetings will also be held in Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland with the title, Healing and hope for Palestine. Claudette Habesch will speak on how Caritas Jerusalem works to bring healing, hope and dignity to people living in the occupied Palestinian territories. She will also address efforts to achieve a just peace for all people living in Israel/Palestine.

For more information visit the Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand website or contact Martin de Jong 04 496 1782 or 021 909 688.