I write this from Bethlehem, which is no longer a “little town”. After three nights staying at a pilgrimage house on the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem, we’re now here in the city of Jesus’ birth. It’s such a privilege to be staying just adjacent to the Church of the Nativity and to see the thousands of pilgrims who come to see this special place.
As important as it is to experience these holy sites, or “dead stones”, as Archbishop Elias Chacour calls the churches, our group has also been spending time with the “living stones”, people who work for peace. In Jerusalem we met an amazing Israeli woman who risks her reputation and her safety because she shines a light on the injustices that Palestinians face at the hands of the Israeli government. We heard from a Palestinian and an Israeli, members of the Bereaved Parents Circle, who lost a husband and a daughter in the conflict and who now work for reconciliation and healing. We meet with Omar at Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian organization, who led us on a Contemporary Way of the Cross highlighting the present suffering of the people of this land. Amos led us into the Negev Desert, where we learned about the situation of the Bedouin people. In Bethlehem we’ve met with the Holy Land Trust, an organization dedicated to understanding the “other”, promoting nonviolence and healing. We met with Daoud (David), a Christian from Bethlehem whose family’s farm is in danger of being confiscated to make way for more settlements. His message is one of hope, and refusal to be a victim. We visited a refugee camp in Bethlehem and learned the history of the displaced people who live there, and with Wi’am, a Centre for Mediation and Reconciliation run by Christians. By the time you read this I will have visited Hebron, where I have served on team with the Christian Peacemaker Teams, and will have heard the story of the Bethlehem Icon Centre, where Christians today learn this ancient art form that is a window into the sacred.
Each time I come here I experience a plethora of emotions. There is deep joy and yet a profound sadness. Hopelessness is mingled with great hope. The situation is dire for many of the people here, and the injustice is so blatant. Yet this is reality. I take great comfort in this weekend’s Scripture readings. Jesus, too, lived under a time of occupation, yet he tells his followers to have faith. The prophet Habakkuk lived in a difficult time, and experienced hopelessness. “Oh Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not listen?”, he says. But the Lord answered him: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets so that a runner may read it.” God tells him to write down his hope, so clearly that someone running by can see it. That is what I’m experiencing here. So many people are writing down their visions of hope, and it becomes contagious. May we all be people of hope as well. Be assured of my prayer for each and for all of you here in this sacred place.