Archive | July, 2014

even though we are safe, we are affected

31 Jul

Our first question, of course, was, “Are you safe?”

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The HOPE (Holy Land Outreach for Peace Education) teachers from Cincinnati were skyping with their partner teachers in Palestine. Having stayed in their homes, having eaten at their tables, having learned the names of their children and their spouses, and having, here is the key, having looked into their eyes and seen in them Christian sisters and brothers, our Cincinnati teachers wanted to know, first above all, that their friends and colleagues were safe.

Much of the first half of the 90 minutes was about our questions about the war and the situation in Gaza: the news as we hear it, what is going on and why it is going on, what we might do to be of help to them.

The answer that came to our safety question was, “Even though we are safe, we are affected.”

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Teachers in Catholic schools 6,000 miles away from each other talked about what teachers (and parents) talk about:

“Did you start the children’s choir yet?” Response: “Yes, they will be singing for the opening Mass of the school year? We will skype the Mass, so that you can hear them.”

“Is your baby sleeping at night?” Response: “Yes, he is sleeping better, but his mother is not!”

“Here are some books we found about Palestinian life as a child [holding them up close to the camera]. Maybe we could read the same books together.” Response: “We know those books. We know that author. Yes, they are good.”

“What is the best way for my students to communicate with your students?” Response: “Skype. It is better for our students to speak with your students. They really want to make their English speaking skills better. They are very good at reading and writing English. But if they could talk to your students, that is much better for our students.” Teachers on both sides of the online face time agreed that the 7-hour time difference would be, “No problem!”

At the end of the session, we sang an “alle, alle, alle, lu-i-a” together. I offered a cyber-blessing over our friends in Beit Jala, Bethlehem and Beit Sahour, asking God to bless their students and their country, to which we all answered, Ameen,” making the sign of the cross at the same time “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We shouted final greetings of, “We will do this again,” and “We will see each other again,” to which, with smiles, we volleyed back and forth, “Ensha’allah (God willing).”

And the camera was turned off.

this war is absurd

30 Jul

So, how can they leave? And where can they go?

Father Jorge said, “This war is absurd.”

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Read the article on Catholic News Service: “Text said to evacuate, but Gaza Catholic parish priest had nowhere to go.”

 

hoping we never have to use it

30 Jul

Yesterday we received something new at the parish which we hope that we will never use.

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Over the years we have had, as every parish has had, funerals for babies, infants, toddlers and young children, not many, thankfully, but more than we would have liked. Each time we bring a small casket to church we have not had a funeral pall that would gracefully cover the casket, once it was sprinkled with baptismal waters. So, we had one made.

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There are buttercups (yellow), bluebells (dark blue), roses (pink), and, get ready, baby’s breath (white), and, here is the hardest, forget-me-nots (blue).

The flowers are bunched like a bouquet a child picked to give to her/his mother, and which the mother grouped together, tying a ribbon around it. The purple ribbon is a “mourning” ribbon.

The butterfly helps parents and mourners to focus on new life, being reminded of the metamorphosis that takes place as the butterfly leaves its caccoon to be free in its beauty and flight.

This pall was almost two years in the making. It is one of kind. There is no other like it.

03 IMG_0426Alice is the love and the skill that gave birth to this work of art. It was designed, she tells us, “by a non-Catholic young lady in Massachusetts.” Alice has made other regular size palls for other priests and other churches in our area, but this is the only one that she has made in this smaller size for children.  It was her goal, hope and dream to be able to finish it for us and for the parents who would need to bury children before her eyes went bad and before her arthritis got worse.

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Now that you have finished this good work that God began in you, Alice, may your eyes and hands continue to serve you as well as you have served others with your eyes and hands.

And may we never have to use this child-size funeral pall.

not “all pray and no play”

29 Jul

In the dark and sickening days of the Gaza-Israel war (Hamas-Israeli conflict), it is good for me to remember being in the Holy Land with pilgrim-teachers, and laughing, eating, drinking, smoking and dancing with our friends.

In Madaba, Jordan, our friends (and their family and their friends) took us out drinking and dancing one Saturday night. They wanted to feed us with an evening feast of salads and meats and vegetables and on and on and on, but we had eaten dinner just an hour before they came to the hotel and dragged us off to the third floor restaurant overlooking the roundabout at the town’s center.

Singing and clapping and dancing, Americans and Jordanians, all believing Christians, under a spinning ball reflecting colored light onto the floor and our clothes and our faces! A local priest and a college professor each took the microphone away from the keyboard player that they had hired for our evening’s entertainment, so that they could sing some of their favorite Arabic dance tunes.

At the tables new wine bottles kept appearing as others kept disappearing. Nuts and humus were abundant, and, of course, there was the required hookah (water pipe) with its gentle, flavored (and legal!) tobacco.

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And to Taybeh a few of us went to visit the brewery owned by our Palestinian Christian friends. For the sake of perspective, the village of Taybeh is but a few miles from the Qalandia Israeli military checkpoint where the most extensive and violent clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian youth  have taken place in the West Bank. Members of the family that own and operate the brewery welcomed us, spread out appetizers and offered us a taste of as many of their beers as we liked, while walking us on tour and explaining the challenges of running a business in the West Bank that requires a regular supply of water. 0 Taybeh beer 04

I left the brewery with two cases of beer, twelve bottles each of their four most popular beers: dark, amber, golden and their yet-to-go-public “white” beer.

It lightens my heart to remember that our pilgrimage was not all pray, but included some play.

with a mix of pride and regret

28 Jul

Catholic Relief Services is the international outreach and assistance arm  of the United States Conference of Catholic bishops.

As they celebrate their 52 years of existence, CRS thanks you for your commitment, courage and solidarity.

They approach their anniversary with a mix of pride and regret: pride in all the hard work and achievement, regret that our mutual dreams have not yet been realized.

They, and we, walk and work toward the day when, enshallah, God willing, there will be a just, genuine and lasting two-state solution in the Holy Land.

 

our holy fifty-nine minutes

27 Jul

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A holy hour is by tradition an hour of prayer, often in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament placed in the monstrance on the altar.

This evening at St. Andrew there was a holy hour for peace in the Middle East. After the time of prayer, spoken and sung and silent, one attendee teasingly informed the deacon that the prayer was one minute short of the promised hour, so that technically, it was not a holy “hour.”  

But holy it was!holy 59 minutes 03

We sang the chaplet of divine mercy, repeating over and over in a haunting and massaging melody,

“Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.”

“For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

“Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

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Then we prayed a “litany of presence.”

Make your presence known, Lord,

to the people of Gaza

to the people of Israel

to the people of the West Bank

to the people of Jordan

make your presence known, Lord,

to President Rivlin of Israel

to Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel

to President Abbas of Palestine

make your presence known, Lord,

to the people of Syria

to the people of Iraq

to the destructive forces in Syria and Iraq

make your presence known, Lord,

to Pope Francis

to Archbishop Fouad Twal of the Holy Land

to Bishop William Shomali of the Holy Land

to Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako of Iraq

to Father Jorge Hernandez of Gaza

make your presence known, Lord,

to the children in the Middle East who live in fear

to the children who are orphaned

to the children who are wounded

to the children living in refugee camps

make your presence known, Lord,

to all those who are wounded and have died in the conflicts

to all those who mourn for them

to the living and the dead lost in the rubble

make your presence known, Lord,

to the Salesian Sisters and Monks of the Cremisan

to the Salesian school children

to the decision makers of the Cremisan land

make your presence known, Lord,

to those who pray for peace in the Middle East

 make your presence known, Lord.

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After the prayer a bow appeared in the sky, reminding us of God’s promise to Noah after the flood of destruction never to allow the earth to be destroyed again. God placed a bow in the sky to remind himself. This bow tonight, ever so faint,  helped us to remember, too.

“literally deteriorating”

26 Jul

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Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate Jerusalem speaks about the Catholic church in Gaza:

“The Christian community in Gaza is less than 1,500. Among them, 200 are Catholics. The others are mainly Orthodox and some Anglicans. We run three Catholic schools and one Anglican hospital. The Christian presence in Gaza is stronger than its percentage.

For the moment, we don’t have special news about the destruction and losses incurred by the Christian community, although we are in contact on a daily basis with its courageous parish priest, Fr. Jorge Hernandez. We know from him that the faithful did not come to Mass last Sunday. They were afraid to come. Many people are deprived of basic needs such as sleeping at night because of what they hear.

Our Catholic school in Gaza, which is part of the parish compound, welcomed many homeless, who escaped the shelling of their quarter in Al Shujaieh and Al Zaitouneh. They are around 600 people living and sleeping in the school without the necessary equipment. They need food and water.”

For the entire interview with Bishop Shomali, click on Situation in Gaza ‘literally deteriorating’ says Latin Rite Auxiliary Bishop

“open the school and let them in”

25 Jul

Holy Family School in Gaza, run by the Latin Catholic Church, now plays host to 800 refugees bedded down in classrooms and corridors.

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The man who guards the school called the priest and immediately he said, “Open the school and let them in.”

Gaza’s Christians are a tiny and diminishing community of about 2,000 in a total population of 1.8 million. Today, there are only two active churches in Gaza and five Christian schools, although most of their pupils are Muslims. 0 Holy Family Gaza 02

Read the rest of the article: Gaza churches open doors to refugees from Israel offensive

hear our cry for mercy, O Lord

24 Jul

as we pray … 

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  • for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas

 

  • for the resumption of humanitarian relief for the people of Gaza through Catholic Relief Services

 

  • for the Israeli innocents who live in fear of Hamas’ indiscriminate rocket attacks on civilian areas

 

  • for the Palestinian innocents who live in fear for their lives from air and ground attacks or suffer the humiliations of occupation

 

  • for the avoidance of excessive actions of hostility and indiscriminate punishment which can breed a whole new generation of terrorists

 

  • for the emergence of a viable and independent Palestinian state living alongside a recognized and secure Israel which will bring the peace for which majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians yearn

 

 

“starring” the prayers of others

24 Jul

Before we left on pilgrimage we gathered prayer petitions from parishioners, families, students, friends, co-workers and classmates. Yes, I said “classmates.” One of our pilgrims is a student in the Lay Pastoral Ministry Program of our Archdiocese. From her classmates she collected a huge stack of prayers, many of which were written in Vietnamese.

Mary Jo, a teacher at our SASEAS School, and her daughter Bridget, just weeks away from her wedding, cut and pasted all the prayers on heavy paper and created a real work of art.

All the prayers were folded into a book that was easy to pack and carry.

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The book opened up into a star shape that could rest right on the corner of the altar whenever we prayed.

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Cathy, the lay ministry student, kept the prayers with her at all times. Here she touches the prayers to the rock of Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, joining the cries of many to the cry of Jesus to his Father.

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The prayers rested during Mass on the altar over the stone of the holy (and empty) tomb of Jesus.

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The prayers were with us as we celebrated Mass with the local Christians in the olive grove of the Cremisan Valley near Beit Jala (Bethlehem).

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On the Sea of Galilee we celebrated Mass at an outdoor altar on the edge of the water near the home of Peter and Andrew in Capernaeum. We opened up the prayers to God there as well.

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And the prayers were with us for the last time at Mass on the Mount of Beatitudes.

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We left all the prayers that we brought with the Sisters who live in the convent on the Mount of Beatitudes. Cathy and I were just starting to explain to one of the Sisters what we wanted to do, when she scooped them out of Cathy’s hands, “Tell the people that the Sisters will continue to pray for their intentions.” Sister knew what we wanted – and what our parishioners, families, students, friends, co-workers and classmates wanted.