Even though at this moment we cannot literally stand with our “family” of the Catholic parish of Beit Jala, as we literally stood with them whenever we go to the Holy Land on pilgrimage, we stand with them liturgically and virtually.
This evening, Wednesday, September 2, the doors of St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Milford, Ohio, open wide to anyone who would like to pray silently before the Blessed Sacrament for our family in Beit Jala. Around 6:30 p.m. there will be a rosary, prayers to Our Lady of Palestine and the closing hymn, “Jerusalem My Destiny.”
Although we cannot stand with them in the fields of the Cremisan valley, they will know that we support them at this time and that we are praying with them and for them.
The live streaming camera will be turned on at 6:00 p.m. Go to the St. Andrew parish website. On the left sidebar, look for “Church Cast,” and click on “Watch our Mass online”
Tomorrow, Wednesday, September 2, the doors of St. Andrew the Apostle Church, Milford, Ohio, will open wide to anyone who would like to pray silently before the Blessed Sacrament for our family in Beit Jala (Bethlehem), West Bank, Palestine.
Exposition will begin at 10:00 a.m. and continue until 7:00 p.m. We invite you to join us in prayer at a time (and in a place) of your convenience. The closing ceremony will be around 6:30 p.m. with a rosary, prayers to Our Lady of Palestine, and the hymn, “Jerusalem My Destiny.”
(The photo above pictures HOPE teacher/pilgrims at Mass in the Cremisan Valley of Beit Jala.)
Postcards sometimes come in the mail with a message from our friends, “Wish you were here.”
I am hoping my friends in the town of Beit Jala, in the area of Bethlehem, in the West Bank of Palestine, will see this message, sent by me to them, “Wish I were there.”
I wish I were there.
I wish I were there with you in Cremisan Valley.
I wish I were there with you to prayerfully protest the taking of your land.
I wish I were there with you, as the Israeli government under the protection of the Israeli Defense Forces starts again to uproot your olive trees, to clear the way for the separation wall that they prepare to build on your land.
I wish I were there to genuflect with you and your priests before the altar, decorated with new olive trees in front of it and Israeli soldiers behind it; before the altar, on which rests that blue ceramic chalice that was the gift of our parish and our teachers to you, when we celebrated Mass with you in that same valley.
I wish I were there to stand beside your Catholic parish priest as he stands in front of – and stands up to – the Israeli soldiers.
I wish I were there.
(Unfamiliar with the news story of August 18, 2015: see Israel resumes work on controversial separation wall in Cremisan valley.)
Sitting in my den at 8:21 a.m. on what my mother called “Christmas Eve day,” my mind and my heart, my thoughts and my prayers wander to the Middle East, and more specifically to Palestine, and more specifically to Bethlehem, and more specifically to Beit Jala, adjacent to Bethlehem.
It is Beit Jala that warms my Christian heart and sustains, what others have called, my Palestinian soul. I have fallen hopelessly in love with Beit Jala with a love full of hope which longs for peace for my friends, no, my family, in Beit Jala.
On Facebook I found a post by my (our) friend Waseim. From Arabic his name translates as “Handsome,” which has given the two of us many smiles since I first teased him, “Something certainly gets lost in translation!” I asked him to post it on YouTube, so that I could copy it and embed it here. Within hours of his waking in Beit Jala on Christmas Eve, he honored me and my request, as he always does, and so it appears below.
The countdown is obvious to our ears, however different the sound of the numbers. The feel of Jingle Bells is the same, no matter the language. And we join in singing the “Gloria in excelsis Deo” like we (and they) will sing those words in our hometown churches, here in the little town of Milford and there in the little town of Bethlehem.
Fireworks, of different kinds, are a common occurrence in the area surrounding Beit Jala, some set off in celebration and some set off in conflict. On this occasion, however, as during the celebrations of weddings, graduations and baptisms, the fireworks are explosively joyous. At the end of the video the noise of the fireworks overtakes the singing of “Glory to God in the highest.” We all live in hope that one day soon the song of the angels will overcome all military firing, and Beit Jala and Palestine and all the region will live in peace with justice with all her neighbors who deserve and long for the same freedoms and rights.
May Beit Jala know the peace the angels sang about during that mid-night on which Christ was born.
Twice Waseim turned the camera toward his parish church, Annunciation Catholic Church in Beit Jala, where I first met “my five (grand) children” – Issa, Mary, Ranim, Tamara and Tamer – back in 2003, and where Waseim worships every Sunday with Father Faysal, the parish priest, with the families of Beit Jala, with Suhail, the principal, with the teachers and students of the Latin Patriarchate School, and with the seminarians of the attached Latin Patriarchate Seminary. To all of them my heart will turn, as I turn my prayers to God at Midnight Mass for them.
In June our pilgrim-teachers joined Father Ibrahim, the local parish priest of Beit Jala, for the every Friday afternoon Mass in an olive grove of the Cremisan valley. We prayed for a particular answer to a particular prayer: that the Israeli security wall not be built along the proposed route through the valley.
Father Ibrahim told the international visitors and the local people in attendance that the group of teachers that came from Cincinnati in 2012 brought a chalice with their names inscribed on the bottom as a gift to the parish of Beit Jala and as a sign of solidarity and continued prayers. Abouna (Arabic for Father) said that this chalice has been used every week since then.
It was this chalice that I prepared for Mass with the wine and water.
It was this chalice that Abouna Ibrahim raised high at the consecration of the Mass, holding the blood of Christ “poured out for us and for all.”
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.
The book opened up into a star shape that could rest right on the corner of the altar whenever we prayed.
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.
The prayers rested during Mass on the altar over the stone of the holy (and empty) tomb of Jesus.
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).
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.
And the prayers were with us for the last time at Mass on the Mount of Beatitudes.
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.
One of the good things about “having a priest” on a pilgrimage is that you get to celebrate Mass every day. One of the good things about “being a priest” on pilgrimage is that I get to celebrate Mass every day, each time at a site that was significant in the life of Jesus or is significant to the local Catholics today, and thus are significant to us.
The color was green when I concelebrated with Father Ibrahim, the parish priest of Beit Jala (Bethlehem) and Father Faysal, the General Director of the Latin Patriarchate Schools of Palestine and Israel.
At Capernaum along the Sea of Galilee we celebrated in red, in honor of the Apostles Peter and Andrew.
In the olive grove of the Cremisan Valley, Father Ibrahim and I wore white vestments.
In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, if we had been on Mount Calvary, I would have worn red. But since we had Mass at the Holy Tomb, the color was Easter white.
At the Milk Grotto shrine in Bethlehem the color was, well, you can see for yourself.