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Abouna Sleman in Milford – day 2 – shopkins?

23 Nov

Saturday evening after a Thai dinner I was walking (and gawking) around my house with Abouna Sleman. In what used to be the room where my mother slept when she visited, I showed him the chair in which mom loved to sit when she prayed her morning prayers and her rosary. It is next to the window which looks out on the Mary grotto behind the rectory. I enjoyed going through my mom’s funeral program with him, showing him the pictures of the family and of some of the people and the things that were important to her. He smiled and reacted most when I turned around the Christmas ornament of my house that mom had painted for me, “Ahhh. Nice.” It was the grotto of Mary outside the window by which he was standing. Sleman HOPE 05 On Sunday morning Abouna concelebrated the 11:00 a.m. Mass which included the baptism of baby Ryan Joseph. During the Eucharistic Prayer, at the consecration I stepped aside, so that Abouna could chant the words of Jesus in Arabic, as he lifted the bread and the chalice from the altar. Arabic is the language presently spoken that is closest to Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke. We heard the words of consecration chanted in the tone and inflection close to what the apostles heard from the lips and heart of Jesus at the Last Supper. You can hear the at minute 47:00 at this link: Words of Jesus in Arabic.

This morning when Abouna was speaking to his mother on the phone before Mass, I wanted him to thank his mother for giving him to us. Her response? “I did not give him to you. I gave him to God … (pause) … God can give him to anyone He wants.”

After speaking with his mother Abouna was arguing on the phone with someone. When he hung up, I asked him what that was all about. It was his 8 year old sister, asking him over and over what he was going to bring back for her from America for Christmas. At the end of Mass, I asked the people to give him some ideas as to what he should take home to her. He was told about paints and markers and art books. He heard about teddy bears and dolls. 

There was a lunch later in the church hall that was ready for his visit. Sleman HOPE 02 The event was about peace, love and hope. Sleman HOPE 03 And sure enough, in midafternoon, when we got back to the rectory from the luncheon, there was a bag hanging on the doorknob of breezeway door. One little girl, 8 year old Izzy, didn’t just give him an idea; she conned her dad to take her to buy something.  Sleman HOPE 04

When I got back in the house I went directly to google “Daesh” and “Erbil and oil” to learn a little more than I had known before.

And then I turned on a football game and fell asleep. 

Abouna Sleman in Milford – day 1 – goetta within 24 hours

22 Nov

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It is a pleasure to have Father Solomon in my home for a few days. He is in town for a wedding of his cousin. We get him first.

His arrival at CVG was a half hour early, but we made up for the early arrival by sitting on I-275 for more than that, waiting, me impatiently, he patiently, for “all” of the traffic to exit on the first of the two Milford exits. At the second exit a tractor trailer truck had over turned and the highway was closed.

In the evening we went to the west side to Judy and Bill’s home. There he brought smiles to 20+ faces. Teachers and friends of HOPE gathered for appetizers, drinks and dinner. Judy and I shared a Palestinian Taybeh “White” beer. It was like being back home in Palestine.

After a long, long, long, needed sleep, Abouna awoke. I told him that I had two surprises for him at breakfast. He would not find out what they were until we arrived at our breakfast place. One surprise was that the owner of the restaurant was originally from Abouna’s home town in Jordan. Conversation revealed that the old gentlemen knew Abouna’s grandfather and his father. It is a small world. You should have seen the smiles on the faces of the two of them as they made the connections. The second surprise was ….. drum roll …. goetta! Within 24 hours of his setting foot in America for the first time, he tasted goetta. That will hard to top. He liked it a lot.

What makes him smile in the next photo is not the goetta. He is speaking with his mother back in Jordan.

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Abuna Sleman in Beit Jala and in Fuheis

22 Nov

This week my friend, and friend of HOPE (Holy Land Outreach for Peace Education), is with me (and us) in Milford.

In the days ahead there will be photos of his visit. As he stirs upstairs in my rectory, after his first ever sleep in America, a very long sleep indeed, I post a few photos from when we met. 

Back in June 2012 then-deacon Sleman (Solomon) helped our group of teachers and pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati celebrate Mass in the olive grove of Cremisan valley on the edge of Beit Jala. That is when we first met him. 

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You see in the photo above that I am using a ceramic chalice. This chalice was signed on the bottom by all the teachers and pilgrims who attended that Mass.

That same evening I presented that chalice to Deacon Sleman.

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To this day that chalice is used every Friday afternoon, when the parish priests of Beit Jala celebrate Mass at that place in the Cremisan valley.

In June 2013 I went to the Holy Land, this time by myself with no pilgrims or teachers in my care, thanks be to God. The purpose of this trip was to attend the ordination of Sleman in his home parish of Fuheis, Jordan. During the  ordination ceremony, after the bishop, in his case the patriarch, lays hands on the deacon being ordained a priest, all the priests who are present process to the man and lay hands on him as well. 20130624-091123.jpg

A little later in the ceremony all the priests return to the newly ordained priest to offer him a sign of Christ’s peace. As I watched the Latin patriarchate priests approach him, I saw that they were kissing his newly ordained hands. I found it to be a lovely custom, and did the same after I said, “Peace, Abouna (Father)”

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After the ceremony the newly ordained does not walk to the dinner-reception. He is carried, as seen in this video. Notice the fire works going off.

The next day he returned to his home parish, in which he was ordained the day before, to preside at his First Mass of Thanksgiving. What a  surprise for me to see him riding into the courtyard of the parish grounds on a white horse! He told me just yesterday that it was a surprise for him, too, and that he had never been a horse before that ride.

This is probably my favorite photo of the day of his first Mass.

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 Welcome to Milford, Abouna Sleman (Father Solomon).

Francis AND Rania?!?!?!

25 May

Okay, Abuna Sleiman, I fought my envy and jealousy when you took the stage with the Holy Father for that hour. But now, you stand between Pope Francis AND Queen Rania?

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You are testing any trace of virtue that might be within me!

Sleiman!

24 May

Just now, Saturday afternoon, I was watching the live streaming of the Pope’s visit to the Jordan River. After going to the river to bless himself, Francis went into the Latin (Roman Catholic, that is) church to meet with youth, refugees and sick. All of a sudden I saw someone I knew. Last June I went to Jordan for the ordination of my friend, Sleiman. There he was, standing over the Pope’s translator, instructing him about something. Sleiman!

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Father Sleiman had been appointed the Director of Youth for Jordan, so it is no surprise that he was there, but it sure surprised me to see him, so close to the action and so involved in the action.

Here he has moved over next to the Pope. He seemed to be a master of ceremonies, of sorts. I must tell him that I saw him at one point twiddle his thumbs on those properly folded hands.

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After an accident survivor told her story, volunteers were preparing to lift her entire wheelchair to get her up on the stage to greet the Holy Father. Francis would have none of that. He sprung out of his chair, with a motion that said, “I am coming down to her.” My buddy Sleiman accompanies him, with that classic, killer smile on his face.

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When it came time for Francis to bless the people with the water of the Jordan, look who is holding the clay pot of river, baptismal water – Sleiman!

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And whose arm does the Pope grab when he needs balance on his way down the steps. Sleiman’s arm! Notice the look on Sleiman’s face, “You’re okay, Francis. You got me right here by you.”

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hoping Francis will help

28 Apr

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Last Wednesday, April 24, the people of Beit Jala (Bethlehem) – and the few people in the rest of the world who are paying attention – heard the decision of an Israeli Appeal’s Committee that “the Wall” can be built right through another section of Palestinian land: their Cremisan Valley.

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Today, April 28, is Palm Sunday in Beit Jala. They begin Holy Week, and will celebrate Easter with the Orthodox Christians on May 5. 

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This coming week Pope Francis will meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres, who was invited by the Holy Father for a visit to the Vatican, among the first of the world leaders who will meet with the new Pope.

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This all comes together in these photos, taken today in Beit Jala. The people of Annunciation Catholic parish gathered today, on Palm Sunday, outside their church after Sunday Mass to sign letters to Pope Francis, pleading with him to keep Cremisan high on his agenda when he meets with the Israeli president.

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You might find this April 24 article  in the Washington Post, “Palestinian Christians hope new pope will help in battle against Israel’s barrier route,” helpful for understanding the present state of the situation.

How can this be?

8 Apr

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Our sister parish of the Annunciation, located in Beit Jala (Bethlehem), West Bank, Palestine, celebrates her feast day today: the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.

Here in Milford at St. Andrew we will pray in our evening Mass that, through the intercession and care of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and woman of Palestine, God will make good on His every promise to His people in Beit Jala and full their every hope in Him.

On Easter Sunday morning one of our teenagers asked me, “Father, which is the more important day for Christians: Christmas or Easter?” How would you have answered her? She picked Christmas.

On this day, I ask myself, “Which is the more important feast: Christmas or the Annunciation?” I pick the Annunciation. Here is my reasoning. When did God become one of us and one with us? Not when He was born. When He was conceived! The English translation of the Nicene Creed used to be: he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. Now we say: he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. The word incarnate replaces born. To be born describes the moment of birth. To be incarnate describes the moment of conception. The Word became incarnate – became flesh – in Mary’s womb. All of us – you and I and Jesus – were born. But God took on human flesh; God became human; God was incarnate. And the “incarnation” took place at the moment of conception in the womb of Mary, at the moment when Mary accepted God’s will and desire to become human. On Christmas we celebrate His birth among us. On Annunciation we celebrate His incarnation.

For me, the Annunciation feels like Christmas. It takes me back to Beit jala, and seeing that painting over the altar in their Catholic parish church, dedicated to the Annunciation. It takes me back to meeting Deacon Sleiman (Solomon) Hassan in that very church. It will be his ordination to the priesthood in June that will take me back to my next visit to Beit Jala.

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“expectant Father” Solomon

2 Apr

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Yes, that is genuine. He is that prayerful and sincere.

We met “Deacon” Sleiman Hassan when we came to Beit Jala to prepare to celebrate Mass in Cremisan Valley. He had packed up everything we needed for Mass, led us to the spot where he set everything up for us, explained the significance of praying in this spot where we were, assisted me at the altar for the entire Mass, packed everything up and took us back to the parish church. He won our hearts, our admiration and our affection. He is a good-looking fellow, a prayerful man, a worthy representative of our Catholic Church and an engaging spokesperson for Annunciation parish and the Palestinian people of Beit Jala.

On March 19, 2013, the feast of St. Joseph (and his birthday), he was ordained a deacon during a Mass at Annunciation Church in Beit Jala.

lying prostrate during the Litany of Saints

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laying on of hands by the bishop

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vested in the liturgical robes of the deacon

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under the eyes of an admiring little girl

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Deacon Sleiman (Solomon) will be ordained a priest on June 20, 2013 (my birthday) at his parish church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in his home village of Fuheis, Jordan.

And I will be there. I am flying to the Middle East to be among the priests who will lay hands on his head during the ordination ceremony. What a treat and an honor it will be for me!

You are most welcome

31 Dec

While on pilgrimage in the Holy Land in June 2012 with a group of teachers from various schools in our Archdiocese of Cincinnati we celebrated an outdoor Mass in Cremisan Valley in an olive grove. It was then that we met Deacon Sleiman (Solomon), a student at the Latin Patriarchate Seminary who is serving as deacon at Annunciation Church in Beit Jala.

In his car Deacon Solomon led our bus on its way through the village of Beit Jala, up over the hill and around the winding roads, to the Cremisan Valley. In the open trunk of his car, he brought along an altar table, and inside the car he had everything we needed for Mass. He was the perfect host and gentleman. He is, in the words of one of our pilgrim-teachers, a holy man – and he will be a good and holy priest.

As you see him and hear him in this YouTube video, enjoy his smile and his obvious love for the Church. We can assure  y0u that he means it when he says, “You are most welcome to be here with us in our Annunication Church in Beit Jala.”

not on Friday, but on Tuesday

15 Nov

Every Friday afternoon at 3:00 p.m., with obvious connections to the time of suffering that Jesus endured on the Friday that we call Good, Father Ibrahim Shomali, the parish priest of Beit Jala (Bethlehem) celebrates the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with his people in an olive grove in Cremisan Valley on the outskirts of the town.

This place is chosen by the parish of Beit Jala for Mass to protest in a prayerful and nonviolent way the proposed path that the Israeli government plans to follow in building another section of the separation wall through this very valley. What the Palestinians (and I) and many Israeli citizens call a separation wall, some proponents prefer to call a security fence, claiming that only 3% of it is actually a wall, and that the rest is a low lying, barbed wire structure. There is no doubt that this section will not be a fence; it will be a wall. And it will separate: 58 families  from their olive groves, 450 children from their school at the convent of the Silesian sisters, and all the people of Beit Jala from the only recreational park, green space that is left for them. And it is hard to imagine how this particular re-routing of the wall to take more land and water for Israel is necessary for security.

The schedule for our pilgrim-teachers from schools of our Archdiocese of Cincinnati did not allow us to join him/them on Friday, so Father Ibrahim arranged for Deacon Suleiman to accompany us to the place for Mass on a Tuesday morning.

When we arrived, we found the ground turned up and over. Someone had obviously plowed the ground.

It was alleged by some of the locals that the Israeli government had done that to make it difficult to pray there. No matter who did it or why it was done, the turned up ground did make it quite complicated to walk and difficult to stand, the slightest shift of our weight causing our feet to slip from underneath us. The situation made us more determined in our prayer. We stood our ground as best as we could.

Deacon Suleiman called us to worship with a reminder that Jesus prayed on the night before his crucifixion in another grove of olive trees: at the base of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. These olives trees are a Gethsemane of another kind. Here the agony of the garden continues.

We prayed that the agony of our friends from Beit Jala will be eased.

As we left, some of us picked up stones and olive branches, not knowing whether or not we will ever be able to return with them to this place.