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three reasons

20 Aug

During the Mass in Cremisan valley our pilgrim-teachers saw three reasons for why they were praying and singing in the olive grove.

Here are two …

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… and here’s a third.

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These children deserve a green space in which to picnic and play.  

That’s why we sang and prayed.

 

this chalice

19 Aug

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.

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It was this chalice that I prepared for Mass with the wine and water.

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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.”

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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.

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.

“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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

celebrating Jesus in green, red and white

23 Jul

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.

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At Capernaum along the Sea of Galilee we celebrated in red, in honor of the Apostles Peter and Andrew.

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In the olive grove of the Cremisan Valley, Father Ibrahim and I wore white vestments.

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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.

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At the Milk Grotto shrine in Bethlehem the color was, well, you can see for yourself.

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the color blue is used only three times

22 Jul

Speaking of my three teachers (yesterday’s post), I took their picture together three times – on purpose.

On any map of the Holy Land of Palestine/Israel the color blue is used only three times: the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River and the Dead Sea.

Here are the St. Andrew teachers on the western shore of the Jordan River.

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Here they are in the front of a boat on the Sea of Galilee.

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I also have a photo of the three of them floating in the Dead Sea. You have to ask one of them to see that photo.

 

my three teachers

21 Jul

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Abby, Christy and Sharon, you honored me by accompanying me to Jordan, Palestine and Israel. Having known you as teachers in our parish school, it delighted me for these fourteen days to travel, eat and pray with you in the Holy Land. It was like I was taking you home to meet my people, especially in my beloved Beit Jala, and to see the land in which I grew up, in Christ, that is. I wanted you to have an experience as life-giving as I have had. I wanted you to come to love the land and love the people as I much as I do. I knew that each of you would meet a partner teacher and be her house guest for two nights. I was confident that you would be in loving hands in her home and in her care. But a tiny part of my soul was a bit nervous about how things would be for you. I knew you had seen a photo of your partner-teachers, and had corresponded by email with them. But the father-worrier in me wanted to know for sure that you would feel comfortable, loved and safe.

0 Three teachers DSC_0648Myrna, Niveen and Sally, however much I would thank you would not be enough. As the teachers from St. Andrew came off the bus in your church yard, you embraced Abby, Christy and Sharon, as if they were your long-lost sisters who had finally come back home. After just a few moments, you whisked the teachers away. They were in your arms, in your hands, in your cars – and they were gone. Then I left for two days, wondering how things were going, and hoping that each of you would bond with the teacher that you took home and to school with you. When I returned to pick up Abby, Christy and Sharon to move on to Jerusalem. I got my answer. The smiles on the faces of all six of you were proof and evidence of the friendship and solidarity that was built up in less than 48 hours.

Myrna, Niveen and Sally, I cannot ever thank you enough for what you have given to Abby, Christy and Sharon. They are better teachers, better women and better Christians because of you! You are also “my three teachers” now, too. I owe a debt to you that I cannot repay. But God can repay you. I will remind God often of my debt to you, and will ask God to pay you back for what you have given to the teachers from my school – and to me. May God continue to bless you, your families, your students and your homeland. Keep hope. Stay holy. Remain happy. Be brave.

 

her three children

20 Jul

It seemed that, while on pilgrimage, Michelle was always remembering her three children, and was always missing them. She often reminded the rest of us that she had three children, and was constantly reminding God, too. 

Whenever she was standing quiet, we figured she was thinking of her three children, missing them, and praying for them.

While at the Sea of Galilee, I handed her three stones, of three different sizes, one for each of her children: small, medium and large; youngest, middle and oldest. I suggested that she hold the stones, one by one, as he held her children in her heart, one by one. Start with the smallest stone, I suggested, while praying for your youngest child. Hold the smallest in your hand, tell God what your prayer is for your youngest, then toss the stone into the sea. Then take up the medium sized stone and your medium sized child; make the prayer and toss the stone. And finally, the largest and the oldest.

The four photos below capture the stages: the stone, the wind up, the toss and the ripple.

It made me wonder if the four photos capture the stages of our prayer. Do they represent four parts of prayer, or four movements in prayer, or  four things that are necessary for prayer, or four things that make a prayer a prayer and not just a thought? What do you think?

I have given each photo a caption, from the point of view of the stone. What caption would you give them, if the photos were not about the stone, but about the prayer?

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Part 1: the stone (notice the white bird flying near the water)

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Part 2: the wind up

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Part 3: the toss

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Part 4: the ripple

 

 

a prayer and a gun are fired

19 Jul

The gun of an Israeli soldier rests on a window-like opening of the separation wall between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. It is pointed toward Palestinian youth during a clash at the entrance to Bethlehem.

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There is something particularly sad about this screenshot taken from a Reuter news video. During his pilgrimage to the Holy Land Pope Francis stopped at this very place to pray. Notice the closed window just to his right, and the “Bethlehem look …” just above his head.Bod-3BZIUAAuiXR

It is the same place at which he fired a prayed to heaven. This time a gun fires.

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