On this day in 2003, October 4, I met Issa, Tamer, Tamara, Ranim and Mary at their Latin Patriarchate School in Beit Jala, West Bank, Palestine. It was a Saturday morning. It was a blessed event for me!
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.
The Catholic parish in Beit Jala (Bethlehem) is the Church of the Annunciation. Today, March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, is the parish’s patronal feast day. Adding to the celebration is the fact that it is the birthday of their pastor, Father Ibrahim. A big day it was this year. The school children had a day off from classes. The teachers had a retreat day with Bishop Shomali. There was a special Mass. There was a parish dinner. And there was tembola – bingo!
It is said that, when Gabriel appeared to Mary in Nazareth and asked Mary if she were willing to be the virgin mother of God’s own Son, there was a moment of suspense between the question and the answer – and the angels in heaven held their breath!
At tembola (bingo) after dinner today in Beit Jala at the Church of the Annunciation another angel of God, Jouelle, held her breath. She was waiting for number “19” to be called. She would have had a “full house” (a cover all). But someone else called “khallas” (stop) before her last number was called.
Jouelle, you did not win the prize at tembola. But I hope that seeing your picture on my blog helps you to feel better.
Now, get ready, Jouelle, to shout, because here comes …
In Beit Jala (Bethlehem) March 12 is Old Age Day or the Feast of Old People.
There probably is a better translation of the actual name of the day, but that is how my Palestinian friend, Waseim, refers to the occasion in English. To be fair to him, I would not be capable of translating and speaking about “Seniors Appreciation Day” in Arabic.
At the Catholic parish there is a gathering for those we call the seniors. The parish priest mingles with the group. Of course, there is lunch. And the tembola cards come out. Tembola is a Palestinian version of bingo. When they “bingo,” they yell, “Khallas (Stop, Enough, End).”
Along with the Mass, there are others things that seem to be universal in our Catholic Church: our love of older people, older people’s enjoyment of being in each other’s company, their commitment to their parish, their affection for their parish priest – and tembola!
Pope Francis receives message from Beit Jala Christians
VATICAN – In an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Father Ibrahim Shomali, parish priest of Beit Jala, delivered a message from the people of the city to the Holy Father relating the current suffering of Christian families in the town of Beit Jala.
Fr. Shomali emphasized to the Holy Father the extent of the Israeli oppression regarding the people of Beit Jala, through its expropriation of private lands to open roads and build settlements, including the Wall of Separation, and, more recently, the seizure of lands belonging to the Convent of Cremisan.
Fr. Shomali’s message focused on the fact that the “Palestinian people” strongly adhere to its national homeland and its fight to stay on it. However, the conservation of lands requires concrete measures to thwart any takeover attempt, and to enable the Palestinian people to live with dignity in a free State.
It is worth recalling here that an Israeli Court in Tel Aviv last April adopted a decision reaffirming the course of the Separation Wall, around Cremisan, especially between the Convents of the Salesian Fathers and the Salesian Sisters, as well as the annexation of private properties belonging to 58 Palestinian families of Beit Jala to the settlement of Gilo, south of Jerusalem.
The Heads of the Catholics Churches in the Holy Land, at the time, called for the realignment of the course of the Wall, in accordance with internaitonal law, pointing out to the Israeli decision-makers that the seizure of lands in no way serves the cause of peace, nor does it bolster the position of the moderates who, in this objective, opt for non-violence.
At all six Masses on Christmas at St. Andrew we presented to each person a booklet with all the prayers and music for the celebration. The first thing people saw was a welcome message and an explanantion of the preace dove.
(click on image of program to see it enlarged)
By yourself or with family,
grateful or hurting, disappointed or satisfied,
successful or stressed, sick or healed, elated or deflated,
feeling the loss of health, home, loved one and employment,
or with everyone and in good relationship
with everyone whom you love and who loves you,
we come to Mass on this holy day
and approach the altar
with grateful and humble hearts.
Jesus is on the altar at every Mass
as truly as he was in the manger on the first Christmas.
As he was in the wood of feeding trough
and on the wood of the cross,
he is truly present on our altar-table
for our nourishment and our salvation.
At every Mass
we are in Bethlehem on Christmas,
at Calvary on Good Friday
and at the empty tomb in Jerusalem on Easter morning.
May you experience always
the spirit of Christmas which is peace,
the joy of Christmas which is hope,
and the heart of Christmas which is love.
A “peace dove” with lighted candle will remain on the ledge at the tabernacle in our church throughout the Christmas season. Our friends in our partner parish and school in the Beit Jala area of Bethlehem will light a candle for us on Christmas Eve at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. They will remember us in Bethlehem, as we will remember them here. The Christians who live in Bethlehem still do not enjoy the peace the angels sang about on the first Christmas. As we sing the opening words of the Gloria – “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will” – we will pray for our Christian brothers and sisters in Bethlehem, throughout the Holy Land and all throughout the Middle East.
At Midnight Mass we prayed this prayer:
“That our Holy Land partnership with Annunciation Church and School in Beit Jala will help replace their despair with hope, their fear with security, and their humiliation with human dignity. We pray to the Lord …”