Tag Archives: Bethlehem

wish I were there

21 Aug

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.

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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.

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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. 082115 11222005_980856798657888_5074133491311356836_n

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.

082115 11887968_1097448430284141_441573760240644836_nI wish I were there with you in Cremisan Valley.

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.)

virtual pilgrimage in 18:01

26 Apr

DAY 1: Capernaum & Sea of Galilee

Where in your life does Jesus call you?

Day Two: Nazareth & Cana

Newly confident because we look at what has already happened, we are able to say, “Yes,” and something new comes out of that.

DAY 3: Sea of Galilee

Where do you get your one on one time with God?

DAY 4: Jordan River & Bethany

God stood in line with those waiting to baptized and went with his friends as they invited him to go “down there” with them. 

DAY 5: Gethsemane & Holy Sepulchre

Surrender to the future that God has is store for you. Turn yourself over entirely to God, and God will reward you with new life. 

DAY 6: Bethlehem 

God entered the world in the most vulnerable way possible, completely dependent for his care  – and also leaves the world in a vulnerable state, naked and nailed – a sign of his great desire to be with us. Even in inauthentic places there is authentic faith.

DAY 7: Jerusalem/Way of the Cross

We carry our cross in the midst of the busyness and hurriedness of daily life.

واحد, إثنان, ثلاثة , waaHid, ithnayn, talaata (left to right read)

24 Dec

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.

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.

“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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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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clashes into the night in Bethlehem: Thursday

12 Jul

The Reuters news story begins, “At the entrance of Bethlehem, a frequent flashpoint of violence, youths threw stones at Israeli soldiers, who fired back with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets.”

Ironically and sadly, at the very place at which Pope Francis prayed during his pilgrimage 

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and to which pilgrims return to pray ???????????????????????????????

on Thursday night, the gate on which Pope Francis leaned and pilgrims lean was opened soldiers outside Bethlehem today 01c

and Israeli soldiers were entering and leaving Bethlehem. 

Here is some raw video footage:

At every Sunday Mass at St. Andrew we will pray an intention: “For an end to all fear and hatred and hostilities between the Palestinians and Israelis.”

Please add your “Amen” to this prayer.

and so was …

28 Jun

On Saturday, June 14, in Bethlehem, right next to the Manger Square Hotel in which I was staying, the new ice cream shop of the Custody of the Holy Land called “Il Cantico” had its grand opening.

 

The mayor of Bethlehem was there …

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and so was …

ice cream store grand opening

 

inside homebound luggage (4/4)

27 Jun

Shhh. Don’t tell Amanda or Matt.

It is their wedding gift.

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It is from Bethlehem. I carried it home myself.

It is olive wood. All wrapped up are shepherds and sheep, kings and a camel, a donkey and a manger.

When Amanda was very little, and before her brother Cody was born, she saw everything in terms of a mommy, a daddy and a baby. When she saw deer, it was a mommy, a daddy and a baby. If she saw cows in a field, it was a mommy, a daddy and a baby. Everywhere she looked, there was a mommy, a daddy and a baby. She always saw her own stable, safe and secure life reflected elsewhere – everywhere.

This gift is for Amanda and Matt. It is for their first Christmas together. It is … yes, you know what it is. It is will be so much fun for me to tell her that it is from Bethlehem itself. It is for their new home together. In this “stable” scene there is the promise of safety and security for them – in Jesus born among us and through Jesus living within us. 

In this olive wood Nativity set there is “a mommy, a (foster) daddy and a baby.” We will now wait to see how long it takes after their wedding until we get word that there will be in their home a mommy, a daddy – and a baby!