Tag Archives: Christians in the Holy Land

Issa, Mary and Joseph in Beit Jala

24 Dec

In accord with a “sleep in heavenly peace” tradition of mine, I fell asleep last night and will fall asleep tonight (Christmas Eve) and tomorrow night (Christmas Day) listening to some of favorite Christmas songs, in the glow of a laser cut photo of “my kids from Beit Jala” on the dresser across the room.

My iPod’s strange bed fellows include Bruce Cockburn, Celtic Woman, Cincinnati Pops, Hayley Westenra, Josh Groban, Kathy Mattea, Roisin Dempsey, Sissel, Tine Thing Helseth, The Roches and Becky Kelley.

Eventually the music stops, but the kids light up my entire night, as they light up my every Christmas, as they have lighted up my whole life. Nine  years ago, Issa, Mary, Ranim, Tamara and Tamer came as 8th graders from Beit Jala (Bethlehem) to visit us here in Milford. They have returned home and have already graduated from college. But they remain forever in my heart, and will always be “my children” to me.

These children, okay, these young adults, still have their homes in “the little town of Bethlehem.”

With the seven hour time difference, and with all of us being Christians, and being at Mass and with family, it is difficult to make connections by phone. But I will try. I might have to leave a message for Mary. I hope to make contact with Joseph, who is Ranim’s father. I must … I have to talk with … or at least a message for … Issa. “Issa” is “Jesus” in Arabic.

How can I let Christmas pass, without being in contact with Issa, Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem?

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.

Photos Worth Thousands of Memories

7 Jul


Photo by Dan Campbell

To say that he has the patience of a fisherman, the eyes of an artist and the precision of a surgeon might be a bit of a Middle Eastern overstatement, but he is a very good photographer. Mark Bowen accompanied the second group of HOPE pilgrim-teachers from Cincinnati to the Holy Land, having also been with the first group in 2010.

Most often Mark is on the lens side of the camera. But once in a while he sets up the picture, turns his camera over to someone else, and is actually in the photo himself, like in this one taken by the café-keeper at Stars and Bucks in Bethlehem.  

He was also coaxed into being in this group photo, taken in Nazareth by our guide Rami on Jen’s camera.

Being himself quite taken by an event or a site, he is even known to have allowed his picture to be taken by someone else with their own camera, like this one by JoAnne at the Jordan River.

On a rare occasion, difficult to imagine but true, he has even “asked” someone else to use “his” camera to take his picture, like this one taken with Archbishop Elias Chacour at Mar Elias School in Nazareth.

Most often, though, people caught Mark, as he so often caught many of us, doing what he did best: taking pictures, and editing and saving and posting pictures, like in this one by JoAnne in Amman, Jordan

 and in this one by JoAnne on the Sea of Galilee

 and in this one by Cindy on the Sea of Galilee

and in this one by JoAnne at the Gloria Hotel in Jerusalem

 and in these two by Father Rob.

All that being shown and said, Mark has done a remarkable service and a remarkably good job of capturing the moments, the people, the emotions and the HOPEs of our Cincinnati teacher-pilgrims and our Palestinian teacher-friends during the HOPE Pilgrimage 2012. Acknowledging Mark’s work on the back end of so many photos and memories, on the front end we all want to express to him our gratitude, appreciation and admiration.

By the way, Mark, “Mom” (Nancy) especially wants you to know how much she loves you, as can be seen on her face (and yours) in this photo of the two of you, taken by JoAnne at the Dome of the Rock.





“Based on our years as parish priests in Palestine”

23 Apr

Good Friday Procession in Jerusalem (Photo: Travelujah)

Father Faysal Hijazeen is the parish priest of the Ramallah’s Holy Family Church and head of Latin Patriarchate Schools in Palestine. Father Ibrahim Shomali is parish priest of the Annunciation Church in Beit Jala.

Together they wrote an op-ed piece that is published in the online Jerusalem Post on 04/16/2012: “The plight of Palestinian Christians.”

Fathers Hijazeen and Ibrahim began by saying that they “were appalled by the false allegations regarding Palestinian Christians made in recent weeks by Israeli spokespeople, such as (Israeli) Ambassador (to the U.S.) Michael Oren.”

They make it quite clear that they think that “the end of the Israeli occupation would allow all our people, Christians and Muslims, to develop all our potential living side by side.”

It is not persecution by the Muslims but the (Israeli) occupation itself that is at the root of the problem of the dwindling numbers of Christians in the Holy Land. “The Israeli occupation and settlement activities are the main reason for Christian emigration.” 

Taybeh: the last Christian village in the Holy Land

22 Apr

While reporting on the Holy Land’s vanishing Christian population, 60 Minutes stumbled on Taybeh — a tiny village where Jesus stayed on the eve of his crucifixion.

Online at CBS “60 Minutes: Overtime” you can watch a short video segment on Taybeh: the last Christian village in the Holy Land. 

Christians of the Holy Land – CBS “60 Minutes”

22 Apr

On Sunday, April 22, CBS “60 Minutes” broadcast a 14-minute segment that is bound to receive more “comments” than many of their other topics.

The exodus from the Holy Land of Palestinian Christians could eventually leave holy cities like Jerusalem and Bethlehem without a local Christian population. Bob Simon reports.

Here is a link to Christians of the Holy Land.

“Kairos Palestine” Document

22 Apr

For the sake of my fellow pilgrim-teachers here is a link to The Kairos Palestine Document – A moment of truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering.

with tears and prayers

2 Mar

محادثة “skype” مع مدرسة “Saint Andrew”

1 Mar

On February 28 students from Saint Joseph School in Nablus, in the West Bank of Palestine, visited by Skype with 6th graders from St. Andrew-St. Elizabeth Ann Seton school in Milford, Ohio.

Students from the two Catholic schools were 6,000 miles away, but technology brought them together to see each other’s smiles and to hear each other’s voices.

As one of the Palestinian students sat close to the computer, the others in the classroom watched on a large screen. They saw our students sitting in the hall below our church. Note in the bottom right corner of the next photo: in Palestine it was 420 p.m. The students had finished their school day, had gone home to eat the main meal of the day, and returned, yes, returned to school in order to meet our students who were just beginning their school day at 9:20 a.m.

In the classroom with the students …

… were Miss Abeer, their Principal, and Miss Ruya, their English teacher. Both Miss Abeer and Miss Ruya had visited our school last October. Our 6th grade teacher at St. Andrew, Mrs. Barbara Ambs, worked out the details of the online visit with Miss Ruya. They each prepared their own students, and pulled off this miracle visit, not giving up, even after technological problems forced them to cancel the first two attempts.

And look who else was in the classroom in Nablus: Father Johnny, the parish priest of St. Joseph.

A Palestinian girl asked her question. She spoke in English. She and her classmates began studying English in the first grade – and French, too. Notice the piece of paper. Isn’t that cute? She had her question ready.

Then she smiled, as she got an answer from her new American friend, who also spoke in English, of course. It would have been a very short visit and conversation, if our students needed to speak in Arabic.

It was fun for all: students, teacher and parish priest – on both sides.

This smile says it all. It’s for the children!

“We are not killing, fighting, just praying”

27 Feb

One day I will celebrate Mass on a Friday afternoon in an olive grove in Beit Jala with Father Ibrahim Shomali in prayerful protest of the land confiscation and the building of the separation wall at the Cremisan monastery, ensha’allah (God willing). 

Father Shomali is the parish priest of the Catholic Church of the Annunciation, in which I have celebrated Mass on several occasions. I have enjoyed the hospitality of the Latin Patriarchate seminary, which is connected to the parish church in Beit Jala, and at which I have been honored to speak to the new seminarians under the care of Father Faysal Hijazeen shortly after their arrival for the new school year. I have visited the children and teachers at the Latin Patriarchate School on numerous occasions, and in 2008 I was humbled and delighted with an invitation to address the high school graduates and their families at the graduation ceremony on the outdoor plaza overlooking Bethlehem. I have walked from the Beit Jala parish to the Cremisan monastery to buy wine to bring home with me. I know Beit Jala. I know the people of Beit Jala and I know Father Ibrahim, and am blessed to be able to call them my friends.

They need my prayers – and yours! They deserve my attention – and yours! 

At the Friday afternoon Mass they are not killing, fighting – just praying.