On May 24, Pope Francis will become the 4th pope to visit the Holy Land, 50 years after the visit of Pope Paul VI in 1964. It promises to be a historic visit as our beloved Pope goes to Amman in Jordan and then to Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
Most of us don’t realize that there are Christians in the Middle East. I wrote a few years ago, how I first came to know about people in the Middle East. But even for me, having gone to an international school with students from all over the world, knowledge of life in the Middle East has been limited to what we hear in the news. And it seems that all we hear are stories of persecution, war, conflict and strife. In the midst of that news, the stories of Christians get lost.
A few years ago, I traveled as part of a study tour, sponsored by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association to Jordan, Palestine and Israel. It was a different kind of pilgrimage because we only went to two holy sites. Mostly we visited people, the living stones that make that land holy.
This Sunday at Mass you’ll hear in the second reading, St. Peter exhorting early Christians to “Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pt 2:4-5) Peter is telling us that just like the stones of a building have to be in contact or in friction with each other in order to hold up the house, we too, in the midst of our friction, can hold up the house. Or rather, only through friction can the house be held up. Scholars will say that it means that Christians, in our secure and intimate relating (communion) are building up, or holding up the Church. But I like the idea that it is precisely the friction that enables us to be built into a spiritual house. And we can say that the people of the Middle East know friction better than most.
This Sunday is also the world premiere of Living Stones: Walking Humbly in the Land we Call Holy. It is the story of many of the Christians that I met in my pilgrimage. It is the story of their frictions and their struggles, but also of their hope.
When you watch Living Stones, you’ll meet Hadeel, a young Iraqi refugee in Amman, Jordan. She came to Jordan as a young girl, fleeing the 2003 war in her country. She wants to be a dentist but spends her time helping the Franciscan Sisters run activities for Iraqi children .
You will laugh with Sr. Clara, a Comboni Sister and midwife, working at the Italian Hospital in Kerak, Jordan. The morning we met Sr. Clara she had already delivered 2 babies through Caesarian section.
You will also meet Sr. Maryan Khume, an Iraqi Dominican Sister of St. Catherine of Siena, working at the Mother of Mercy pre and post-natal Clinic in Zarqa, Jordan. Sr. Maryan is a surgical nurse and had been studying in Michigan. The day we were there was her first day at the clinic.
In Jerusalem, we will take you inside the walls of the Terra Sancta School where Yousef Nasrawi, Educational Counselor and English teacher, told us about the many challenges of being an Arab living inside the walls of the old city. I’ll never forget Yousef looking off into the distance and telling us that, “sooner or later the cloud will go out, and spring will come to our country…” We pray that spring will soon come to the land of Palestine and Israel.
In the Galilee region, you will meet several high school students. At Mar Elias High School in the town of Ibillin, grade 12 student, Sawsan Chacour told us what it was like to go on an trip that included both Arabs and Jews. “When you talk to them and laugh, they’re such good persons but when you talk about the land and about who belongs here, it goes way out of hand. It’s really complicated.”
Perhaps the most moving place we visited was Bethlehem. Our first stop is the Ephphetha Institute where Sr. Lara took us around to meet her students. They are normal in every way. They like to laugh and have fun. At the school, all of them learn reading and writing. They learn Math, history and all of them learn English. But all of them have some degree of hearing impairment.
You will also meet Sr. Sophie. She runs La Crèche, the Orphanage of the Holy Family. It was inspiring to be with Sr. Sophie’s children and very moving to be on the floor, playing with them; honouring and caring for Bethlehem’s abandoned children.
Micah, 6:8 says, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Visiting the Holy Land should always be a transforming experience, but for us it was more so because all we did was meet people: We met people who take care of refugees and tend to widows and orphans. We met people who care for the sick and teach children. We also met those refugees, orphans, those children and those who were sick. These are the people who make this land holy. These are the people who inspire us to act with justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.
I hope you can prepare for the Holy Father’s apostolic journey to the Holy Land by watching Living Stones: Walking Humbly in the Land we Call Holy. It will premiere on Salt + Light Television, this Sunday, May 18th at 9pm ET / 6pm and 10PT. It will re-broadcast on Thursday, May 22nd at 9pm ET and on Saturday, May 24th at 1:30pm ET (10:30am PT. For other times, check our broadcast schedule). Remember that if you are outside our broadcast area, you can watch all our programs streaming live at www.saltandlighttv.org/live.
You will also be able to watch Living Stones for free on VIMEO-on-demand on May 18th and after that, on VIMEO-pay-per-view. And of course, if you’d like to purchase a copy of Living Stones, you can do so through our store.