Perspectives Daily – Thurs. March 27, 2014

Today on Perspectives, President Barack Obama visits the Vatican, daily mass with Pope Francis and the Pope’s itinerary in the Holy Land is released.

Notes from the Holy Land: Goodbyes

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By Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton
General Secretary, The Canadian Council of Churches
 
Our final day of journeying together as The Path of Abraham 2014 began with a presentation by Rabbis for Human Rights. The Rabbi who spoke to us was passionate about and committed to peace and human rights for all people of the land. He painted in word pictures the times he had stood in front of a bulldozer come to take down the home of a Palestinian family. He couldn’t remember the number of times he has been arrested for such actions! He asked us all to dedicate ourselves, in our contexts, to the rights of every human being, made as every human being is, in the image of God.

We then said a very poignant ‘good-bye’ to some of our companions on the journey as they journeyed on to other engagements.

The wheels on the bus rolled again and we were off to the German Colony to meet with Ambassador Gold, former Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Ambassador Gold welcomed us hospitably (we are getting VERY used to the wonderful Israeli coffee) and spoke to us about Israel’s security needs. We had questions, he had answers from the perspective of his narrative of the land.

With those bus wheel rolling, our next stop was the city of Ramallah in the West Bank to meet with a representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Again, a very hospital welcome in their very mundane-looking office building. That representative, no surprise, had a different narrative of the people in the land from Ambassador Gold. Again, we had questions, he had answers from the perspective of his narrative of the land.

It could not have been more appropriate, in fact it was an intentional decision on the part of the tour leaders, to end our Path of Abraham study tour in the village of Neve Shalom/Wahat a-Salaam. Physically, it is a small village on a not too big hill. Idealogically, idealistically it is a ‘game-changer’ in dialogue. Arabs and Jews live together, side by side, with their own houses, with their own faiths but in the same physical space, having to share and compromise and work out governance issues for themselves.

We were blessed by their story, the world is blessed by their witness.

It was then to the buses as we scattered to the airport, to Jordan or back to Jerusalem.

The Path of Abraham study tour is over. Perhaps.

On the other hand, if we can truly live forward the recognition of complexity that we have gained, if we can live in deep peace with ALL our neighbours, the journey has just begun…..

Photo courtesy of Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton

Notes from the Holy Land: Aida, Hebron, and the Tomb of the Patriarchs

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By Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton
General Secretary, The Canadian Council of Churches
Having been given wonderful breakfasts by our host Palestinian families, including in many cases home-made fig and apricot jams, having been shown their gardens of lemon and almond trees, we reassembled as The Path of Abraham.

Our next stop was the Church of the Nativity. Bending low to enter the ancient and closed in doorway, we explored a site sacred to Christianity and Islam and all too embarrassingly often fought over by Christians wielding brooms as ‘weapons’ against each other.

We then walked the narrow and winding streets to the site of Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans. It was very moving for all of us to hear of the partnerships formed through that organization, partnerships that give the women of Palestine income and an opportunity for the dignity of expressing themselves in their traditional crafts. And then we shopped! Those who know me well will not be surprised to hear that a beautiful jacket completely decorated with traditional embroidery was purchased – red, of course!

Our walking and talking, our learning and reflecting continued through the Aida Palestinian Refugee Camp. Let no one think that there are easy answers to the situation of the Palestinian refugees. We continued our multiple crossings of the security barrier – sometimes a wall, sometimes a simple chain link fence and drove into Hebron to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. The massive, ancient stone structure thought by many to have been build by Herod the Great sits in what is at this point in time in a very challenged and divided town. Terrible violence has happened here, security looms large here. And so it must be that Jews and Muslims have to enter through different sides. The Christians get to choose whether they will go in the Jewish entrance or the Muslim one. The markers of Abraham and Sarah sit in the midst of this divided space – visible to both sides, sides that are divided from each other.

Our next stop was an Israeli settlement with a yeshiva school of Jewish learning. The rabbi there spoke to us of the relationship of God, humanity and creation and how that relationship can be thought of in different and conflicting ways, different and conflicting ways that impact the understanding of the land here. Or LAND.

Our evening session seemed to be one of great pain as we heard the stories of an Israeli man and a Palestinian man both of whom had lost innocent daughters to the conflict. Their stories were painful beyond painful and yet, and yet, in their commitment to stand together, in their determination to tell their stories and witness to the fact that the situation must change there was hope. The hope was real and tangible and will stay with us, ‘Inshallah’ through the journeys of our lives.

Photo: CNS Photo/Debbie Hill

Notes from the Holy Land: Nazareth

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By The Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton
General Secretary, The Canadian Council of Churches
 
Leaving our Kibbutz hotel, The Path of Abraham bus rolled towards Nazareth and the Church of the Annunciation. This traditional place of the Annunciation to Mary that she would bear the Son of God, Jesus, is decorated with large mosiacs of Mother and Child from countries around the world. The mosaic from Ukraine reminded us to keep its people in our prayers. The mosaic from Australia is colourful and elaborate and the Canadian clay mosaic known in popular parlance as the ‘Madonna of the hockey stick’. canadian mosaic

From the Church of the Annunciation we wound our way through the market of Nazareth to the historic White Mosque. We were welcomed more than warmly with coffee, tea and a plethora of delightful sweets including the traditional coconut cookies of the region. We met the Imam and Principal of the Mosque and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Nazareth who work closely together and addressed us about their reality in that town of both cooperation and tension between Christians and Muslims. Baruch, Karen and Damian were even interviewed by the Italian television station that filmed the whole event – You Tube video should be up in a week or so. (Search ‘White Mosque, Nazareth, March 10, 2014)

Capernaum was our next stop with its rich religious history – the Jewish synagogue and the place of Jesus’ healing of his disciple Simon Peter’s mother-in-law which became a very early Christian church – both over-looking the Sea of Galilee.

Our journey together as Jews, Christians and Muslims – Children of Abraham all, then took us down the east side of the Sea of Galilee, into the Judean desert and past the oasis of Jericho. The lights of Amman, Jordan could be seen across the Jordan valley. We arrived in Bethlehem to be met by our host families and taken in pairs to their homes for dinner, for the evening, for conversation and listening.

Food was shared with some lovely contributions of homemade lemonade and jams from the trees of people’s gardens. Stories and pictures were shared and some understanding of the challenges of Palestinian Christians gained.

Travelling as I am with my son, Gavin, we appreciated the fact that our host family had five sons around his age. He was invited out for the evening with ‘the guys’ and music and computer games shared.

I am now a Facebook friend with one of the brothers! Sisters and brothers in the line of Abraham are we.

Top Photo: Study Group members meeting with local religious leaders at the White Mosque

Lower photo: The Canadian contribution to the Church of the Annunciation

All photos courtesy Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton

Notes from the Holy Land: Sunday Services

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By Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton
General Secretary, The Canadian Council of Churches
 
Jews, Christians and Muslims together for the Arabic/English worship service at St. George’s Anglican Church in Jerusalem. As word and music filled space and hearts we were made to feel so welcome. What an interesting experience for all but in a particular way for the Christians. The form of the worship service was familiar, the draping of the crosses in Lenten purple was familiar but the Arabic language of the service so much less so. Many of us who are Muslim understood more of the words of the Scripture and Prayers than those of us who are Christian!

We were made to feel even more welcome by the requests for pictures of us and the coffee and cookies we were offered and then our bus wheels rolled again and we were off to the Galilee.

 
After noshing our lunch on the bus and educating ourselves about both the Five Pillars of Islam and the kibbutz movement, we arrived at Giv’at Haviva an education, reconciliation centre. Mohammad Darawshe spoke to us about the great need for reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians in the land but particularly from his perspective as an Israeli, Palestinian, Muslim Arab. A narrative of the land.

A little bit of rain, a drive past the Horns of Hattin where the Crusader army was defeated by Saledin and we arrived for our boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. sea of galilee

We were not deterred by a little fog, sang both the Canadian and Australian national anthems and then some of us Christians participated in an ecumenical renewal of baptismal vows surrounded by the care and firm support of the rest of our companions on the journey.

We checked into our hotel on Kibbutz Lavi and after a delicious dinner met with one of the rabbis of the kibbutz. We heard a different narrative of the land.

Our de-briefing time was painful as we brought to each other our frustrations with the sometimes intractable relationship between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. We had heard some stories of hope through the day as well and we long for a different reality, a strengthening and growing of those kinds of situations of reconciliation where what prevails is neighbourliness.

Onwards we roll tomorrow towards Nazareth and Bethlehem, more conversations and the White Mosque.

Top Photo: Study Tour members infront of St. George’s Anglican Cathedral

Lower Photo: Study Tour members on a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, despite the rain. (note the Canadian flag at the rear of the boat!)

Notes from the Holy Land: Shabbat Shalom!

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By Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton

General Secretary, The Canadian Council of Churches

 
Shabbat Shalom!

This morning offered a variety of ways of engaging in faith and land.

Some of us went to the Sabbath services of the only English-speaking Conservative synagogue in Jerusalem. A remarkable service, made more remarkable by the fact that the community was marking International Women’s Day by having the founder of ‘Women of the Wall’ as a speaker. She powerfully related efforts made and successes achieved in encouraging the equal rights of women in Jerusalem.

Some of us went to the Israel Museum to be fascinated by the Dead Sea Scrolls and the treasures of archaeology and historical life in this land. The Rodin sculpture of Adam and the scale model of the ancient city of Jerusalem held us in thrall.

And some of us much enjoyed rambling the narrow, ancient streets of the old city and the economic opportunities they offered. (Shopping!!!)fransiscans_holy sepulchre

Together we then spent the afternoon on an in-depth tour of the Christian sites of the old city – the Armenian quarter, complete with an Armenian procession to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the incense, music, crowds and deep, deep history of the Church, its Armenian and Coptic Orthodox chapels and even the Ethiopian Orthodox monastery on the roof! And speaking of roofs – the view from the roof of the Austrian hostel is spectacular!

Our evening offered two choices, the Sound and Light show and the tour of the Western Wall tunnels, an experience which so many of us described as awesome. The enormity of the tunnels and cisterns, the enormity of the building process of the Temple’s foundation wall, the levels and levels of history. We were filled with questions and comments and at the same time we were speechless in awe.

 
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Top Photo: Auguste Rodin’s “Adam” / photo from wikimedia commons
Bottom Photo: Fransiscans process at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre /courtesy Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton

Notes from the Holy Land: The one place where praying is forbidden

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by  Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton
General Secretary, The Canadian Council of Churches
 
After what seemed like luxurious sleeping-in compared with our early start of yesterday, we began Day 3 of our Path of Abraham study tour by hearing the challenging, heart-wrenching, soul-wrenching story of a Holocaust survivor, Hannah Pick. She knew Anne Frank when they were both living in Amsterdam and encountered here again before Anne’s death in a death camp. Anne’s story lives on in her book and in the narrative and life of Hannah Pick.

Less heart-wrenching but challenging none the less was the fact that the next part of our day involved separating from each other as colleagues in faith. Because of the politics of this place, only Muslims are allowed to pray or even go into the Al Aqsa mosque.

The rest of us walked down the Mount of Olives, re-tracing the footsteps of Jesus on Palm Sunday and stopping from time to time to read parts of the Gospel story of that triumphal entry which lead to Jesus’ suffering and death on a Roman cross. mount of olives

Our journey took us to the Garden of Gethsemane, the 2000 year old olive trees and the sombre and magnificent Church of All Nations that stands in the midst of the Garden. Again we read some of the Scripture passages of those places, we remembered, we felt, we shed some tears.

We were together again as the children of Abraham as we then journeyed to the complicated, multi-leveled (both physically and spiritually) site that includes King David’s tomb, the Room of the Last Supper of Christ and a mosque. Sadly, there has been so much disagreement between the three faiths that hold this place to be sacred, that the United Nations has had to forbid any praying there.

How does, how can prayer lead to such a level of conflict? To any level of conflict?

But it does here and to not see that is to walk these ancient paving stones with our eyes and our ears closed.

western wall praying togetherTo conclude our day together, we prayed in the Sabbath together, at a special place at the Western Wall where a group of three faiths together can gather in prayer together. Then we experienced Shabbat at the more well-known part of the Western Wall. Men on the men’s side singing and dancing in the tremendous joy of the Sabbath. Women on the women’s side in prayer and community in faith. The sky was an exquisite shade of blue, the moon a clear, bright crescent, the stars twinkling and the birds swooping through the air.

It is time now for rest. It is Shabbat, I can type this blog to you as a Christian but for our Jewish colleagues rest, true rest, real rest means to rest from any form of work, typing a blog included. It is time now for rest.

 

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All photos courtesy Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton
Top photo: View of Jerusalem from the roof of the Austrian hospice

Middle photo: Study Tour members walking down the Mount of Olives

Bottom photo: Study Tour members praying together at the Western Wall

Pope Francis to visit the Holy Land in May

PopeAngelus2During his Sunday Angelus Address, Pope Francis Announced his upcoming trip to the Holy Land – May 24-26, 2014

Dear brothers and sisters,

In the climate of joy typical of this Christmas season, I would like to announce that May 24-26, if it pleases God, I will make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The principal purpose of this trip is to commemorate the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, which occurred exactly 50 years ago today, January 5. There will be 3 stops: Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. 3 days. At the Holy Sepulcher we will celebrate an ecumenical meeting with all of the representatives of the Christian Churches of Jerusalem, together with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Until then I ask for your prayers for this pilgrimage, which will be a pilgrimage of prayer.

In recent weeks many Christmas and New Years greetings have been sent to me from all over the world. I would like to reply to all of them but, unfortunately, it is impossible! So, from my heart I would like to thank the children for their drawings. They are truly beautiful! Children draw beautiful pictures! Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! I thank the children first of all. I thank the young people, the elderly, the families, the parish and religious communities, the associations, the movements and the different groups that wished to show me their affection and nearness. I ask everyone to continue to pray for me, I need it, and to pray for this service to the Church.

I wish all of you a good Sunday and a good lunch. Goodbye!Dear brothers and sisters!

Before making this announcement, Pope Francis gave the following reflection:

Dear brothers and sisters,

This Sunday’s liturgy re-proposes to us, in the prologue of St. John’s Gospel, the deepest meaning of Jesus’ birth. He is the Word of God who became man and pitched his “tent,” his dwelling, among men. The Evangelist writes: “The Word became flesh and came to live among us” (John 1:14). In these words, which never cease to astound us, is the whole of Christianity! God became mortal, fragile like us, he shared our human condition, except for sin, but took our sins upon himself as if they were his own. He entered into our history, he fully became God-with-us! Jesus’ birth, then, shows us that God wanted to unite himself to every man and woman, to each one of us, to communicate his life and his joy.

So, God is God with us, God who loves us, God who walks with us. This is the message of Christmas: the Word became flesh. Thus, Christmas reveals God’s immense love for humanity. From here stems the enthusiasm, the hope of Christians, who in our poverty know that we are loved, visited and accompanied by God; and we look at the world and at history as the place in which to walk together with him and with each other, toward the new heaven and the new earth. With the birth of Jesus a new promise is born, a new world is born, but also a world that can always be renewed. God is always present to raise up new men, to purify the world from the sin that makes it old, from the sin that corrupts it. As much as human history and our own personal history can be marked by difficulties and weaknesses, faith in the Incarnation tells us that God is solidary with man and his history. This closeness of God to man, to every man, and to each of us, is a gift that never fades away! He is with us! He is God with us! This is the good news of Christmas: the divine light, which flooded the hearts of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, and guided the steps of the shepherds and the magi, also shines for us today.

In the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God there is also an aspect connected to human freedom, to the freedom of each one of us. In fact, the Word of God pitched his tent among us, sinners and needful of mercy. And we must all make haste to receive the grace that he offers us. But, St. John’s Gospel continues, “his own did not welcome him” (1:11). We too often reject him, we prefer to remain closed up in our errors and the anxiety of our sins. But Jesus does not desist and does not cease to offer himself and his grace that save us! Jesus is patient, Jesus knows how to wait, he always waits for us. This is a message of hope, a message of salvation, ancient and ever new. And we are called to bear witness with joy to this message of the Gospel of life, the Gospel of light, of hope and love, because this is Jesus’ message: life, light, hope, love.

May Mary, the Mother of God and our tender Mother, sustain us always so that we remain faithful to the Christian vocation and make the justice and peace that we desire at beginning of this new year a reality.

Letters from the Holy Land: The Sea of Galilee

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I quote our guide as we stand on the Mount of Beatitudes admiring the sunset on the Sea of Galilee: “the Sea of Galilee receives and gives, but the Dead See receives and never gives. The Sea of Galilee receives water from the river Jordan, and gives water to the Dead See in the South, but in the Dead Sea it stops. Ok?”

Maybe without realizing it he shared a deep truth of our faith, if we don’t give we die, if instead we give, we generate life.

Today, standing at the shores of the Sea of Galilee I reflect on ‘life’, and what these mountains witnessed 2000 years ago. Just think: on these waters Jesus calls the apostles, he suggests to throw out the nets on the other side of the boat after a night of fishing without a catch, and they pull out a multitude of fish. Then he says; “come and I will make you fishers of men”.

Or during a stormy night Jesus sleeps in the boat and he teaches that as long as we are in Him, we have nothing to fear, we participate in his life. Or consider St. Peter who was able to stand on water because he believed, and only started sinking when he started doubting.  Yet Jesus was right there to pull him back up.

Yes, these waters of the Sea of Galilee have left a mark inside me. It’s not so much the water in itself, but these waters are like a humble background against which Jesus could act and bring us to Life. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that the Sea of Galilee is the lowest freshwater lake on Earth; – 705ft., almost a tangible sign of humility. This I tell myself: “be humble like the waters of Galilee”

However, today another episode struck me deeply. We had a chance to visit the site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the river Jordan. We arrived there after a road trip through the West Bank during which we saw signs to the left and right warning of land mines.

The river Jordan marks the border between Israel and Jordan, so when we river jordanarrive at the site we find at least seventy Israeli soldiers keeping an eye on the Jordanians across the river. At the same time we see the Jordan soldiers doing the same from their end, and in the middle is that tiny stream of water.

In this apparent situation of division it struck me that precisely here the Holy Trinity was revealed for the first time, because we know that as Jesus came up out of the water, heaven opened, and the Spirit of God, like a dove, descended upon him, and a voice was heard from heaven saying, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

So today this taught me that I should not fear to live for unity in situations of division, because in this muddy stream Jesus chose to be baptized. Again, it was through a very humble action that God revealed Himself in all His glory.capernaum

Even the city of Capernaum is such a ‘normal’ place, with random regular houses. Yet you can see the remains of the synagogue and the first meeting place that would become the first Church. Here Jesus cured the lame man who got lowered through a roof; you can still see what the houses looked like at that time! It’s all so normal and simple. 

Really, I learn here in these places that Jesus is much more human then I thought, and that brings him much closer to me then I could ever imagine.

Letters from the Holy Land: The Western Wall

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What an experience visiting Israel! We spent the whole day in Jerusalem visiting many very meaningful places, but in this post I want to focus on something small that struck me in a particular way.

The driver dropped us off close to the Western wall and after a quick security check we entered the square where we could see many Jews in prayer in front of what is also called the Wailing Wall.

It is a centuries-old tradition to place notes in the Wall. While it’s a fascinating to learn about how this tradition came about, I will not go into that in this occasion.

It just so happened that a good friend of mine from Vancouver asked me to write his name on a piece of paper and to put it in one of the cracks in the wall. He also made me promise not to forget.

So this morning I had my little note in my pocket and I was waiting for the opportune moment to fulfill my promise. After our guide had explained some historical facts, and after I had taken some pictures I figured that the right time had come. wastern_wall_panorama

So I take the note out of my pocket and go towards the Wall to put it in one of the cracks. In that very moment a man praying there comes to me, takes me by the arm and urges me to come with him. Together we go further down the wall where, thanks to excavations, you can see the foundations.

He indicates a spot next to an enormous stone and tells me to put the note there. While I slowly follow his indications he puts his hand on my head and he starts praying aloud calling upon me a blessing for my intention on the note, for my family, my friends etc. We stand like this for about a minute.

Only when I pull my hand back from the wall he stops, gives me a broad smile and walks away, leaving me with an odd sense of wonder, peace and surprise.

He taught me with his gesture that in life it’s important to focus on what we have in common and not so much on what divides and today I felt we were united in prayer to the same God.

This experience I carried with me for the rest of the day, and what a day it was! We visited all the stations of the Via Dolorosa. I prayed and touched the rock where Jesus was crucified in the Holy Church of the Sepulcher and we concluded the day with a spectacular and informative visit to the City of David, just outside the walls of Jerusalem.

Our guide said: “visiting Israel makes the Bible come alive.”, and today I understood how true that is!

For more pictures of today please visit: https://www.facebook.com/saltandlighttv