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Behind Vatican Walls: New Custodian of the Holy Land

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(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

There is a new Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land. The Order of Friars Minor elected Father Francesco Patton, OFM as the new Custos. He replaces Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa who ended a 12 year term as Custos in April.

Father Patton is 53 years old and comes from the Trent region of Italy. He was ordained a priest in 1983. Since then he completed a licentiate in Social Communication at the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome and is enrolled in the order of journalists. He has had a variety of posts within the Franciscan order and with his diocese. Most recently Fr. Patton has been Minister General (superior general) for the St. Anthony Province of the order, which includes all Franciscan Friars in northern Italy.

The Custos of the Holy Land is considered one of the Catholic ordinaries of the Middle East even though he is not ordained a bishop.His mandate lasts six years but can be extended if the Franciscans and the Holy See believe it is necessary. The Custos works with the heads of the Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Syriac and Ethiopian Churches to maintain the status quo.

In regards to the Holy Land “status quo” refers to an agreement ratified in 1852 that lays out the ownership of the various christian sanctuaries and the spaces within them. The agreement also regulates the times and durations of religious functions celebrated in those sanctuaries by the different Christian churches. Any change to the status quo agreement requires the consent of all the churches represented by the agreement.

Given that the ownership of different sanctuaries is often linked to national interests of neighbouring countries, maintaining that status quo can be quite challenging.

New Custos, New Focus, New Story

The appointment of Fr. Patton could also signal a new approach to ministering in the delicate region of the Middle East. Father Patton holds a graduate degree in journalism and social communication while past custodians had extensive backgrounds in scripture and oriental churches.

During a recent visit to the Holy Land, representatives of various church organizations in the region told me one of the biggest challenges they face is telling the story of life in the Holy Land for Christians. The world is well aware of the plight of Christians in Syria and Iraq but less so about the challenges faced by Arabs, especially Arab Christians in Israel and Palestine. Various officials told me the information that makes it out to the international community about either overlooks the hardship faced by Arabs, or paints the picture of a menacing threat from which Israel needs to defend itself at all costs. There is little talk of severe water restrictions to Palestine, long waits at checkpoints, a near impossibility of getting permission to go to Jerusalem, or the seizing of land from private Palestinians for the construction of new sections of the Israeli wall. Another official told me tourists believe it is unsafe or not possible to visit Bethlehem. In reality tourism in pretty much the one industry Bethlehem has going for it.

Because of the hardships in the entire region, every year hundreds of Christian families leave the Holy Land. According to the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land, if emigration continues at current rates, within 50 years there will be no Christian community in the Holy Land.

Given the need to get the full story of the Holy Land in the public eye and stay on good terms with all the key players on the ground, the appointment of a Custos with a background in Social Communication could signal a shift in approach. While theology, scripture, and historical knowledge are important, in this modern mediatic age, knowing how to shape a message and get it out into the world is just as important.

This week’s episode of Vatican Connections will be available below shortly.


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Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

 

That moment when the Church was founded – #SLPilgrimage at Caesarea Philippi

The flush region of Caesarea Philipi is about an hour’s drive north of the Sea of Galilee.  It was given to Herod the Great by Caesar Augustus around 20 BCE, who in turn handed it down to his son Philip.  Philip named it Caesarea in honor of Caesar, and his own name eventually became associated with it, thus Caesarea Philipi.  But the region also has another ancient name, Paneas, because at the time of Jesus there was a thriving religious cult around the fertility god Pan.  The temple of the cult was built around one of three natural springs feeding the Jordan River.  To pagans, these types of natural springs were gateways to the netherworld or Hades.

Seb3The scene must have been bustling with worshipers of all kinds when Jesus and his disciples ventured up there from their usual hang out in Capernaum.  There they had a conversation that would forever shape the history of the Church.  Surrounded by statues and images of the ancient gods, Jesus poses a pointed question, “who do people say that I am?”  Peter replies confidently, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”

Peter’s proclamation of Jesus as the Son of the living God was an obvious rejection of the pagan cult and a vote of divine confidence in his teacher and friend.  Jesus’ pronouncement laid the foundation for the Petrine ministry embodied throughout history in the authority and primacy of the popes.  There are other suggestions of Peter’s primacy among the twelve in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, but this one is the most direct and consequential for how we understand the Petrine ministry.

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Reading this conversation between Jesus and Peter two thousand years later on the ruins of the pagan temple, a deeper question surfaced: why Peter?  By all Gospel accounts, Peter was not the ablest or most reliable disciple.  Surely Jesus could have built his church on a sturdier foundation.  In his commentary of this historic conversation, G.K. Chesterton captures the paradoxical truth hidden in Jesus’ choice of Peter:

“When Christ at a symbolic moment was establishing His great society, He chose for its cornerstone neither the brilliant Paul nor the mystic John, but a shuffler, a snob, a coward—in a word, a man. And upon this rock He has built His Church, and the gates of Hell have not prevailed against it. All the empires and the kingdoms have failed, because of this inherent and continual weakness, that they were founded by strong men and upon strong men. But this one thing, the historic Christian Church, was founded on a weak man, and for that reason it is indestructible. For no chain is stronger than its weakest link.”

Sebastian Gomes is an English producer for Salt + Light.

A Parent’s Pilgrimage – #SLPilgrimage

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A couple of months before arriving in Jerusalem, I was driving my six-year-old daughter to school and she asked me about Jesus’ footprints. Not the real one located inside the Chapel of the Ascension, rather, she wanted to talk about the ones from famous poem called Footprints. She had seen the poster of it hung up in her school hallway, but wasn’t able to read more than a few words of it. Yet the picture of the sunlit beach and the lines in the sand was vivid enough to make a strong impression on her.

In the car, she asked me to recite it. Well, not recite it, really, but “to tell her the story of the footprints”. I did my best to remember the full poem, but it was as though everything aside from the twist ending had receded from memory, half-washed away like a real footprint by the ocean’s tide.

Later that day, after she’d come home from school, I made a point of finding the poem to read it to her. She listened intently, with wide eyes and a slight smile on her face, until the end, when asked me to read it again. And again. And again. And…again. Apparently, I told myself, the splendour of God’s divine mercy doesn’t lose its sheen after five successive readings. In any case, I was happy that she took so much joy from it, and maybe even some childlike comfort. Moreover, I was happy that her innocence and curiosity lead me back to this clever little poem which in its own way reminds us of the incredible mystery of God’s ineffable love.

In the same way that Jesus shows this type of love to all his adopted sons and daughters, I too strive to give the same measure of unconditional, sacrificial love in my vocation as father and husband. If the family is the domestic church, like St. John Paul II has written, then it is my job to be as holy as possible, so that I can help lead my whole family to heaven. And what better role model do I have for holy fatherhood than St. Joseph?

We can try to envision what it must have been like for a simple, devout man to undertake — and I’m probably understating this just a little bit — the most important job in the entire history of world. Over the course of less than a year, Joseph would go from bachelor to newlywed to father of a King. Now, at the time he may not have fully realized that last part, but still, for what parent is their child not the tiny prince or princess of their own universe? Either way, from the moment Jesus was born, St. Joseph knew it was his job to help care and protect him, to dutifully and lovingly raise him from boy to man, educating him in matters of life, work and faith. A daunting task, for sure, but one that was undertaken with great hope and humility, approached with the same fiat that Mary gave.

Clearly, Joseph was a man of devotion. He showed this in the way he treated Mary so honourably in marriage. In the way he loved her and the child inside her womb by bearing much of the physical burden of leading the family from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It was also shown by the lines and marks in his weathered hands. The way he worked with them, strenuously and tirelessly to provide for the material needs of his family. Looking at St. Joseph The Worker, it is easy to see how so many men have lost sense of their purpose because they’ve lost sense of their duty, which is, when it all comes down to it, the day-to-day task of loving service.

Under his earthly father’s watchful eye and gentle tutelage, Jesus would learn the ins and outs of carpentry, what it meant to fashion useful things from the raw materials around them. We have no way of knowing what they made, but by the knowledge of their labour, we learn from both of them a great deal of what it means to be a proper son, a proper father and husband and very much a proper steward of God’s creation. No doubt Jesus would have heard from Jospeh how important it was to use everything they could, not to waste any of their materials since to do so would be careless and irresponsible. Also, he would’ve been taught how important it was for a carpenter to use his time wisely so as to be able to meet any promise he might make to someone who was depending on him to finish a job. Joseph was bequeathing life skills to Jesus, but he was also giving good lessons in ethical behaviour.

These lessons probably did more to ennoble Joseph than they did to teach to teach the Son of God how to live a morally upright life. And in a way, the same could be said for any parent: the vocation of father or mother is truly a gift given by God. The job of being a parent is as much a sanctifying work for the adult as it is a useful education for the child. Like St. Joseph, the experience of raising children is meant to help train us to give more freely, love more fully, hurt more willingly, and desire heaven for everyone more thoroughly.

Being a parent is a pilgrimage. A long set of footprints which start in one place and end in another place ahead of you, a place which you can’t quite make out for the low, bright sun hanging there in the sky. And when you look backward, the tide of grace has made your sandy footprints from five years ago almost unrecognizable compared to the footprints you made just three steps ago. And like St. Joseph carried Jesus when he was a boy, and the way Jesus carries us all through our lives, the most important thing we are called to do as parents is to carry our children as much as we can, leading them on a path to holiness.

Marc Boudignon is a Senior Editor for Salt + Light.

Mary Magdalene: the mislabeled woman

Some of the Salt + Light team went to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage. We had the opportunity to film reflections in various places of great importance. This is the text of a reflection was filmed at the Magdala Centre in Galilee. 

We are the Galilee region of Israel. Specifically, in Magdala, the same town that was home to Mary Magdalene, the woman we know as the apostle to the apostles. We know very little about the woman who is described as the apostle of the apostles, so this village helps fill in some background.

So far a first century synagogue has been unearthed, as well as paved streets, the ruins of mansions, and three ritual baths that used groundwater rather than rainwater. These few elements are quite important. These ritual baths are the first to be found that that used ground water instead of rainwater. This means Magdala has sophisticated plumbing. The paved streets and mosaics in the mansions, suggest wealth. Magdala seems to have been a thriving port city, at the forefront of commerce and culture. In its midst lived a woman named Mary.

This village tells us she was probably exposed to the world. From the Gospels we know she was a follower of Christ, she was at the crucifixion, she witnessed the resurrection, and she was the first person given the task of spreading the message of the resurrection. But how did she get there?

All four gospels refer to her as Mary Magdalene. Now, married women were described differently. For example: Mary the wife of Clopas, or Joanna the wife of Chuza. So we know Mary Magdalene was unattached. Three of the Gospels first introduce us to Mary Magdalene at the crucifixion. But Luke mentions here earlier. In Chapter 8 of his Gospel, Luke says:

“1 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.”

She is part of a group of women who provided for Jesus and the apostles “out of their own means”. So, she had her own money and because she was unattached, it was her own. Also, she is described as the one “from whom seven demons had gone out.” She’s not a sinner here, but someone who was possessed. In Jesus’ day that might have been what we call mental illness, depression, anxiety, or other psychological issues. Maybe it was addiction, or emotional problems caused by her past. Maybe she survived an abusive relationship and never healed. Whatever it was,it took over her, changed her personality, affected her daily life, kept her from having healthy relationships, maybe led her to make bad choices. At the very least was probably known in town as “that” Mary.

But then something happened. Probably right here in Magdala. We don’t have details but we can imagine it based on what we already know: Jesus the Nazarene came to the area to teach, probably even in this synagogue. A buzz would have built up in the region and in town people would have been talking about him. Maybe it took a little while before curiosity got the better of her, but finally one day, she quietly slipped into the crowd as he was teaching. Maybe she stuck to the back of the group, maybe she stayed in the shadows. She listened to him teaching and understood his message. His parables they wash over her like a healing balm, and sin into her soul. She looks around and sees people of all ages, backgrounds, professions, social standing gathered around this Man. He touched them, healed those who needed healing, accepted them and showed them love. As she takes this in, he looks straight at her. That gaze. Without words, without anyone else in the crowd knowing what is happening, he says “I know. This is not you. I know.” After he finished teaching perhaps she approached him. He didn’t treat her like “that” Mary, he wasn’t afraid to be seen talking to her. He gazed at her without fear, without derision, He spoke to her like a normal person, an equal, and maybe even invited her to come along with him to his next stop. It was done. He was the real deal. He wanted nothing from her but to tell her of the Father’s love for her. Maybe she tried to explain “no, no, you don’t want me to follow you, I’m a bad deal” but he didn’t care. She was his father’s creation and deeply loved.

Whatever her demons were, anxiety, depression, addiction, it stopped there. Life had meaning again. She had a purpose. She was loved. Whatever she had in Magdala she packed up, maybe sold, maybe gave away, and embarked on a new life, following Jesus. Her meeting Jesus changed her life forever and set her on a new path. She would do anything, anything, to make sure other people met him face to face.Because of that meeting in Magdala, some years later Mary finds herself at the foot of the cross. Even though meeting Jesus changed her forever, it did not mean life would always be all roses. The worst thing she can imagine comes to pass. This man who changed her life is killed, hung on a cross to die. She stands at the foot of the cross, weeps, takes comfort from the other women also at the foot of his cross. When he breathes his last, she is there,watching. When his body is taken down and carried off to the tomb, she is there. She stays away on the sabbath because she must. She locks herself away with the apostles, with Our Lady, bides her time. But then, she can’t stand it any longer. On the third day after his death, she must go to him. She rises early and goes to the tomb. Some of the Gospels say she went with the other women to anoint the body. The point is, in all four Gospels Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. She finds the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. Again, each Gospel tells it slightly differently, but the common point is she meets someone who tells her “he is not here” and then, it clicks. This is what Jesus had been talking about, the temple that would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days! He is risen. She rushes back to the place where the apostles are locked up together, wallowing in their fear. She bursts through the door and breathlessly exclaims “I have seen the Lord!” They freeze, look up, see the joy on her face. Maybe she repeats it again, “I have seen the Lord” and then continues to tell them what she saw and what he said to her. They are at peace.

Mary Magdalene, the once off-kilter woman with problems, is their apostle. She brings them the message they have been waiting for, the one thing they have been waiting to hear since that horrible, horrible day at Golgotha. The woman with the seven demons is the very person who instinctively seeks and recognizes the face of God and through that search and encounter, becomes the very person He created her to be.

Alicia Ambrosio is an English producer for Salt + Light. Follow her on Twitter!

The Living Stones of Qubeibeh (cont.) – #SLPilgrimage

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Our recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land offered the chance to visit the ancient sites where key events in our faith story took place, and meet people living there today who are making sure those sites do not become museums. Visiting Qubeibeh, the West Bank, we met the Salvatorian sister who helped found the Qubeibeh satellite campus for Bethlehem University’s Faculty of Nursing.

The faculty exists because Sr. Hildegard Enzenhofer, the superior of the Salvatorian sisters home in Qubeibeh, realized that the best way to help all the people of the village was to give them education.

Yet the sisters work to help empower the people of Qubeibeh is not limited to either the home for elderly and disabled women they run, or the nursing faculty they helped launch. The sisters also run a cooperative for local women.

Learning a craft and selling their wares helps local women be self-reliant but most importantly gives them a sense of purpose and worth in a village where there is not always a lot for a woman to aspire to. (Talking to our group in the cooperative’s gift store, Sr. Hildegard told us of more than one young nursing student who had to convince her father to allow her to study nursing instead of marrying the man her father had chosen for her).

The products on sale in the cooperative’s shop are a mix of the predictable, the unique and the breathtaking. In one of the the shop’s two rooms the olive wood carvings and ornaments that are a staple in local souvenir shops are displayed along with a mix of products from the sister’s own land. Olive oil soaps fill display baskets and bottles of the purest, greenest, most fragrant olive oil this side of the mediterranean are on offer. Five euros buys a half litre plastic bottle of the liquid gold that travels easily and, though it doesn’t have any labels or endorsements, is probably the best example of a fair trade product one will ever find.  A second room shows off a selection of hand embroidered items: everything from coin purses, to ipad covers and table linens adorn the walls of the shop. The colours are fantastic, the prices are a little higher than the average souvenir shop, but well worth the meticulous, hand-crafted quality.   

Of course, for the cooperative to generate any income, let alone enough to sustain its members, it needs customers. That is no small challenge in a hilltop village that is accessible only through an Israeli checkpoint in Ramallah. (Ramallah lies about 21 kilometers north of Jerusalem, while Qubeibeh is about 12 kilometers northwest of Jerusalem)

Sr. Hildegard is nothing if not practical. She understood quickly the cooperative’s success depended on incoming visitors. She used her connections with the Austrian Embassy to have the cooperative’s products sent to Austria so they could be sold by the sisters in that country. But for the cooperative to really work, people needed to be able to see the village for themselves; see the hillsides, feel the remoteness of the land. One thing stood in her way – the separation wall and its checkpoint.

The checkpoint closest to the sister’s home is not one generally open to tour buses. Sr. Hildegard worked up the courage to ask how she might go about getting permission have tour buses with pilgrims through that checkpoint. (The alternative is checkpoint in Ramallah and a long, winding drive on mountain roads). She eventually got permission to approach the appropriate military authority to make her request.  

“Everything in life is about relationships, so before I went, I made an Austrian cake and took it with me,” Sr. Hildegard recalls. Cake in hand, she gently pursued her goal of winning the trust of Israeli officials and getting permission for pilgrim tour buses to come through the checkpoint nearest Qubeibeh.

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“Many cakes and cups of coffee later, I was given permission to have one bus come through that checkpoint to visit us,” she says smiling. She was given a fax number to which she was to send a list including the full names and passport details of every person who would be on that bus. She made up the list and went to her fax machine to send off the required document, “but a voice came over the line saying something strange. It said I was not allowed to call that number from my current location,” she recalls.

Undeterred, Sr. Hildegard travelled into Jerusalem to use a friend’s fax machine. (Being a foreigner Sr. Hildegard does not need special permission to cross into Jerusalem). Although it was more complicated than she originally envisioned, she had the permission she sought. Every time a group wanted to come visit the sisters she would go through the same routine: ask for permission, make up the list with the visitor’s personal details, travel into Jerusalem, use a friend’s fax machine, travel back to Qubeibeh.

Time passed, many more Austrian cakes were baked and cups of coffee were shared. Finally Sr. Hildegard told her Israeli contacts “most of life is done by e-mail now. Is there some way I could do this by e-mail too?” They agreed and provided her with an email address to which she should send the information the required in order for her visitors to pass through the checkpoint. They send her an email with a form with she could fill out, “but nothing in life is ever so easy” she says. When she tried to download the form and print it in order to fill it out, it printed as a blank page. Undeterred, she adapted to the situation “I just filled it out online and e-mailed it back without downloading” she said.

Today Sr. Hildegard is able to ensure that visitors come to Qubeibeh to see the village from the sister’s hilltop location, and visit the gift shop that helps support the women of this enclosed village. Her many cakes and cups of coffee shared with the people who control movement through the checkpoints ensure that the women of Qubeibeh have hope for their future.

To Wail or Not to Wail – #SLPilgrimage

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Have you ever wondered why they call it the Wailing Wall? It’s evident as soon as you get closer to it and make your way through the faithful standing before it, finding just enough space to press your hand against its cold brick to pray. During Salt and Light’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land in February, each of us had the opportunity to do just that. I glanced over to the women on my left and right and noticed their positions: heads bowed and prayer book in hand, they swayed back and forth, reciting prayers under their breath. Some…were crying. Deeply moved by what I saw and feeling privileged to be praying so closely to women of a different faith, I cried too. A lot. Not such a strange name for a wall after all.

But the Wailing Wall has another name. It is better known as the Western Wall, since it is one of the last remaining walls of the Temple built by Herod in 19 B.C. It was burned by the Romans in 70 A.D and, since its destruction, Jews have flocked to the remains of the Temple to pray. The Western Wall has become one of the holiest places in Jewish tradition because of its proximity to what used to be the place in which God dwelt within the Temple. That place was called the Holy of Holies or the Ark of the Covenant. In Jewish tradition, Abraham would have offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God on Temple Mount, or Mount Moriah, where the Al-Aqsa Mosque now stands.

Traditionally, the Jewish people go pray at the Wall, day and night, to lament the destruction of the Temple and over a city they consider holy. That is where the name “Wailing Wall” comes from. In French, we use the term “Mur des Lamentations” which translates literally to “Wall of Lament”. The Jewish people therefore lament over the destruction of a place they considered to be the holiest place. Yet that cry over the destruction of a place where the Jewish people feel at home, where God is closest to them, resonates in other parts of the world. While at the Wall, I was reminded of those who are scattered because of other kinds of destruction, and in particular because of violence and the threat of war. At the Wall, I was particularly conscious I was in the Middle East. We were far enough to be safe from the kind of violence encountered in countries bordering Israel and yet close enough to experience the frailty of the place, of its borders, of the relations between Christians and Jews and Muslims, between the government and its people, between Palestinians and Israelis…In these situations, reconciliation seemed out of reach.

In the Old Testament, the psalmist cries out to God:

“Out of the depths I have cried to Thee O Lord! Lord, hear my voice. Let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication […] let Israel hope in the Lord. For with the Lord there is mercy; and with Him plentiful Redemption. And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities. Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord! And let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace” (Psalm 130).

This is only one of many psalms depicting humanity’s deepest prayer to God. Even Jesus, at the hour of his death, uttered the words of Psalm 21 “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” which we read each year on Palm Sunday. Despite the psalmist’s powerful prayer to God, is there any hope for the people of the Holy Land to live in peace? Yet God is present to His people. And He reminds us of His proximity, His love, and His favor for us everywhere.

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When Pope Francis went to Israel in 2014, he made a powerful gesture in front of the Western Wall. He was accompanied by close friends he met as a bishop in Argentina: a Rabbi and a Muslim professor. After praying at the Wall, he embraced them and later on stressed the need for mutual respect and love between people of all faiths, working for “peace and justice”, and treating everyone as brothers and sisters. He also left a note wedged between the stones of the Wall – a common practice among pilgrims – on which he wrote the Our Father, a daily prayer reminding us that God is active in our life right now, giving us everything we need to overcome the struggles of the day-to-day. Overcoming division, then, happens in just that, the day-to-day. It happens between people and as Pope Francis perfectly summed up, “Before the mystery of God we are all poor”.

 

“To See What Jesus Saw” with People in Holy Land – #SLPilgrimage

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Lent is a time of penance, a period for us to refresh our faith with God. This year, I had an unforgettable time during lent and it took part in the Holy Land.  

From Feb 25th to Mar 6th, I had the opportunity to follow Salt + Light on a pilgrimage, led by Fr. Thomas Rosica, to the Holy Land. On our first day, our local tour guide Usama said, “You are not only in the Holy Land, but you can also see what Jesus saw.” At that moment, I told myself, “Yes! I will treasure every moment of the trip and open my heart to experience what Jesus saw.”

The most beautiful part of this pilgrimage was being able to meet with people like Jesus. From the bible, we all know that Jesus met so many people (including the disciples) from the Sea of Galilee to Jerusalem. We did the same thing.

I try to think about what Jesus did when he met someone for the first time. He must fulfill what he taught to us, “Be the first one to love!” Therefore, I loved talking to those pilgrims whom I had never met before. This is the first step to experience what Jesus did in this land. Also, this is the mission of the Church, “Go out and spread the good news to one another.” After that, we all build up very good relationships and friendships in those ten days, regardless of the age difference and where we were from no matter where we from. We are all in ONE Family, ONE Church with ONE Lord.

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On this journey, Fr. Rosica not only brought us to the touch the land of Jericho, Mount Nebo, the tree on the Mount of Olives, the rock of Peter’s Primacy, the water in the Sea of Galilee and Jordan river, the birth place of Jesus, the Church of Holy Sepulchre, the empty tomb of Jesus, etc., but he also brought us to visit the local people who are living in the Holy Land, so that we too can be touched by the local people who were keen to share their stories and dreams with us.

One example of this was the opportunity to visit Bethlehem Pontifical University in Palestine. I could see a visible sign of Hope from the students in there. During the visit, we had a lunch and met with the students who were either Christians or Muslims. They were very welcoming to us. During our conversation with them, I realized there was a joy that sprung from what they believed in. Although they came from different religious, there was peace there. They are the hope that springs from peace.

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I asked them a question, “What is your dream after gradation?” They all answered me from their heart. Some wished to have a job which is related to what they are studying, and also the freedom of Palestine. For those who were born in Palestine, it is not easy for them to go to anywhere, as  they are surrounded by the ‘wall.’ Let us pray for them, pray for the youth, pray for peace, and pray for the freedom of Palestine.

On a different note, one of the most famous pieces of art from the Holy Land is the ICON which we use often in Taize prayer. It is a window for you to communicate with God. We visited a beautiful little church located on “Palm Sunday Road” where the monastery of the Benedictine Sisters is located. Sr. Marie-Paul Farran, O.S.B. is 84 years old and she shared with us her beautiful story of being an icon maker. Sometimes it takes her three to six months to draw an icon after meditation. She also explained the colour and the scriptures associated with different icons. I loved what she shared at the end – an icon is revelation, however, we are an icon, the icon of GOD and we have to act out the love of God.

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To see what Jesus saw. The bible unfolded in front of my eyes every day in Holy Land. It felt like every day was Sunday as the bible readings were repeated to me. After this trip, I realize more than before that we also can see what Jesus saw anytime. How? The answer is on my desk. Pick up the bible and read it. It is the best way to learn and to walk with Jesus. I would like to invite all of you to open the bible with me and to begin our blessed journey with Jesus everyday.

Thanks be to God for granting us a safe and blessed journey.

Thank you for your prayer! I am sure that this blessed journey could not happen without your prayer.  

Let’s keep praying for each other. Let us be the salt of the earth, the light of the world together.

“Shalom, chaverim,Shalom, chaverim,
Shalom, shalom;
L’hitra’ot,L’hitra’ot,
Shalom, shalom.
Shalom, o my friends,Shalom, o my friends,
Shalom, shalom;Till we meet again,Till we meet again,
Shalom, shalom.”

Mount of the Beatitudes – #SLPilgrimage

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Our first few days in the Holy Land granted us full and beautiful access to the Mount of the Beatitudes Church, the guest house located on the property and the incredible landscapre. For each of the days we stayed at the guest house, Lou-Kevin and Jay — the cameramen — and myself would get up at 5:00 am in order to capture shots of the sun rising from the other side of the Sea of Galilee. It was a majestic vista, providing an incredible view of one the most ordinary things in world: the dawn of a new day. Of course, it is cliche to mention now how we don’t take nearly enough advantage of enjoying God’s creation (especially at that ungodly hour!), but the cliche holds true: it is usually in the most ordinary, simple things where we find the splendour, the wonder and the sheer magnificence of being human. The joy of being made in the image and likeness of God as a steward of His created, natural world.
Perhaps the most arresting thing of being atop the hill at that time was the sound of the animals. Birds, mostly, but it was as if a whole exotic zoo were laid out in front of us; invisible, but allowing us a privileged audience to their impromptu symphony. There were so many individual calls that I had never heard before — shrills and caws and tweets — that I will probably never hear again, yet the echo of which resonates in my memory. Moreover, it helps to hear Jesus’ words from the Gospel alongside the soundtrack of those birds and animals in the background, since this helps me realize that there is no difference, really, from the time Jesus walked the earth to now. In truth, there is no difference in the lessons and the people who surrounded Jesus, yearning to hear Him amongst the flora and fauna of that time, then there is in the people who live to hear His message today, wherever they may reside.

Mount of the Beatitudes – View of the Church of the Beatitudes

Mount of the Beatitudes – View of the sun rising

Reflections from the Holy Land – The Last Supper

EmilieUpperRoom

Salt + Light made a pilgrimage on the footsteps of Jesus in the heart of Lent and offers us reflections of the holy places we visited.
In this meditation we meet at the Cenacle in Jerusalem where Jesus shared one last meal with his friends. During this Last Supper, we are confronted with Christ’s radical humility. It directs us towards his ultimate humiliation at the time of his Passion. But in this lowering he reveals to us the “real face” of God, as Pope Francis once pointed out, a face of love and mercy.

The Living Stones of Quebeibeh – #SLPilgrimage

TomAbuGosh
Fr. Rosica with one of the residents of Qubeibeh.

The unofficial theme of Salt + Light’s 12 day pilgrimage to the Holy Land was “Living Stones.” For every biblical site visited, there was a visit to a place where Christians are currently putting the Gospel into action. The combination of the ancient and new Christian holy sites proved to be both jarring and edifying. One of these visits took place in Qubeibeh, a Palestinian village in the West Bank.  

Qubeibeh is home to a church that commemorates Jesus walking to Emmaus with two disciples. It is also home to the Salvatorian sisters home for abandoned women.  

The Church of the Breaking of the Bread is a under the care of the Custody of the Holy Land. Because of its location behind Israeli checkpoints, few visitors come here.  

Just down the road Sister Hildegard and her fellow sisters run a home for elderly or disabled women, many of whom have been abandoned by their families. The sisters also run a cooperative to help local women make a living. In addition, Sr. Hildegard established a satellite campus of Bethlehem University’s Faculty of Nursing. With the Salvatorian sisters the women of Qubeibeh rediscover their dignity, find affection and purpose in their lives regardless of their background or family situation.

Seeing the Salvatorian sisters at work was eye opening, but it wasn’t until Sr. Hildegard Enzenhofer shared the story of how it all came to be that we felt our hearts burning within us.

Hildegard
Emilie with Sr. Hildegard.

The existence of the Faculty of Nursing in Qubeibeh can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit. 

Sr. Hildegard used to visit a woman who lived in a cave because she had been disowned by her family after she gave birth to five daughters. The sisters gave the woman and her daughters food, friendship and basic supplies. One day the woman said to Sr. Hildegard, “Food is good, but the best help you could give us is education.”

These words stayed with Sr. Hildegard in the way that only words from the Holy Spirit tend to do. She approached the, then-brand new, vice-chancellor of Bethlehem University. He loved the idea but like Sr. Hildegard didn’t know where to start. A providential conversation with a stranger while waiting for a friend in Jerusalem open the door to UN development funding for the school.  Soon qualified professors appeared out of the woodwork in Qubeibeh.

Still, Sr. Hildegard proceeded with cautious optimism. She explains, “we started building in February (2006), we had our first classes in August, but I bought only 25 chairs. I thought it better to start small and expand as needed. So we took our first computer out of the box in December.”

From the very beginning the board of directors emphasized that the faculty was open to women and men, Christians and Muslims. That led some families to decide against enrolling their daughters, “but this also is education,” says Sr. Hildegard defending the school’s unwavering co-ed policy. After several years of operation the school’s board of directors established a scholarship for a Bedouin girl – no small feat considering most Bedouins do not educate their daughters. It was a challenge to find a Bedouin girl with a high school education and another challenge to convince her father to allow her to attend a co-ed nursing school. But the girl’s education was such a boon for the family her father eventually approached the sisters saying “You know, I have another daughter…”  

Today the Qubeibeh Faculty of Nursing boasts a 98% employment rate among graduates. That is a commendable rate for any university. But when you consider that the overall unemployment rate in the Palestinian territories is 27 percent rising to 40 percent for young men and 63 percent for young women, the success rate in Qubeibeh is astonishing.

The Faculty of Nursing is not the only project the Salvatorian sisters have had a hand in making flourish in Qubeibeh. They focus on helping all women in the region, not the univeristy aged. But that is whole different story.