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A Pilgrim is not a Tourist – #SLPilgrimage

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To be where Christ was, where He was born, where He was raised, where He performed miracles, where He suffered and where He died was truly a humbling experience. To have walked where Christ had walked, in the places you only hear about in the gospels: Galilee, Capernaum, Magdala, has left an impression in my mind and soul that will forever be a part of me.

I came to the Holy Land, not as a tourist but as a pilgrim looking to pay homage to the scenes where many of Christ’s miracles occurred, with an open heart hoping to find Christ in the mind and in the hearts of the people in the Holy Lands.

And what a spiritual journey of enlightenment it became, one that I certainly did not expect.

Going on this pilgrimage with my co-workers at Salt and Light not only placed me in those gospel stories, but also cemented many friendships that will last long beyond my Salt and Light days. Many of us laughed together, prayed together, ate together, hiked the Via Dolorosa in the rain and most importantly we contemplated on what was needed to deepen our spiritual lives. Each of these places came alive in the most vivid ways as we listened to the bible passages and gospels as though we were hearing them for the first time.

All of the places that had a profound effect on me are far too many to mention, but the ones that triggered a spiritual reformation were the places Christ himself taught: the Mount of the Beatitudes at Tabgha, Mount Tabor and the scene of the Transfiguration, the calm waters of the Sea of Galilee, the Mount of Olives with the beautiful view of the Kidron Valley and of course the old city walls of Jerusalem where we were told Christ wept. It was as thought I was there with Christ himself, listening, learning and understanding, for the first time.

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Naturally, the church of the Holy Sepulchre was a personal highlight for me. History tells us that no crusader, (from the First Crusade of 1095 AD), would consider his journey complete unless he had prayed as a pilgrim at the Holy Sepulchre. So it was the same for me. My pilgrimage would not have been complete without homage to that holy site. It was truly humbling to see the place of the crucifixion and to attend Mass at the empty tomb of Christ, as so many crusaders before me have done.

However, despite the beauty of Holy Lands, this pilgrimage was not without its sorrows and heartbreak. It was truly painful to see the discord and injustices between the Christ’s beloved lands of Palestine and Israel. We were all  first-hand witnesses to many instances of poverty and injustices in Bethlehem and Palestine. Even today the political situation in the Holy Land should cause us all to weep, as nothing has changed since the time of Christ.

My Holy Land experience has allowed me to become a real part of the history of Salvation which began in these very lands. As it was for crusaders to complete their pilgrimage with prayer at the empty tomb of Christ, it should be for all Christians to complete their pilgrimage of life with a visit to the Holy Lands.

“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.”

The Living Stones of Quebeibeh – #SLPilgrimage

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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.

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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.

In the Lands Touched by God: Grateful Memories of Israel, Palestine and Jordan

TomBDay

We just ended a very historic pilgrimage/retreat in God’s lands. It surpassed anything I had hoped for or dreamt of over the past months… To have had the prvilege of leading 35 fellow pilgrims from across Canada and the USA as well as 14 members of our Salt and Light Television Network Staff, was a tremendous blessing. The reflections we filmed at the various locations, in English, French, Italian and Chinese languages will begin airing on our network over the next weeks and months.

Our recent Holy Lands experience made us all become a real part of the history and geography of Salvation which began in these very lands. It is a beautiful story of how God can write straight with our crooked lines.

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Tourists pass quickly through places, but the places pass slowly through pilgrims, leaving them forever changed. And each of us has returned to our homes changed, renewed, strengthened in our faith and commitment to serve the Lord and the Church from our various states of life. On the long journey home on Sunday from Jordan and all day Monday and Tuesday of this week, the images and memories of the past twelve days were swirling in my mind and heart. What did this amazing pilgrimage in Israel, Palestine and Jordan teach us? The biblical story is one long pilgrimage, and a model of pilgrimage for believers. At Salt and Light Television, we who are entrusted with the ministry of communicating the good news and stories of hope and inspiration had a unique opportunity to recharge our batteries and renew our faith and belief in God and his Son, Jesus.

We visited the places mentioned in the scriptures. We experienced splendid liturgies, listened patiently to guides and others explain many things to us, encountered local people and the local communities of the three great monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Suddenly, our own meagre, pinched lives became part of this great story of salvation. Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, Isaiah and Deborah, Mary, Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the disciples, Nathanael from Cana, the woman of Samaria, Cleopas and his wife, the Ethiopian Eunuch and Paul of Tarsus were no longer names in biblical books. We went to their towns and villages, met their people, and somehow, through those meetings, we went back in time to meet them, to share their journeys and struggles in faith, and to enjoy their age-old hospitality.TomHL4

As we read the Scriptures now, our lives are mysteriously bound to the countless tens of thousands of people who journeyed in faith here in this land, experienced the living God, and made him known through their own stories. Somehow, these lands with all their beauty and poverty, their political struggles and hopes and desires for justice, freedom and peace, all of their contradictions and ambiguities, are a reflection of our own lives.

A pilgrim spirituality for the church can only bring us to understand more deeply one of the rich themes of the Second Vatican Council: we are a pilgrim church. We are no longer a fixed society perched on a hilltop overlooking the world below, but a pilgrim people painfully journeying through the valley, journeying in solidarity with God’s people, sharing their joys and hopes, griefs and sorrows. And the journey itself binds us together and heals us of our loneliness. So often, the destination remains a dream that constantly outdistances us. Pilgrim spirituality teaches us that the meaning of life is not found at the end of the journey, but in the very journey itself. Rugged individualism, which only leads to loneliness and despair, decreases along the pilgrim journey, and a new, common spirit begins to grow among pilgrims.

On a pilgrimage we cannot haul everything along – we carry memories which do not need baggage. At the end of a pilgrimage to God’s Holy Lands, baggage of course, would have grown heavier, as is usually the case on such trips. However, the biggest item to be taken back home is memories, and these weigh nothing, pass easily through customs, and can be enjoyed for a long time. It is these memories that will breathe new life into our lives of faith, and into our Church, and transform us in the process!

I know that these memories will sustain us and guide us to Holy Week and Easter this year. I am certain that our celebration of Palm Sunday and the Easter Triduum will never be the same after the past 12 days together. May the memories of these days encourage and inspire us along our journeys and help us to recognize Jesus more and more in the breaking and sharing of the Word and the Bread.

Thanks to all who made our pilgrimage possible: to our donors and benefactors, to our staff that remained home doing double duty work for us, to our guides on the ground in Israel, Palestine and Jordan, to the Church leaders and workers who welcomed us royally along the way, and to our Middle East hosts who showed us great hospitality.

Next year in Jerusalem…

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Capturing the Holy Land in 16:9 – #SLPilgrimage

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Written by Jay Turchansky, camerman

This pilgrimage to the Holy Land has been an exciting and challenging situation for myself as a cameraman. The uncertainty that arises from not having visited the area before requires creativity and perseverance in the face of adversity. Every stop we make is an unknown environment in which to capture light, motion, and sound. And in each of these three aspects of filming I have encountered tests of my abilities.

  1. Light – First of all, some of the sites we entered were incredibly dark. Cameras require more light than required by the human eye in order for the image to appear visible. Thus, we sometimes used a small light which could be attached to the camera in order to make it more visible. Additionally, shooting outdoors requires the sun’s light to be consistent throughout all takes. For instance, if the scene at the beginning of the video was in direct sunlight, then it would look strange if the scene at the end was overcast instead. This required us to work fast and even change locations to make sure the lighting was the same throughout. This issue was especially prevalent during our shoot at Shepherd’s Field.
  2. Motion – Movement makes things exciting. The audience doesn’t end up looking at the same thing for too long and thus appeals to a shortened attention span. While my partner-in-crime for this trip Lou-Kevin was making smooth moving shots with his Glidecam, my camera was on the tripod doing tilts, pans, zooms, and more, and occasionally went handheld when I wasn’t allowed to bring my tripod into some sites. So for me, it was important to make sure the subject was in focus, and then perform the action so as to keep the frame focused on what I felt was important. Moreover, this idea of motion also applies to static shots, because the action needs to be in the frame in an appropriate context. Is it an establishing shot, where the importance is on the setting rather than the people? Or is it intense dialogue that would benefit from the ability to see facial expressions clearly?
  3. Sound – The bane of any run-and-gun shoot. It seemed like there was always something that was picked up by the mics. Jackhammers at Nazareth Village and Cana, a helicopter taking off at Magdala, cats meowing outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a minaret blasting prayers halfway through a shoot, or locals speaking Arabic in front of the treasury at Petra. With sound, we need to ensure consistency over multiple takes. The ambient sound must match, as should the loudness of the dialogue.

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The best thing you need to have when dealing with the above issues is patience. Things won’t always work out the way you intend, but will nevertheless work out eventually. Whether it’s the lighting, the audio, or the movement, you gotta be quick on your feet and try to get the shot quickly before anything goes wrong while still doing due diligence to ensure the shot is as best as possible. This has been an incredible experience for me and I hope you like the finished reflections when they’re released!

The Church of the Visitation – #SLPilgrimage

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Our first full day in Jerusalem brought us to the outskirts of the city where the Church of the Visitation is located. A beautiful courtyard welcomes to pilgrims. Tiles pave the walls of the courtyard, each bearing the text of The Magnificat im a different language. I thought this was the main part of the visit: seeing the place where Mary spoke the words “My soul rejoices in my God, my spirit proclaims the greatness of the Lord” comemorated with plaques donated by various countries. What a lovely way to highlight our communion in faith, a communion that knows no geographical, political or linguistic barriers.
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To my suprprise we were led up a staircase to a small church. There the walls were covered in frescos depicting the visitation and events surrounding it. Having arrived in Jerusalem from the Galilee, I thought “gee, and she did that without an air conditioned coach.” The realization struck that Mary walked, maybe took a donkey, from the serenity of Nazareth and the Galilee into the mountainous region around Jerusalem. I can’t imagine how many days that took, and how many discomforts she had to deal with. So, why would she go to this length? I remembered a comment from a non Christian acquaintance who studied interreligious dialgoue at a Catholic univeristy, “Of course, she had to check it out and confirm that it was really happening.” At the same time I recalled an icon of the visitation done by an artist I met in Vancouver. She staunchly refused to call her piece “the visitation.” Instead she calls it “The Recognition” because she is convinced that what happened in this place outside modern day Jerusalem, was the meeting of two women of deep faith. What happened when they finally set eyes on each other was the moment of recognition “we are in this together” “we have said yes to our God.” Today Visitations or Recognitions happen every time a young woman finds another woman with whom she can share her friendship and her faith.
This little, quiet corner of the world paved with the words of the Magnificat shows us – men and women – what great things God can do when we recognize each other and visit each other. What great things can happen when women of faith support each other in their “yes.”

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

And we’re off!

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Today, fifteen members of the S+L team depart for the Holy Land for a ten-day Lenten pilgrimage where we’ll visit the major Christian holy sites and film a number of programs. We’ll be joined by a larger group of pilgrims from across Canada and the US who are participating through our Blessed Journeys program. Few of us have been there before and there is much excitement among the group. I was fortunate to have studied in Israel back in 2009 and it was an experience I will never forget.

Of course the Holy Land—ancient as it is—is filled with rocks and ruins. Despite the enormous historical importance and personal meaning of the various biblical sites, a tour can become a bit monotonous: “Hey look, more ruins!” Visiting the Holy Land is an exercise in historic and religious imagination.

But there’s something very special about standing on the same ground as Jesus and the great biblical figures. And not only them, but also the millions of people who over the course of 2,000 years have visited the same sites out of devotion to the Christian faith. If the land is called “holy” it’s because it’s been blessed by so many ordinary people who have come to see the Lord.

And because we’re a media organization, we’re happy to say that you too can come with us on the journey! We’ll be updating our audience regularly throughout the trip, so be sure to connect with us:

Blog: saltandlighttv.org/blog
Twitter: @saltandlighttv
Facebook: facebook.com/saltandlighttv
Instagram: @saltandlighttv

#SLPilgrimage

Here’s our special prayer for the trip that you can pray along with us! (Pilgrimage Prayer by Fr.Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.)

Lord Jesus Christ,
you were once a pilgrim in this Holy Land.
We, too, have come as pilgrims,
to journey with you into the desert
to listen to the powerful Word of the God of Israel
spoken in our own deserts.
We follow you into Galilee,
to understand and experience your presence and healing.
We come up to Jerusalem to join the great crowd
that came to meet you crying,
“Hosanna! Blessed is the One
who comes in the name of the Lord!”
We walk with you on the road to Golgotha
and share in your passion.
Seeing you nailed to the cross,
we bow down before your suffering and dying.
We journey with you on the road to Emmaus
and discover you in the breaking and sharing
of the Word and the Bread.
Show us the glory of your resurrection.
Open our eyes, our hearts, and our minds,
so that we may find you not only in ancient stones,
but in the midst of your holy peoples who still live here,
and among all those who thirst for you,
wherever they may be.
Write your Gospel upon our hearts.
Send us forth carrying the Good News.
Continue to lead us and guide us
on our pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusaelm.
Amen.

With prayers and best wishes to you all, bon voyage!

Pope Francis Meets Kim Davis – Perspectives Daily

Today on Perspectives, news that Pope Francis met with Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis while visiting the United States.

The Vatican and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: peace trumps politics

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The enormous amount of media attention that Pope Francis attracts has highlighted the Church’s influence in the world of global politics. The Pope, whoever he is, is a spiritual leader, but one with a permanent seat at the political table. Hardly a week goes by in which Francis doesn’t meet with some head of state or foreign diplomat to discuss religion and politics in the respective country.

This past week it was the Palestinians’ turn. On May 13 the Vatican announced that the Bilateral Commission of the Holy See and the State of Palestine had finalized the draft text of an agreement on essential aspects of the life and activity of the Catholic Church in Palestine.

Then on May 16, on the eve of a canonization Mass in which two Palestinian nuns were proclaimed saints, Pope Francis met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The two men expressed their hope that peace talks would resume with Israel and that interreligious dialogue be promoted across the region.

Predictably, the three events—the bilateral agreement, the meeting with Abbas and the canonization of two Palestinians—reignited the discussion over the Vatican’s recognition of the “state of Palestine,” a recognition Israel categorically denies.

Israeli officials suggested that such recognition from third parties discourages the Palestinians from returning to the negotiating table, and some pro-Israeli voices even raised concern over what this could mean for Catholic-Jewish relations.

For the sake of clarification, it is helpful to review the Vatican’s policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reiterate the rationale behind it.

When last Wednesday’s announcement came from the Bilateral Commission, some credible voices in the media rightly pointed out that it wasn’t the first time the Vatican officially recognized the “state of Palestine.” It has been using this language since the 2012 United Nations vote to grant Palestine “non-member observer status,” a status shared by only one other state at the UN: the Holy See.

Far from going out-on-a-limb with its language, the Vatican simply recognizes what the vast majority of other nations recognize (the UN vote carried 138 in favor and 9 against with 41 abstentions).

And beyond this, it should be pointed out that the Vatican has long supported a “two-state” solution to the conflict. Upon his arrival in Tel Aviv last year, Pope Francis said:

“I renew the appeal made in this place by Pope Benedict XVI: the right of the State of Israel to exist and to flourish in peace and security within internationally recognized borders must be universally recognized.  At the same time, there must also be a recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign homeland and their right to live with dignity and with freedom of movement. The “Two State Solution” must become reality and not remain merely a dream.” (Welcome Ceremony)

Pope Benedict said as much during his visit to the Holy Land in 2009, and John Paul II on many occasions insisted on a peaceful solution to the conflict. He also sought solidarity with the Palestinian people by fostering a relationship with then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Upon hearing of Arafat’s death in 2004, the Vatican issued a statement saying the Pope, “feels particularly close to the family of the departed, the Palestinian authorities and the Palestinian people,” and that he has “called upon the Prince of Peace to let the Star of Harmony shine over the Holy Land so that the two peoples who dwell in it may reconcile as two independent and sovereign states.”

Suffice it to say, no ground-breaking language was used over the past week by the Vatican regarding the Israeli-Palestinian situation. The Church’s position has been clear for years: a peaceful two-state solution whereby both parties respect the right and legitimacy of the other, with absolutely no recourse to violence. In recognizing the “state of Palestine” since 2012, the Vatican is adhering to the legitimate decision of the United Nations.

The Church always insists on peace over politics. Its support for a realized Palestinian state and a peaceful coexistence built on respect and mutuality is not exclusionary or one-sided, as some voices are suggesting. The Church equally supports the right and security of an Israeli state. But when it comes to conflict, especially violent conflict, the Church raises the bar beyond petty politics to the greater good, that is, justice and peace. As Pope Benedict XVI said in an address to the President of Israel in Jerusalem in 2009, “A nation’s true interest is always served by the pursuit of justice for all.”

SebastianGOn Further Reflection
In the complex world of the 21st century there are more questions than answers. The challenge for the Church is to find new and effective ways of bringing the Gospel message into the conversation.  For her part, the Church can act as a much needed voice of dialogue, reason and charity. On Further Reflection invites readers to go beyond the headlines to see the deeper realities affecting the church and society.  Sebastian Gomes is a producer and correspondent for S+L TV.

Perspectives Daily – Papal Nuncio Addresses Israeli Assault in Gaza

Today on Perspectives, we look at the deteriorating situation in Gaza and Vatican Radio talks to the Papal Nuncio to the Holy Land to get his assessment of the situation. Catholic News Service also takes a look back at the First World War a century after its inception and examines how the Vatican responded to total war.