Sometimes it seems that the only narrative coming out of the Middle East, and especially from the lands of Israel and Palestine, is war, terror, fear, displacement and hopelessness.
This past week another message went forward from the lands of Israel and Palestine -- the lands we call "holy."
Last Wednesday evening, Salt and Light Catholic Television (of which I am CEO) hosted the premiere of its new documentary series on the Holy Land, entitled Journey of Light, at the National Film Board theatre in downtown Toronto. It was a rare evening for all of us, especially because of two distinguished guests: His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, a Palestinian from Nazareth who is the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, and Mr. Ya'acov Brosh, Consul General of the State of Israel in Toronto.
Journey of Light marks the beginning of a new series of programs about pilgrimage to the Holy Land and was made possible through the joint efforts of, among others, the Israeli government, the Palestinian community in Israel and Palestine, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and Christian communities and leaders throughout Israel.
Those who viewed the film found it difficult not to be moved by the stories, images, faces and hope that five young people from Salt and Light encountered with the people of God's lands. In the midst of many shadows and areas of darkness, there are broad strokes of light and joy amidst the Jews, Muslims and Christians, Palestinians, Israelis, Druze, Russians, Samaritans, Bedouins and many more peoples make up the mosaic of these lands.
The Jews, Christians and Muslims who live there today identify deeply with this land. They live in a continuous dialogue and are a sign of hope for the whole world. Like Judaism and Islam, Christianity is not a European religion. Its homeland is in the Middle East, and continuity with its past is dependent on the Christians who continue to reside there.
Today this Christian community is primarily Arab, and they live out their faith in many ancient and more recent church communities. There is also a small Hebrew-speaking community of Christians within the local Roman Catholic Church of Jerusalem. Together these communities form the complex mosaic of contemporary Christianity in the Holy Land and are an invitation and challenge to each of us to look beyond our own experiences and to acknowledge the many ways that God unites us in our diversity.
No matter how many centuries have passed, no matter how far the Christian religion has spread, Christians are wedded to the land that gave birth to Jesus Christ. Long ago, St. Jerome wrote to his friend Paola in Rome urging her to come and live in the Holy Land: "The whole mystery of our faith is native to this country and city."
Jerome's words are no less true for Christians today. This blessed and privileged land continues to invite us to journey as pilgrims in faith.
This past week at the National Film Board premiere, we realized that there is another narrative about God's country. And that story of hope is also worth sharing with the world.