Deacon Tom & Mary Jane Fox
“I rejoiced because they said to me, we will go up to the house of the Lord, and now we have set foot within your gates, O Jerusalem…Jerusalem built as a citywith compact unity.” (Psalm 122)
Christian Unity and Solidarity is witnessed very strongly in the Holy Land, many Christian leaders from North America, Europe, Israel and Palestine met in Jerusalem and in Bethlehem in January concerning the Plight of the Christians in the Holy Land. As Chairpersons for the San Antonio Holy Land Christian Support Network we were given the opportunity to lead a group of 13 American Christians from Michigan, Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, California and Texas on a “Fact Finding Mission & Pilgrimage to Jordan, Palestine and Israel. The group was among the 150 participants attending the first Ecumenical Conference held in the Bethlehem University in Bethlehem sponsored by the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation and the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. One of the main goals was the open dialogue that occurred between the Western Christians and the Palestinian Christians to work together to save the Christian Heritage and keep the Christian presence in the land of our Lord. The group met with local dignitaries, church leaders, pastors, school personnel, students, the U.S. Ambassador to Jordan and Palestinian Christian families in the West Bank. Visit the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation website at http://www.hcef.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=790792253:press-release–documents-from-the-bishops-conference-meetings-in-jerusalem&catid=128:press-releases for the Bishops’ Statement issued in Jerusalem on 15 January 2004.
The Fact-Finding Mission and Pilgrimage traveled throughout the Holy Land to be in solidarity with our Arab brothers and sisters in Christ. To reinforce relationships between Christian communities in the United States and in the Holy Land. One of the group members, a Presbyterian Pastor from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania whose church has chosen to partner with a Catholic Parish in Jifna, Palestine. It is an effort to one another’s missions, correspond with each other, exchange pilgrims, and pray for one another. The efforts and fruits of the various HCEF programs were witnessed by the group.
As members of the Body of Christ, we must never forget Christianity was founded in Jerusalem (the Church established by Christ and the twelve Apostles). The Church in the Holy Land which includes Jordan, Israel and Palestine, is referred to as our Mother Church. Indeed an appropriate reality, the Latin Patriarch, His Beatitude Michel Sabbah often states that when Mother Church suffers, the entire Church suffers with her. The Christians in the Holy Land are Arab and Palestinian, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ, the descendants of the early church. When asked “What do you want us to tell the American Christian population?”; the response is one of a desperate cry – not to forget them, to pray for them and to hear their stories. They are concerned that the majority of the world believes that all Palestinians are terrorists, but their desire is to live in peace and justice for all. The main cause of the suffering is the Israeli Military Occupation, the building of the Wall, numerous Israeli military checkpoints, unemployment, lack of medical treatment, illegal confiscation of land, destruction of homes and olive tree groves and in one village – the destruction of an ancient Catholic Church built in the 5th century, St. Barbara in Aboud, Palestine.
At this time Christians make up less than 2 percent of the population; in 1948 they were at 18 percent. In spite of the harsh, difficult life, the Arab Christians live with much faith and in unity. Their hope is in their faith and in other Christians who will pray for them and not to forget their presence in the land our Lord sanctified. They are called to be the peacemakers among a land important to three faiths – Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
Father Alex Kratz, O.F.M., a young priest from Detroit living in Birzeit, Palestine for one year and who traveled with our group said we are called to be an apostle…to hear, see, and tell, to be a Holy Land Ambassador. The Latin Patriarch the local Bishops invite Christians from around the world to travel on pilgrimage – by praying at the holy sites, by visiting the local restaurants and hotels operated by Christians, merely by our presence- we are encouraging and supporting the Mother Church.
People ask, is it safe? Our group never experienced any harm or danger. Visiting the Holy Land as a pilgrim people on group pilgrimage is an excellent and very safe way to experience the Holy Land. Pilgrim groups from the U.S., Europe and Africa are notably increasing and there is an increase in reservations for this New Year. We invite you to join us on a Holy Land Pilgrimage from San Antonio departing on April 27, 2004 and returning May 8th. Travel by private motor coach, a local licensed Christian guide; stay in the Vatican’s hotel, the Notre Dame and with the Franciscans and Carmelites on the Mt. of Beatitudes and on Mt. Carmel. Come and See! Come and walk in the footsteps of our Lord and in union with Mother Church of Jerusalem! Contact us at the Pilgrim Center of Hope at 210-521-3377 for more information.