It’s Holy Saturday noon and the hamsin (desert wind) is strong, keeping the sky a mass of gray with the heaviness of By Sister Mary, an Ursuline sister, living and working in the Old City of Jerusalem , www.hcef.org By Sister Mary It’s Holy Saturday noon and the hamsin (desert wind) is strong, keeping the sky a mass of gray with the heaviness of the dust and sand from the east. My week has been liturgically rich and I’ll work backwards. Yesterday I walked the Way of the Cross with the Palestinians. We took up the end of the journey with a dozen or more young Palestinian men supporting a large cross. They were young men from my parish and I walked with other parishioners. I found my landlady who is Greek Orthodox also in with this group. There were about 500+ of us, counting the pilgrims from many nations. It has been so good to see them back here! After the procession I went to the Holy Sepulchre for Tenebrae, a time of the singing of various readings from the Scripture and chanting the psalms in Gregorian chant. It was well done by the Franciscan community here in Jerusalem (who also have the Palestinian parish church, San Saviour, where I normally participate in the liturgy). Holy Thursday I went to the Benedictine Abbey of Hagia Sion and joined the German community there for a multi-lingual celebration of that liturgy … done with all the reverence and beauty of Benedictine liturgies. After that I went to the prayer service at the Mt. of Olives’ church, the Basilica of the Agony– also called the Church of All Nations, built with funds from many Catholic countries. There were several thousand people there, both inside and out. Inside there was standing room only. I was fortunate to get a seat next to Fr. Donald Moore, brother to Sr. Blanche Marie, who was one of my professors at New Rochelle College. He was sitting along the wall in an area that could be two seats, and he scooted over so I could sit down, too. It was late when I walked back to the Old City. At first I was alone and then someone called out to me. It was Stephanie, a young Palestinian woman who works at Notre Dame Hospice. She introduced me to her family and we walked together. Then an Indian priest, Fr. Philip, caught up with me. He had been in my Arabic class for a couple of months and is studying at the Ratisbonne Centre. Though Jesus felt alone that night, I felt surrounded by some of my new friends all through the evening. But my Holy Week doesn’t begin there. I spent Wednesday evening at another vigil that gathered outside a home on Mt. Scopus with a huge bonfire burning. I was at the Akal home, built in 1951, but now surrounded by Mt. Scopus campus of Hebrew University. It was scheduled to be demolished Wednesday night. Another friend of mine, Jeff Helper, was at the Sabeel meeting that afternoon and asked if any of us could go to the home that evening. Jeff is the coordinator of the Isreali Committee against House Demolition. I met him when he was one of the speakers for the MidEast Citizen Diplomacy Delegation. But I had been with him during other activities at Sabeel, even prior to that. Anyway, LeAnne and I departed from the meeting together, ate a cheese sandwich at Pilgrim’s Palace Hotel, and then we came to my place in the Old City so that she could leave some of her belongings and I picked up some warmer clothing. We took a taxi up to Mt. Scopus and there joined about 50 -75 others, mostly Palestinians, to spend the night in case the bulldozers arrived. The family plied us with hot, sweet tea all evening so we wouldn’t get cold. The Israelis didn’t come by midnight and the family had a good indication that they wouldn’t come now until Sunday, since Mr. Akal heard from his lawyer that they were to be in court for a restraining order or more the next morning. Nevertheless, it was a vigil with people who were about to lose everything once again. They were forced out of the village of Liftah in 1948 and finally bought property here when Hebrew University did not have this extension to their campus on Mt. Scopus. Now they are in the middle of the campus with their few fruit trees. Some of the students of the University have defended their right to exist on their property by sitting down and surrounding the home at another time. I felt a special bond with this family since I could hear the University being built up there in 1972 when I stayed in the Palace Hotel below them in the Kedron Valley. On Wednesday I had the “Easter fire” early as I sat in vigil with the family and learned that they knew Palestinian friends of mine. When the temperature dropped, I went to put a scarf on my head and one of the women from the Akal family took out the pin in her scarf and pinned my scarf on, Moslem style. When I tried to give her the pin back at midnight, she said, “It’s only a pin, but you came to be with us and I am grateful.” I may be spending Easter night with them. But, before I do that, this Holy Saturday afternoon I joined with the Palestinians of Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Jala in a protest march from Bethlehem to the Israeli army checkpoint, which closes off their towns and isolates them. From the Israeli side, the Israelis who are against the closure policy were also marching. The army stood against us and each time that we broke through their ranks, they ran ahead and formed again. This happened three times until they saw that the Israelis from the other side had also broken through and were coming to join us. We made it through the soldiers three times and since I was in the front line, I was often face to face with the soldiers. At the same time I had a mobile phone on and was talking with a friend or letting her hear what was going on. She told me later this evening that it was my humor with the soldiers that really struck her. I was not confrontational, just in their face and speaking with them. At one point, when body-to-body with a soldier, I said to him, “I bet you have never been this close to a sister before. He looked at me totally bewildered. So, after spending Wednesday night in vigil, processing on Holy Thursday to Gethsemane and then on Holy Friday along the Way of the Cross, today at 4:00 pm I processed with the people of the Bethlehem area toward Jerusalem, and tomorrow morning I will process into the Basilica of the Resurrection. Inshallah, Inshallah! As always, I appreciate the support of your prayers and you have mine from Jerusalem, where it all happened. Alleluia, Alleluia! mkm
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