HCEF
In their first week in the Holy Land, the pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati have experienced a deep communion with their brothers and sisters in Christ who live in Jordan and the West Bank. Following their blog brings you to their informal meetings with local Christians,

the professional development training for Palestinian and American teachers, the visits to sacred places in the life of Christ, and even to the sacred places of their own hearts as they share how this experience is transforming their souls.

Follow the blog at: http://hopepilgrims.shutterfly.com/

Here are a few excerpts from their entries:


One Voice Can Make a Difference

… On the way back to our hotel in the afternoon, we stopped to get a good look at the wall dividing Bethlehem and the whole West Bank from Israel. Today I lost my voice. I cannot put words to the feelings of this experience. It is a little frustrating to not be able to coherently describe the impact the wall had on me. Maybe I was experiencing in a small way the Palestinians who feel like they have no voice. We prayed deeply together at the wall. We prayed “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be done.” We prayed “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” “Deliver us from evil.” Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” The Gospel message is more real here, in the face of a seemingly insurmountable problem so strikingly represented by the wall … I admit, I feel a little powerless. With my limited view I can see no end to this conflict, can imagine no real solution, but I think I might be getting my voice back.

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… I just want to do the will of God for my life. How overwhelmed and grateful I feel that part of God’s plan for me includes this life changing experience

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What can one person do to change this situation? That is something that I know all of us here right now are struggling with. We will continue to pray, and we will keep in touch with our new Palestinian partners in education. We will look deeper into the news reports that we so often just believe. We will share their stories and look for ways to tear down the walls that have caused so much pain, anger and suffering.

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… We were not at an official holy site. We stood on a street littered with trash. In front of us stood “The Wall.” And here I found God. He was weeping… as was I. This wall separates His people from one another. This wall breaks the hearts of those who must live with it. And yet, we all must live with it. If we know about it (and now you do) and do nothing – we are part of the problem. I have tasted evil today and it makes me physically ill.

 

Solidarity in Action

… Today I met a Palestinian Muslim named Selah. Selah is a teacher at a Latin Patriarchate (Catholic) school in Palestine. This school accepts and respects Christian and Muslim teachers and students. This is not a story we hear about in the States. It is a living example that peace is possible with the power of Christian compassion. After our workshop wrapped up for the day Selah insisted that I come to his home. To be honest, I was a little leery about doing so. Sometimes God needs to break down barriers to build you up again … It was a life-changing decision. God used it to crumble my barriers. God used it to grant me the gift of solidarity. Selah took me on a tour of the West Bank, which includes Bethlehem and the surrounding neighborhoods. He took me through the winding, dirty streets of the Palestinian refugee camp, he pointed out the dividing wall, the settlements. As he turned down the road to his home, I saw that it ran parallel to an Israeli road that he was not allowed to use. The Israeli road was in perfect condition. His road, a few yards away, was falling apart. They were not allowed to repair it … I was told that it was an Arabic tradition to welcome any stranger. For 3 days this stranger may eat, sleep, drink and do whatever they want in their home. They will not ask anything of you – not even your name or age – until after 3 days. After sharing a wonderful meal with this family, and hearing all of their stories of struggle … the older son asked me. “What do you think of Palestinians now? Are you for us?” I said “Yes, I am for you.”

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… I learned a new word today: Arabenese. Apparently, this is when Arabic-speaking teenagers write Arabic words using English letters. This word is important for me for two reasons. 1) I like new words, and 2) I learned it through a discussion with some Palestinian Christian educators today.

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… Today we met our Palestinian partner teachers. We spent two hours sharing teaching ideas and experiences. It’s hard to find words to describe what it’s like to be half way around the world, sitting in a classroom with Palestinian teachers and finding we have a lot more in common in our classrooms than differences!

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A Life Changing Experience

… It has made me take a deeper look at how I view things. There are many “inconveniences” that pop up in my life that often tend to derail me. In the grand scheme of things, they really don’t matter, they don’t define who I am or what I believe, so it’s time to let them go.

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… I do feel a presence of God that is so ALIVE, and that is exactly what I hoped for in coming here.

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… Tonight we got to experience the Palestinian culture at a dinner for us and the Palestinian teachers hosted by HCEF. The food was delicious! There was a lot of laughter! We also spent time in deep conversation with our new friends, and learned so much about their daily life and daily suffering. We enjoyed watching dancers doing traditional Arabic dances and many joined in the dancing with our Palestinian friends. The night moved too quickly and before long it was time to leave. There were hugs and tears as we parted.

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… Despite seeing the holy sites, which are truly breathtaking, I find what most reveals God’s face to me is the people whom we meet, for it is in them that God feels most alive and present to me. I am grateful for the experience of being with people of God.

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… The other blessing of the day was to begin to meet the wonderful Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem. The stories of Sacred Scripture seem so real for them. For me, they were always imagined stories that took place in a distant land. For these people, it happened in their neighborhood. I am awed by the apparent genuineness of their faith. The Story of Salvation is in their bones, it is a part of who they are. I think I am falling in love with Bethlehem, the place and the people.

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What is the difference between Palestinians and Americans? There are several that struck me. They are unhappy with their current situation, but they are JOYFUL people. I have not heard one complaint about the checkpoints where they are detained or about having no water to brush their teeth or bathe. I did not hear complaints about the times they were under “curfew.” There is sadness that they cannot visit the holy sites like we can, but no complaints.

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… My own Baptism was never so real for me … I knelt down by the river and poured the green, warm water over my head 3 times and prayed the words I have prayed a million times before: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. I don’t think I will pray these words the same again.

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… I then offered my partner teacher the contents of my blue duffel bag: the books I earned through volunteering at Scholastic Book Fairs, an assortment of pens, pencils, notebooks, erasers, and a backpack. Tears flood my eyes as I type this … I am so humbled by their gratefulness for such simple items, such small gifts. It just seems wrong somehow that here are these talented, intelligent, passionate people speaking the same language I speak, in fact, knowing far more about language than I do, and having the need for such ordinary items. Inside, my heart whispers, “But you deserve so much more,” and I feel ashamed at myself for all the things I “can’t” do without. When I meet people such as these, I am again placed face-to-face with my own materialism, and wonder how I came to be this way when others, equal to, if not better than myself, give so much more with so much less.

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… Today we celebrated Mass at a parish in Birzeit. The spoken language was different, but the parishioners were much like my fellow parishioners at St. Andrew. Some came early to pray and chat, some came on time, and some snuck in late. There were babies making noises, teenagers trying to remember what to do and when, parents, grandparents… They sang with beautiful voices that filled the church, they prayed, and they welcomed visitors. There are no apparent differences between the people of Birzeit and the people of St. Andrew.

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… God seemed to impress upon me that this is a pure gift. There needs to be no deep reason for it, just the abundant, overflowing grace of a God who loves me so much has was willing to humble himself to become one of us.

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… Fr. Jim said we are called … to keep stretching and opening up till we, too, can be as Jesus, ready to make a sacrifice for love.

Other articles about the Cincinnati Pilgrims and the Symposium for Educators:

+ HCEF and the University of Cincinnati Sponsor Successful Outreach to Palestinian Educators

+ Educators of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati: Journey to the Holy Land on HCEF Organized Pilgrimage