They seemed pleased that another Christian, particularly an American Christian, came to visit them. They donâ€™t get many visitors. They are the Christians of the Holy Land, living in a land under military occupation.
They seemed pleased that another Christian, particularly an American Christian, came to visit them. They donâ€™t get many visitors.
They are the Christians of the Holy Land, living in a land under military occupation.
Traveling under the sponsorship of HCEF (Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation), another priest and I visited the Christian communities of the West Bank. Never was I afraid; never did I hear any shots from a gun. Our only inconvenience was just that. The couple times we needed to detour around roadblocks were nothing compared to the harassment and humiliation that the â€œrealâ€ people experience. The restrictions on travel that the Palestinian Christians endure are far beyond what we can imagine in our towns, from which we can drive hundreds of miles in any direction, without ever being stopped, except by an empty gas tank, and without ever being questioned, except by someone in car wondering, â€œHow long before we get there?â€
From the Christians of the Holy Land I heard about travel permits, checkpoints and closures and curfews; about often not being able to get out of their towns (or into the next town) to get to work or to the hospital, which means that they lose their jobs and die or give birth at the checkpoints; and about sometimes not being able to get out of their homes to go to the store or to school, which means that food and learning stops coming in.
That makes some of the Christians of the Holy Land want to leave. But some who could leave, wonâ€™t. They have a mission.
One evening as our driver took us back to Jerusalem, she said that, for the longest time, the Israeli solders simply waved her through the checkpoints, because she looks Jewish. But when she hung a rosary from her rear vison mirror, she was stopped every time, because the cross told the solderis that she was a Palestinian, and thus needed to be stopped and questioned. As we came to a checkpoint, I reached for my backpack, for I always made sure that I had my passport in my hand and my Roman collar around my neck. I asked her why she didnâ€™t just remove the cross when she saw a checkpoint. Without missing a beat or thinking up an answer, she said, â€œJesus suffered a lot for us. I can do a little for him.â€
I reached for my collar, hoping that it would make my passage through the checkpoint a little easier. She refused to put away her rosary, knowing that the cross would make her passage more difficult. The rest of us can thank her for keeping the faith alive in the land of Jesus.
(Father Rob Waller is pastor at St. Andrew, Milford. On Sunday afternoon, October 27, his parish is welcoming HCEF, the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation to discuss “what makes the Christians in the Holy Land want to leave and what we can do to help them stay.â€ He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.