In stark contrast to the division and violence that has beset Jerusalem in recent years, the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) is bringing 900 Arab Christian children to the holy city on May 1st as a living witness to peace and unity.
In stark contrast to the division and violence that has beset Jerusalem in recent years, the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) is bringing 900 Arab Palestinian Christian children to the holy city on May 1st as a living witness to peace and unity. Representing Christian communities from fifteen towns and villages scattered throughout Israel and Palestine, the children will begin their day of prayer and procession just inside the Old City’s New Gate, from which they will march through the narrow streets of the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
Though young – just 12-14 years old – these children are no strangers to the suffering commemorated by the Holy Sepulcher. They have all grown up in the shadow of the recent Intifada, facing hardships imposed by road closures, checkpoints, and curfews. More recently, construction of Israel’s Separation Wall has splintered their villages, cutting each off from contact with the others. Nowhere is this segregation more pronounced than in Jerusalem, where the Wall has made access to the holy sites all but impossible even for Arab Christians from Bethlehem and Ramallah, cities less than 10 miles away.
By their very presence inside the Old City, these children will call into question the policies which divide and isolate their communities, but they will also demonstrate that openness between Palestinians and Israelis is not in itself a threat to peace.
As much as this Second Annual Journey to Jerusalem is an exercise in peaceful demonstration, it is also an expression of faith, a timely one in the midst of this Easter Season. Hailing not just from different towns, but also from multiple Christian denominations, the children will take full advantage of this rare trip to Jerusalem with an afternoon of prayer and devotion at the Holy Sepulcher, the Garden of Gethsemane, the church of Saint Anne’s and Saint Peter Gallicantu.
At a time when media coverage is overwhelmingly concerned with the Palestinians’ political future and the new ruling Hamas government, these children will gather to remind the world of the Holy Land’s “forgotten faithful,” the ever-shrinking Arab Christian population which is increasingly being pushed to the margins of society.
“The importance of a march such as this one cannot be overstated,” said Sir Rateb Rabie, KCHS, HCEF’s president. “The children need to know that they are not alone, especially since most of them never see much beyond their own village. And the world beyond the village needs their witness, too. They are ambassadors of peace in a region torn apart by war. It is HCEF’s hope that the Journey to Jerusalem is only the start of a more peaceful, open Holy Land.”
The Second Annual Journey to Jerusalem is a project sponsored by HCEF’s “Jesus Loves the Children (JLC)” program. In addition to this Easter time gathering, JLC marks the Christmas holiday in January with the Journey to Bethlehem, a march and ecumenical prayer service at the Church of the Nativity. Also at Christmas, JLC solicits funds from Christians in the West, purchases gifts from local Palestinian merchants, and distributes them to Arab Christian children who would otherwise have no gifts at all.
This year’s Journey to Jerusalem was made possible thanks to the support of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, the Pontifical Mission to Palestine, the National Christian Association, the Tarifi Group and many other private donors. On the ground, both HCEF’s Shabibeh Youth Group and the local Jerusalem Holy Land Christian Support Network will be providing logistical support during the day’s events.
Would you like to share the Easter season’s promise of rebirth with these children? Your gift renews their faith that Christians around the world support their witness of Christ’s light in the very land where He conquered darkness once and for all! Click here to do so.