Jerusalem is my city. It is where I was born and raised. It is where my Christian identity and human consciousness were first formed.
Jerusalem is my city. It is where I was born and raised. It is where my Christian identity and human consciousness were first formed. Jerusalem is our city. It is the human center of our initial dispatch and our destiny.
In the New Testament, Jerusalem is known as a brilliant “bride,” and “the mother of us all.” Christians variously refer to it as City of God, Holy City, City of Peace, City of Holiness and Hope, City of Prayer. These names evoke past sacredness, present needs, and future aspirations. For Christians, Jerusalem is the place where the divine and the human interact best. It marks the place where history is enshrined, redemption is remembered, and renewal is promised. Hence, it is the intersection of theology and history, not only in the sense of yesterday, but also today and tomorrow. It is where Christians encounter Jews and Muslims, as all seek God and goodness by practicing their faith.
For Christians, Jerusalem embodies a collective heritage. It is not the exclusive domain of one religion, one ethnic group, or one nationality. Jerusalem is a model of love, justice, peace. The Christian claim in Jerusalem highlights the values of compassion and sharing. “Zion will be redeemed through justice, and those who return to her through compassion.” (Isaiah 1:27). In addition to ‘love our neighbor as ourselves,’ Christ’s Sermon on the Mount instructs followers to ‘love your enemies and pray for your persecutors’ (Matt. 5: 38-46).
Historically, Jerusalem’s fame and sacredness have not saved it from conquerors or hegemonic designs and from bloodshed and conflict. Over a 4,000-year history, Jerusalem witnessed a series of invasions and settlements at the hands of the Canaanites, Jebusites, Israelites, Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Seljuks, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans, British, Jordanians, and Israelis. The current cycle of violence in its life is truly a déjà vu experience. Jerusalem is not all monuments. It cannot be understood without reference to the faithful and their concerns. In terms of Christians only, 12,000-14,000 live in the city. Among them are Greeks, Russians, Americans, Arabs, and yes some Jews who have converted to Christianity. Each normally belongs to one of the several denominations, mainly Anglican, Armenian, Coptic, Episcopalian, Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Latin, Lutheran, and Syrian. All denominations-except for the Greek Orthodox who follow the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem-are part of churches that are non-autocephalous, that is, they are beholden to supreme authorities in other countries (e.g., England, Germany, and the Vatican).
Approximately 9000 of the Christians in Jerusalem are Palestinian. Their number is decreasing due to tough conditions that have resulted in emigration and the relative increase in the number of Muslims and Jews. While committed to supporting the Palestinian cause, Palestinian Christians are mindful of the negative impact that radicalism, ideological promotion, and stereotyping have in human affairs. They are concerned about the extremism in Israeli and in Palestinian circles, as well as, what they consider, the negative role of some Christians in the West.
The cross figures high among Christians in Jerusalem. In addition to its symbolic meaning, it is viewed as ‘a life companion,’ ‘the way to resurrection,’ and ‘a tree of life’. Moreover, Christians in Jerusalem are increasingly discovering themselves in Jesus as the crucified. While resurrection still implies forgiveness of sins, it is increasingly being interpreted as empowerment or as freedom from powerlessness. They proclaim resurrection in the midst of injustice and violence. Proclaiming is only part of one’s conversion process. The other involves taking responsibility and sustaining one’s conversion or healing. Voice and touch are combined to lead to the ‘whole truth’, serve humanity, and accept ‘the other’.
Father Rafiq Khoury, a Christian theologian who lives in Jerusalem, believes that God dialogued with humanity in Jerusalem and that Christianity is an entrance into other cultures and religions. ‘As a Christian, my identity is inseparable from Jerusalem, but so are the identities of Jews and Muslims. Although Jerusalem has repeatedly been crucified, she will be resurrected when her children accept each other and acknowledge that they all belong to her. Our presence in Jerusalem, in this Holy Land, is to accept life, preach life, and give life’.
Jerusalem-City of God, City of Humanity-is the center of the universe! It must become the heart of peace. If not in Jerusalem, where?