Mary C. Uhler, Catholic Herald Staff
Around the Diocese
MADISON — Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the Holy Land has helped shine the spotlight on the situation of Christians in the homeland of Christ. The number of Christians has been steadily decreasing. Those remaining must often deal with conflict and economic challenges.
How can we help our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land? The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem has been working since the 11th Century to foster solidarity with Christians there.
Archbishop Fouad Twal, the current Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, encouraged members of the North Central Lieutenancy of the order (which includes the Diocese of Madison) to form sister parish relationships with parishes in the Holy Land.
“He emphasized that this is the key to our mission as Knights and Ladies: to build connections with Christians in the Holy Land so that through solidarity, they may not lose hope, thinking they are alone and isolated from the universal Church,” said Patrick Stiennon of Madison, a member of the order.
Stiennon talked with St. Paul’s University Catholic Center on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus about establishing student pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
Stiennon solicited funds for the project and raised $3,500. Based on student input, it was decided to develop a specific pilgrimage opportunity and encourage students to apply.
Stiennon worked with Rateb Y. Rabie, a member of the order and CEO of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, to develop a plan to send a student to live for two months in Bethlehem, a short distance from the Church of the Nativity. During the two months the student would perform volunteer activities and visit the holy sites.
To choose the student and to encourage better understanding of the plight of Christians in the Holy Land, a contest was organized based on writing an essay after reading Behind the Wall by Canon Donald Fraser. Several members of the local order judged the essays with Fr. Eric Nielsen, pastor of St. Paul’s, making the final selection.
Beth Mueller selected
Beth Mueller was chosen for the pilgrimage. From Germantown, Wis., Mueller is finishing her junior year at UW-Madison. She plans to graduate in December with majors in history and journalism.
She is active at St. Paul’s University Catholic Center, where she sings in two choirs, leads a small group Bible study, helps on the Liturgy Team, and is a sacristan. Next fall she will be assisting with the RCIA program at St. Paul’s and in the spring she will be an intern there.
Mueller will be leaving the U.S. May 28 and returning July 22. She commented on the pilgrimage, “I’m nearly overwhelmed with excitement and gratitude to be going on this trip. It amazes me that God would bless and surprise me with such an incredible opportunity and I am so thankful. I simply cannot wait to walk in the places where Christ walked and to serve the Christians there in his name. I was so overjoyed to find out that I will likely get to go to daily Mass . . . in the Church of the Nativity!”
A second student, inspired by the contest, also decided to pay her own way. Patricia Kosmalski, a UW-Madison undergraduate student studying Spanish and pre-medicine, is a member of St. Paul’s University Catholic Center. She hopes to volunteer at local hospitals in the Holy Land.