Beth Mueller, HCEF‘s volunteer in the Holy land
I’m now halfway through my two-month visit to the Holy Land to volunteer with HCEF and to be a pilgrim in the home of Christ. During my time so far, I’ve seen more things than I possibly would have imagined, both beautiful and interesting, inspiring and saddening. I’ve also not seen some things I would have expected, and wait with great anticipation for other experiences.
One thing I always expected to find in the Holy Land was veneration of the sites where Christ lived and ministered and even died and rose. By far the most towering of these — The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem — really blew me away. The opportunity to experience Mass in the place where Jesus rose from the dead was simply incredible.
In the same vein, I also have seen shrines and holy sites I couldn’t have guessed even existed, like the church at the Shepherd’s Fields outside Bethlehem, and most notably the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem. This small shrine venerated as the place where the Blessed Mother nursed Christ is not the most noteworthy or grand holy site, but I have found it truly beautiful. Hearing the nuns who pray there chant might be the most beautiful and ethereal thing I have ever heard.
I’ve also seen more and more consequences of Israeli Occupation of the Palestinian Territories. During a recent visit to Hebron, a larger city in the south of the West Bank, I observed for myself the deep tension between Israeli settlers and the Arab residents of Hebron. Story after story of violent encounters between members of these two groups, and even some hostility from the settlers toward my own tour group helped me to see the reality of the tension, not just the impression.
One thing I haven’t seen so far is the unrest that my parents and so many friends fretted over before I came to Bethlehem. True, the conflict continues to bring consequences to the area, but in my time here I’ve seen none of the craziness some would expect, especially none of the violence.
I also haven’t seen local Christians show the kind of anger or hopelessness one might expect to see considering the challenges they face to living day-to-day. I’m consistently amazed with their ability to talk seriously about these problems, but also to approach life with optimism, determination and even good humor.
Finally, I have not (yet!) seen some of the most exciting holy sites in the area: in Nazareth and the Galilee area. This weekend I’ll travel up to see so many places where Jesus walked and ministered. I also will have the chance to make it to Mt. Carmel and Mt. Tabor. I just can’t wait.