The compilation of 23 essays by Christian leaders in “What Jerusalem Means to Us” reveals an intimate portrait of the City of Jerusalem as a living being whose story is complex and unfinished. Religious and secular authorities with ties to the Holy Land describe their relationship with a city whose importance is understood in religious, political, social, and cultural ways.
Jerusalem is home to the three Abrahamic religions and is revered at the City of Peace where the Lord God chose to dwell. The city has inspired dreamers from across the globe to imagine the possibilities for peace and flourishment for a city and region wracked by strife.
The contributors to this book wrestle with the contradictions within this universal city. It is both God’s holy city and a city of humanity. Because it is the city of God, it unites people of prayer to look to the city to give hope to their religious aspirations – to become a city of welcome, hospitality, acceptance, and peace. Because it is a city of humanity, it is torn apart by factions, nationalism, conflict, and division. Each author remarks upon the city’s special characteristics and outlines a path forward for the city to achieve God and our dreams for it.
Each author has a special relationship with the Jerusalem. For some, it is their literal homeland; for most others, it is their spiritual roots and a place of encounter with God and with God’s people, no matter one’s faith or cultural background. The city is a living, growing being unto itself and it is wise enough to delicately hold the pain that is inflicted upon it by humankind. For many, is it a city that is weeping for her children, especially when her children are being forced to flee because of unjust policies. It is a city of inspiration because, even though the current pain is real, the author knows Jerusalem will endure, as it always has, and it will strive to call her children together in harmony.
Some authors see the Paschal mystery being lived out constantly in the land. People come together for shared meals and retelling of stories ancient and new. Many laugh and dance amidst the construction of divisive walls and death-dealing judgments. The city collectively walks the Way of the Cross and hangs crucified for all the world to see. Jerusalem experiences rebirth and new life each time a visitor prays within her walls and among the living stones. The story of Jerusalem continues as she bears the marks of suffering, death, and resurrection.
All authors speak of hope for the Holy City because she is the place that contains all their dreams and prayers. The city can hold her children’s persecutions and suffering because she knows reconciliation is possible as long as people of faith and goodwill continue to call her as their home. Hope, not hatred, will have the last word within the City’s gates. Mercy, not wrongful human justice, will be the mark that is indelibly written on the stones. Peace, not surrender or resignation, will be her name for the ages to come.
Reviewed by Fr. John Predmore, S.J., a Jesuit priest of the Northeast Province of the US and the Chaplain for Ignatian Ministries at Boston College High School.
Saliba Sarsar, ed. What Jerusalem Means to Us: Christian Perspectives and Reflections. A Publication of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation www.hcef.org. Published by Holy Land Books.