On our journey to the Holy Land, we wanted to meet the “living stones,” the Christians ministering to people in this land. On Sunday, 23 June, we went to Mass in the Latin parish of Reineh, a small village beside Nazareth in Israel. That turned out to be a special day for several reasons. First, it was Pentecost Sunday (since Easter in this part of the world follows the Julian, rather than Gregorian, calendar). Also, the parish priest, Rev. Elias Odeh, was marking the 43rd anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. But it was another detail that may be most memorable: many in our party had a chance for the first time to attend a Roman Catholic Mass celebrated in Arabic.
For many in North America, this may be stunning news. ‘Aren’t Arabs all Muslims?’ some might ask. How is it possible that Arabs are also Catholics? Let’s not forget that Christianity was present in the Holy Land some 600 years before Muhammad, and many Arabs had converted long before. Today, even though they are in small numbers, these Arab Christians are proud of their heritage and their faith.
Rev. Geoffrey Kerslake, who accompanied us on the pilgrimage, concelebrated Mass with Father Odeh. Afterward, our group was invited to join the parishioners for coffee and cake in a warm and friendly setting. We were surprised to see how many spoke English very well!
Members of CNEWA and the Catholic Women’s League of Canada take to the pews in a Latin Catholic church in Reineh. (photo: CNEWA)