Experiencing the Real Holy Land

CNEWA’s Father Guido Gockel, M.H.M., and Gabriel Delmonaco are accompanying a group of friends and benefactors on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

CNEWA’s Father Guido Gockel, M.H.M., and Gabriel Delmonaco are accompanying a group of friends and benefactors on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Last night, we stayed up late at our residence at the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem. We might have gone to bed. But Deacon Steve Marcus, with full consensus of the others, asked to reflect more on our trip. I don’t blame him. The past few days have been overwhelming. As we compared our notes and elaborated on our impressions and theories, we came to appreciate ever more the presence of CNEWA in the Holy Land.

Some commented that no media outlet will ever be able to tell the full story in this part of the world. One has to come and visit. One has to spend time with ordinary people and listen to their stories. One has to go through the same checkpoints Palestinians have to cross in order to understand why they feel imprisoned in their own land. And when you look in the eyes of Israeli soldiers, you find out that many of them are young men and women perhaps scared of the huge responsibilities given to them. They wear it like a suit many sizes too large, and it shows clearly.

This situation is difficult for everyone. Yet, in the name of politics and ideology, people on both sides are suffering. CNEWA does not involve itself in politics, but in many of the countries where we work we have to deal with the consequences of politically motivated actions.

As we debated animatedly, Deacon Steve recalled the conversation he had had with a Palestinian man, George, who lives in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem. His father owned that house and before him his grandfather. But now, George is resolved to leave. His young children are harassed every day on their way to school. Sometimes, other kids spit on them on their way to school. They are Arab Christians who live now in the wrong place at the wrong time.

George says he will move to the outskirts of Jerusalem with other Christian Palestinians in a complex of 80 apartments built by the Latin Patriarchate in collaboration with CNEWA. This project started in 2004 and it’s not completed yet as a result of daily bureaucratic complications. When we spoke to the builders, they explained that soldiers show up every day, sometimes three times a day, to check permits and the identity cards of workers.

Al Lagan, from Boston, commented on an earlier meeting with Bishop William Shomali, the Latin patriarchal vicar. The bishop told the story of a young Palestinian boy beaten by soldiers because he was on the streets of Jerusalem late at night. His legs were broken, but he was admitted to the hospital only after he spent several hours in prison.

When Mr. Lagan asked the bishop what he thought about the general situation, he calmly asked us to pray for peace and to continue to support local Christians, who now number only about 50,000 in the West Bank and Jerusalem. He especially encouraged us to support pastoral projects.

“We need to rebuild the spirit, hope and faith of our brothers and sisters here,” he said. Father Guido during our tour of the holy sites reaffirmed this sentiment, saying, “How can we give peace, if we don’t have peace inside us first.”

We thought our St. Valentine’s Day would focus only on the holy sites in Jerusalem. Instead, we experienced a city filled with tension and frustration that required spiritual reflection and meditation. In the land where Jesus offered his life on the cross to heal our broken souls, too much blood is shed over politics. And if it weren’t for the faithful work of the local church and organizations such as CNEWA and its operating agency in the Middle East, the Pontifical Mission, we’d be hard pressed to find any hope. Peace to all.

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