During my recent trip to the Middle East, I had a delightful and engaging conversation with a very wise bishop from the region. One of the points he made really struck me. “Holy places here are holy not just as tombs, caves and mountaintops,” he said, “but are holy because of what happened here and the people that are part of the story.”
Of course as Catholics and Christians, we are most touched by the historic places where Jesus lived and spread the Word. Most notably, we remember and celebrate the sites of the Annunciation, the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and his death and burial at Calvary.
The photo above, taken in the ancient ruins of Petra in Jordan, reminds me that people living today in this part of the world are living witnesses of the events that happened 2,000 years ago. These Bedouin camel herders are direct descendants of shepherds who came to pay homage to Jesus after his birth. In many ways, they live very much like their ancestors did at the time of the Nativity. Their lives have changed little in the past 2,000 years.
I encountered many other living witnesses to the story of our salvation during my pastoral visit in the Holy Land. Some were shepherds, some merchants, some politicians, some church officials and some camel herders. They are all citizens of these holy places and witnesses to the world changing events that happened there. Their roots are truly our roots.
The Holy Land can easily become a “tourist venue” or a “museum full of historic edifices.” Some are concerned that it might become a “Holy Disney World.” CNEWA strives to educate our friends about what makes this part of the world holy and often features stories of these living witnesses in this magazine.
If you are fortunate enough to visit the Holy Land in person or vicariously by reading our magazine, cherish the experience of meeting and engaging some of these “holy” citizens — even some humble camel herders.
May God bless all of you,
Msgr. John E. Kozar