Moments of Hope Shine Through Fear

In “A Sign of Hope in the Holy Land” in the June 2024 edition of ONE magazine, Judith Sudilovsky reports on Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan’s April visit to the Holy Land as chair of CNEWA. Listen to her audio reflection on the cardinal’s message of peace and love, and how she witnessed hope in action while accompanying the delegation. A full transcript is available below.

Listen to the audio report:

The night before he was to say a Mass of thanksgiving at the Beit Jala Annunciation Parish for the 75 years of work of the Pontifical Mission, Cardinal Timothy Dolan found himself sheltering in a bomb shelter in Jerusalem’s Notre Dame Center pilgrim guesthouse. Iran had launched 300 missiles toward Israel.

It was in retaliation for an earlier attack by Israel on Iranian targets in Syria linked to the October 7th Hamas attack on Israel’s southern agricultural communities.

At the same time, from my Jerusalem house, I followed the news reports, which were giving almost a play-by-play location of the missiles as they made their way through the Middle East airspace.

In the meanwhile, communicating by WhatsApp with a member of the cardinal’s delegation at 12:25 a.m., we decided to be in touch the next morning to confirm any changes in the cardinal’s schedule. At 2 a.m., I heard the first explosions of missiles being intercepted. Then the sirens blasted, giving warning about incoming missiles.

At 2:27 a.m., the delegation member wrote, “I doubt we will be able to get to Bethlehem tomorrow.” But following that tense night, when an international military coalition was able to thwart the attack, at 9 a.m. the next day, the delegation member wrote, “See you in Beit Jala, Inshallah. God willing.”

Indeed, as I entered Beit Jala with no problems at the Israeli checkpoint, it did not take long for the pews to fill up, as more and more parishioners arrived for the cardinal’s Mass.

They, too, had heard the explosions of intercepted missiles overhead the night before, but as day broke and life slowly got back to normal, the clear voices of the choir singing “Hallelujah!” rose up, almost one could imagine, rising over the space where the missiles had been to a place beyond the violence and hate, which endlessly engulfed this region.

Cardinal Dolan, who is archbishop of New York and chairman of the CNEWA Board, thanked everyone for sharing their faith with him and allowing CNEWA the privilege of helping the church and the Christian community in the land called holy.

With his characteristic openness and joviality, the cardinal spent almost a week in the Holy Land, meeting with religious and political leaders, as well as local religious clerics and residents who work through CNEWA-supported projects to improve the lives of the most needy, including abandoned babies, the hearing impaired, kindergarten children and the elderly, who had been left without traditional support from family, as many of the younger generation have left for better opportunities in Europe and the United States.

Though his visit, scheduled long before the October 7th Hamas attack and the outbreak of war, took place in the midst of the growing violence, the cardinal used his visit to spread a message of the shared unity which still exists and for which he said it is imperative to seek peace.

He emphasized that though he had seen darkness and light during this visit, there was still resurrection. The cardinal met with people of all the communities — Muslims, Christians and Jews, representatives of Palestinian refugees, as well as representatives of Israeli families whose members have been taken hostage into Gaza by Hamas.

In Bethlehem, usually filled with pilgrims just before Easter, less than a handful of pilgrim groups were visiting the Church of the Nativity as the cardinal came for a few moments of prayer at the grotto. This has been one of the difficult repercussions of war as tourism has been hard hit and Bethlehem, whose economy depends largely on tourism and pilgrimage, has been suffering.

One friend who owns a souvenir shop nearby told me he comes to open his store for one or two hours out of boredom, but with no visitors, there are no sales. Echoing the cardinal’s words, he said, “People just want security, employment, and peace.” In the grotto, the cardinal eased himself down to his knees to say a quiet prayer at the spot traditionally held to be the birthplace of Jesus.

For him, as he had said earlier, the path to peace is about love and service and caring for those who are suffering. And for that, he said, he is thankful for the work the Pontifical Mission has been carrying out for the past 75 years.

Read “A Sign of Hope in the Holy Land” in the June 2024 edition of ONE magazine.

Judith Sudilovsky is an award-winning journalist who has been covering issues of faith, hope and life in Israel and Palestine for more than 30 years.

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