Arizona Mosque: “Why Do You Hate Us?”

In early November last year I was invited, along with Palestinian Christian Sami Awad and Israeli Danny Sherman to speak to a group of Muslims in Phoenix, Arizona. We, as American and Palestinian Christians and an Israeli Jew, were able to speak with this community about peace-building efforts in the Middle East. It was a blessing to have this time and the people I met there were excited and willing to be a part of these peace-building efforts.

When we opened up the floor for questions about half way through our time that evening, a young Muslim boy in the audience raised his hand and asked, “Why do Christians hate us?”

Sami Awad initially answered this question. He told the boy that it’s not all Christians that hate Muslims. He said that Christians who claim to follow Jesus and hate, attack, and fear Muslims are failing to live into the teachings of Christ. For Jesus tells us to love everyone. Christians are even called to “love our enemies.” (Matthew 5:44)

When I heard this young Muslim boy’s question: “Why do Christians hate us?” My heart was broken. Hatred toward Muslims is wrong — for all of us — especially for those of us who choose to follow Jesus.

When I had the opportunity to respond to this young boy’s question, I said, “Because we don’t know you.” Getting to know people who are outside of our standard circles — particularly those outside of our own faith traditions — is a crucial step to raising awareness and enabling ourselves to build bridges that lead to peace. This is especially true for high-tension and multi-faceted subjects like the conflicts in the Middle East and the growing tension between American Christians and Muslims.

AZ ArticleThis talk took place at the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix. The same place where people organized an anti-Muslim rally and on May 29 protesters showed up outside wearing shirts with profanity and carrying weapons. I can only imagine what that young boy must have been thinking. I can only wonder if people within that community remembered our words about what it looks like to follow the teachings of Jesus. In the face of such divisive force, how might those Muslims have experienced Christian followers of Jesus?

It’s devastating to me as a follower of Jesus to see some of the ways we as Christians have responded to other people of faith. I hope that Muslims and people of other faiths who have been victimized by people claiming the name of Christ hear from me my deepest grief at this injustice. I hope these words convey my apologies on behalf of the Christian community for ways you might have been mistreated simply because of the things that you believe. I don’t believe that is what Jesus calls us to do; I believe Jesus calls us to be a lover of all people. And I believe that Jesus says to us that we should respond to the needs of all people regardless of their religion, or regardless of any other differentiating factor.

Despite the threatening site of people armed with weapons outside of the Muslim place of worship in Phoenix that night, stories of peace and stories of transformation still came out of this conflict. The Washington Post reports, “About 250 mostly armed anti-Muslim demonstrators — many wearing T-shirts bearing a profanity-laced message denouncing Islam — faced-off against a crowd of roughly the same size defending the faith in front of a Phoenix mosque Friday night.” In that city, that night, at least as many people stood for peace and community as stood for violence and division. That is not a small thing.

Usama Shami, the President of the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix, invited the crowd inside to join the evening prayers. At least one protester, Jason Leger, took Shami up on this offer and later said, “It was something I’ve never seen before. I took my shoes off. I kneeled. I saw a bunch of peaceful people. We all got along,” Leger also vowed to never again wear his anti-Muslim t-shirt that he wore to the event.

That November evening I spent at the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix, I said that we have to change the dialogue and change the conversation. We must get to know each other in order to pursue actions that lead to peace. I’m thankful for the story of one protester who decided to get to know his neighbor and how transformative his experience was in changing the dialogue. My prayer is that all people will make these same efforts towards peace.

I hope that as we as a national community continue to talk about interfaith issues. May we all intentionally work toward peace and reconciliation as we seek to love all people as our neighbors.

The Peacemaker’s Litany

Over the course of my ministry, I have had the great privilege of witnessing movements and individual leaders seeking peace. The broad scope of peace includes the personal quest for inner centeredness and rightness before God and also the corporate manifestation of Biblical shalom and justice in the world around us. In my research and writing (such as Just Spirituality: How Faith Practices Fuel Social Action), I’ve looked deeply at the connection of the spiritual lives of some of the world’s most influential peacebuilders. We should be encouraged to know there are incredible individuals and communities striving for peace in our own backyards, in the Holy Land, and around the world. For Christians, the foundation of this peace work is rooted in our spiritual practices that connect us to the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.

This Peacemaker’s Litany is one of my favorite personal devotions to help us to submit to the Prince of Peace.

Many years ago I was in a meeting at work and a guest came in to talk with us about the church in the Middle East. He shared this prayer:

Gracious Lord, we dream of a world free of poverty and oppression, and we yearn for a world free of vengeance and violence. We pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

When our hearts ache for the victims of war and oppression, help us to remember that you healed people simply by touching them… and give us faith in our ability to comfort and heal bodies, minds and spirits that have been broken by violence.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

When the injustices of this world seem too much for us to handle, help us to remember that you fed five thousand people with only five loaves of bread and two fishes… and give us hope that what we have to offer will turn out to be enough, too.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

When the fear of the power and opinions of others tempts us not to speak up for the least among us, help us to remember you dared to turn over the money-changers’ tables… and give us the courage to risk following you without counting the cost.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

When we feel ourselves fill with anger at those who are violent and oppressive, help us remember that you prayed for those who killed you… and give us compassion for our enemies, too.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

When we tell ourselves that we have given all we can to bring peace to this world, help us to remember your sacrifice… and give us the miracle of losing more of ourselves in serving you and our neighbors.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Walk with us Lord, as we answer your call to be peacemakers. Increase our compassion, generosity and hospitality for the least of your children. Give us courage, patience, serenity, self-honesty and gentleness of spirit need in a world filled with turmoil and terror.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. Amen.

This prayer was written by Jack Knox and is used with permission. It may be found inJust Spirituality: How Faith Practices Fuel Social Action (InterVarsity Press, 2013).

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One of the foundational ways we remain connected to Jesus Christ is through prayer. The ancient Christian church tradition of praying a pre-worded call and response prayer between the leader and the congregation is a powerful way to join together in unity and to pray for peace. In working for peace and justice, it is common to be at a loss for words as to how to communicate both the brokenness and our hope and cry for peace. Having words to repeat over and over again as we seek justice allows us to remain rooted in the truths of the peace of Jesus Christ. This is a way we can convey our hope for the world in situations that seem hopeless.

I was moved by the encouragement in Knox’s prayer to trust in God’s intervention and example. In Matthew 5:9 during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shared these words: “Blessed are the peacemakers; for they will be called children of God.” Despite the quiet and reflective connotations of “peace” – peacemaking is often far from a tranquil endeavor. Intentionally praying prayers like this is one way to root ourselves in the strength needed to be called the peace-making children of God.

 

Read on Huffington Post

EU warned ‘time is almost up’ for children of Gaza

This summer, the world watched in horror as Israel and Hamas once again collapsed into open warfare for the third time in seven years. This most recent war resulted in the deaths of 501 Palestinian children in Gaza, with more than 3374 children injured.

When war and violence escalate in this region, global media attention brings accusations and claims of disproportionality, human shields, rising casualties, and children running to bomb shelters. The ceasefire is accompanied by blame games and calculations of winners and losers. Little if anything changes on the ground and the stage is set for yet another conflict.

However, this is not a run-of-the-mill cycle of violence. What was a humanitarian crisis before this summer’s conflict has become a catastrophe. Gaza is not moving in cycles – it is on a downward trajectory toward total collapse. And time is almost up for the children in Gaza.

Read the rest at The Parliament Magazine

Shepherd’s Field – Peace on Earth on whom His Favor Rests

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of The Lord appeared to them, and the glory of The Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, The Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 


Suddenly, a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which The Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:8-15)

I am sitting in Shepherd’s Field… the Holy Site in Beit Sahour where thousands upon thousands of pilgrims travel every year to spend time in the place where the angels made this proclamation to the local shepherds. We are just outside of Bethlehem… only a few kilometers from Jerusalem.

It is Sunday morning, a day of Sabbath… and rest… and time set aside to meet in fellowship and community with the body of Christ and with our Creator. It is such an incredible privilege to work in this place. The opportunity to regularly enter into the pilgrims experience – to see and breathe and rest in the holiest of places where Jesus lived, breathed, and ministered on this earth. I pray regularly to have the opportunity to see and experience God in this place.
Here is a small picture of the things I am seeing and experiencing: A rooster crows in the distance. A group of worshipers is singing unto God in a language that I do not understand from the chapel up on the hill. Waves of pilgrims come – at first with a few dozen and then the crowd seems to abate. A cat is meowing. And in the distance is the sound of construction. A Palestinian community is being built. The building interrupts the quiet spirit of worship in this place. The settlement of Har Homar stands tall and large in the distance. The fence of the separation barrier cuts across the rocky fields where shepherds today still herd their sheep.

Many times I cannot make sense of all of the things we see and experience here in this place. This is the Holy Land. A land of contradictions. A land with historic value and profound spiritual significance. A land of great beauty, sacred space, incredible people. It is also a land of great suffering and brokenness. A land of impoverished people seeking freedom and independence. A land of a people who have experienced historic suffering and are seeking peace, security, and safety.

In our devotions this morning, the following passage was shared (Isaiah 55:8): “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares The Lord. 

I rest into these words. May The Lord give us a better understanding of his heart, mind, and thoughts. Glory to God… and on earth – and here in this place – peace to those on whom his favor rests.


Beauty from Ashes: Welcoming the Stranger

I am blogging today over at World Vision’s Women of Vision blog as part of their Lenten devotional series!

Jaclyn, Joni, Marie, and Angela

I began my journey with World Vision just over a year ago when I was hired to work with our supporters to educate and encourage around our work in the Holy Land. Little did I know, that in one of the world’s most conflict ridden places, I would find an unexpected beauty in the welcome and hospitality of our staff, supporters, and children!

One of my first work responsibilities was to host a small group from our Orange County Women of Vision chapter – traveling with one of the champions of the faith, Angela Mason, former Chapter Advisor for Women of Vision. I had known Angela from my previous work in the local church in California. I admired her vitality, passion, and zest for responding to the needs of the world’s poor. For years, her work had captured my attention and my heart for children from Romania, to Lesotho, and all over the world. The idea of traveling with her to the Holy Land was thrilling! I consider it a great privilege that she asked me to lead the trip.

Check out the full entry there . . .

Tony Campolo & Red Letter Christians

I was first introduced to Tony Campolo’s ministry when I was about 13 years old. I attended the Christian music festival – Creation –  somewhere in the Appalachian mountains. I was mesmerized as Tony talked about our call as Christians to love and serve God… and also to respond to the needs of the world’s poor. Tony’s message might have been the first time I heard about how it is a critical part of our Christian walk to live out the words of Jesus in Matthew 25: “Whatever you do unto one of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do unto me.” Other than the News Boys entering the main field by helicopter, Tony’s message is the one that I remember most.

A couple of years ago, I met Tony in Bethlehem at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference. There I heard him speak a similar message of love, reconciliation, and forgiveness… and also a call to live out God’s heart for mercy and justice in the world. During the conference we ran into each other a couple of times. At one point, we were on the elevator and started to chat. I told him a little bit about my work and ministry… and he said something to the effect, “I know… I have your book on my desk.” I will carry those words with me forever! What a great and humbling privilege!

This past March, Tony was once again at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference in Bethlehem. He gave a powerful message: “Using the Red Letters of the Bible as Guides to Peace and Reconciliation.” You can watch his message here:

 

 

What does it mean to be a Red Letter Christian?

The goal of Red Letter Christians is simple: To take Jesus seriously by endeavoring to live out His radical, counter-cultural teachings as set forth in Scripture, and especially embracing the lifestyle prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount. I consider it an honor to be friends with many others who share similar values and are committed to living out Jesus’ call to meet the needs of the poor. Visit the Red Letter Christian blog and website to learn more about this amazing community!

The Role of Religion in Global Society at the University of CA – Santa Barbara

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to speak on a panel at the University of California – Santa Barbara’s Luce Project on Religion in Global Civil Society. The topic of discussion was “The Role of Religion in Global Society: A Focus on the Middle East and Africa.” The dialogue was very thought provoking and included questions about the significance of religion in international development.

 

Participants included academics, practitioners, and religious leaders from various cultural backgrounds and faiths.

Here is a brief response to one of the questions I was asked:

Role of Religion on World Visions’s work in the Middle East:

World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization providing hope and assistance to tens of millions of people in nearly 100 countries around the world. Motivated by our faith in Jesus Christ, World Vision serves alongside the poor and oppressed as a demonstration of God’s unconditional love for all people. World Vision serves all people, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or gender. We seek to honor God in all that we do; to honor our donors and the public by being transparent about our motivation; and to honor those we serve as well as our colleagues in the field. Our passion is for the world’s poorest children. The ability of these children to reach their God-given potential depends on the physical, social, and spiritual strength of their families and communities. To help secure a better future for each child, we focus on lasting, community-based transformation. We partner with individuals and communities, empowering them to develop sustainable access to clean water, food supplies, health care, education, and economic opportunities. World Vision works in several regions of the Middle East including Afghanistan, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel/Palestine. Throughout the years World Vision has been involved in the Middle East, serious conflicts throughout the region have had profound impact on the lives of children. As a Christian organization, World Vision affirms that all people have the right to life, food, liberty, security, education, and adequate health care.  These rights also have been enshrined in such international agreements as the UN International Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), highlighting the responsibility we all have to ensure these rights are protected for all children throughout the Middle East.

Please note: While the above paragraph speaks to World Vision’s work in the ME, this blog is personal and the views here represent exclusively the owner of this blog.

Christ at the Checkpoint 2012: Palestinian Women Leaders

I have now been back in the U.S. after spending a month in the Middle East… first in Egypt… and then in Israel/Palestine. I wanted to write almost everyday that I was on the ground, but found myself caught up in activities of work, ministry, and life. Nonetheless, I am committed to writing about some of the things I saw and experienced.

It was a great privilege for me to participate in this year’s Christ at the Checkpoint Conference in Bethlehem (March 2012). The first conference was hosted in 2010 by Bethlehem Bible College, an evangelical organization committed to spreading the light of Christ through Biblical education and training. There is a great book available which highlights some of the talks from the first conference called Christ at the Checkpoint: Theology in the Service of Justice and Peace. I wrote one of the chapters.

This year’s event was the second conference and it was amazing to notice many of the differences. It seemed twice as many people attended. The tone of the conference was intentionally focused on empowering and encouraging the Palestinian church, creating a platform for open dialogue and engagement for evangelicals, and motivating participants to become advocates of reconciliation… while also calling attention to the reality of daily life for Palestinians, particularly those in the Christian community. While I don’t agree with everything that was discussed at the conference, I do believe the platform is a critical one from which the Palestinian evangelical community can use their voice and engage in the public sphere. Biblical scholars and Christian leaders from around the world came to talk about the Scriptures, the people of Israel in a theological context, the land, and God’s heart for righteousness and justice. I was one of the “speakers” and led an hour panel discussion of Palestinian women leaders. Here is a video of the panel that I facilitated:

Palestinian Women in Ministry from Christ at the Checkpoint on Vimeo.

The participants on the panel were Diana Simaan, Grace Al-Zoughbi, Dina Katanacho, and Shadia Qubti. A brief biography of each of these women is provided below. They are amazing leaders who are doing great work on behalf of the kingdom!

Diana Simaan: Diana is the program director of the Palestinian Bible Society. She is currently involved in a project dealing with the building of Palestinian families by developing communication skills within the family. Diana has a M.A. in Health Administration from Tel Aviv University. She oversees other projects that involve empowering youth.

Grace Al-Zoughbi: A Christian Palestinian from Bethlehem, Grace serves as a teacher at Bethlehem Bible College. Grace was an undergraduate student at the college and finished her M.A. in the Theology of Transformation: Church, Scripture and World from the London School of Theology in 2010. Her dissertation entitled: “A Study of Six Influential Women: Evaluating their Personal Impact in Old Testament Times and in Palestine Today,” sought to explore the idea of the dignity of women and ways in which women can seek to defend and promote values that are associated with this idea, specifically within strong patriarchal contexts. In addition to her teaching position, Grace takes part in leading a varity of programmes through her local church in Bethlehem.

Dina Katanacho: Dina Katanacho is a Palestinian Arab Israeli leader. She has earned her B.Ed. at David Yallin College (an Israeli college) and is finishing up her M.A. in Christian Ministry at Bethlehem Bible College (a Palestinian college). Dina works now as the director of the Arab Israeli Bible Society. She has led many projects empowering women to serve God and advocating family oriented ministries in which both men and women are advocating the Kingdom of God. Dina is responsible to make the Bible available for 1.5 million Palestinian Arab Israeli Citizens. She is married and has three boys.

Shadia Qubti: Shadia Qubti is a Christian Palestinian living in the Galilee, Israel. Qubti works with Musalaha, a faith-based organization that promotes reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. She was born and raised in Nazareth. She finished her undergraduate degree at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in International Relations and English Language, and her postgraduate degree in Conflict Resolution and Nonviolent Action in Trinity College University in Dublin, Ireland. In her free time, she is a member of Alphateam, a worship team that produces and composes local Palestinian Arabic songs (www.alphateam.org.).

 

 

Mohammad: Jerusalem, the Land, and the Way Things Used to Be

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to get to know a Muslim named Mohammad from the Old City of Jerusalem. He is the proprietor of a new hotel in Jericho who graciously gave me a ride back to Beit Hanina in Jerusalem.

The ride from Jericho to Jerusalem is one of my favorites. It is through the Judean wilderness – the desert. Every time I travel along that road the mountains of sand, rock, and stuble are different. Depending on the time of day, the light reflects different colors across the miles of wilderness. The desert of Judea is where John the Baptist preached and cried out “Make way for the Lord.” The mountains surrounding the city of Jericho are where Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. And somewhere along that same road is where the story of the Good Samaritan took place. What remarkable history.

As we were traveling, Mohammad and I started to talk about Jerusalem. He grew up in the Old City and told me stories of what things used to be like when he was young. He told me some stories that he had heard from his grandparents about the way things were during the early 20th century. More than a hundred years ago… Jerusalem used to be a city where Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived side by side in peace. Mohammad’s family lived in the Muslim quarter of the Old City. They had neighbors who were Arab Christians. When his great-grandfather was a baby, his mother was very close to her Christian neighbor who had a baby around the same time. Mohammad told me that the two little boys were brought up together. Their families were so close that the Muslim little boy was fed milk from the Christian mother’s breast. Just as the Christian little boy was fed by Mohammad’s great-great-grandmother. As Mohammad told me this story, I was a bit incredulous. When I asked if he was speaking literally, he affirmed that the story was true. Because both Mohammad’s great-grandfather and his Christian neighbor were raised in this way, taking milk from each other’s mother, they are brothers. Such was the way things used to be in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Similarly in regard to their Jewish neighbors… Mohammad’s grandmother had a Jewish neighbor with whom they were very close. So much so that his grandmother learned Yiddish (pronounced ee-dish in Arabic). Every week during Shabbat, the Jewish family could not light the oil for their lamps because it would be a violation of the Sabbath. Thus, Mohammad’s grandmother – week by week by week – had the role of bringing light to the Jewish family who were her neighbors. Such was the way things used to be in the Old City of Jerusalem.

As Mohammad was telling me these stories, I must confess, I was a bit enraptured. The images he created gave me a glimpse of what things might have been like generations ago in this Holy City. One of the final stories that I heard from Mohammad is a sort of fable… I am surprised that I had never heard it before. It is about the land:

There once was a man who lived in a village. He was Jewish. The Jewish man believed that the four corners of the land belonged to him. There was another man who lived in the same village who was an Arab. The Arab believed the same four corners of land belonged to him. Because the men were fighting over the land, they decided to bring a wise man to settle their dispute. The wise man could have been a sheik or a priest or a rabbi. The wise man came and met with the two men. The Arab man told the wise man, “This land belongs to me.” The Jewish man told the wise man, “No. This land belongs to me.” The wise man was very gifted. He could hear quiet whispers of truth and knew how to interpret the whispers of creation around him. The wise man told the two men – enough of your fighting about the land. Let us hear what the land has to say about all of this. The wise man then went to the center of the four corners of the land. He laid himself down on the earth and put his ear to the ground. He lay their quietly for a long period of time. The two men began to become impatient and they said, “Who does the land say it belongs to?” The wise man told them to be quiet… that he needed to hear the whispering of the land. After even more time had passed the wise man got up from the ground. The Jewish man said “Does the land say it belongs to me?” And the Arab man said “Does the land say it belongs to me?” The wise man responded… “No. The land says that you both belong to it.”

As I have lived here in the land for the past five or so months… I am starting to feel like I too belong to the land. The land is holy. Holy for Jews. Holy for Muslims. Holy for Christians.

Holy Saturday in Jerusalem: Military Fortress and Holy Fire

 
Many of the young men and women who were marching today wore clothing with the Jerusalem cross – also known as the Crusaders Cross. The four smaller crosses are supposed to be a symbol of the four Gospels and representative of the four different directions (North, South, East, West) that the Gospel went forth from Jerusalem.

 Holidays in the Holy Land are both inspiring and depressing. Today I had the opportunity to go to the Old City of Jerusalem for Holy Saturday. In the Orthodox tradition, this day is full of celebration in anticipation of Easter morning. I am told in years past that thousands of local Christian communities with international pilgrims from around the world would gather in the Old City for worship and celebration. Processionals with dozens of different bands and Boy Scout troops (with boys and girls) would lead the way in preparation for Easter. Today is particularly special because it is the only day of the year when the sacred light or “Holy Fire” – the fire that lights the tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – comes out into the world. The fire from the tomb is spread from candle to candle all over the church and throughout the streets of the Old City – a symbol of the way that Christ’s light is spread into the world. However, holidays in the Holy Land are also stark reminders of the reality of military occupation and the darkside of the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Signs of the fortress… open conflict between the army and Christians attempting to reach the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to worship. One elderly woman was weeping as she attempted and was unable to pass through the barrier on her way to the church.

Leaving home today, I was told that we may not be able to enter into the Old City. In the past several years, military presence has been so strong that only a few hundred people have been allowed to enter. The city is surrounded by Israeli police and military and there are checkpoints at every entrance…

Today the gates of the Old City were blocked by guards and police who restricted entrance to the Sacred City. When we arrived at the New Gate there were several dozen people pushing toward the gated entrance – many (if not most) of whom were told that entry was not possible. Absolutely no foreigners were allowed. Most of the people trying to get in were local Palestinians. I was with two Jerusalemites – who graciously told me to be quiet and not speak any English. Fortunately, they (and thus me) were allowed entrance through the throng. I heard stories today of people who traveled around the world to be able to be a part of the Festival of Holy Fire – only to be turned away at the gates. One woman, a Syrian Arab living in Australia, has been rejected three years in a row. It is her dream to be able to worship on Holy Saturday in the Church of Holy Sepulchre. I was privileged to be one of the few who made it into the Old City even though we were restricted by several checkpoints along the way. We were not able to go to the church, but we were able to see some of the days celebrations. As we were waiting for the parade to come by the section where we were standing, I was overcome by the reality of “force” present with the military. Why are people not allowed to travel freely to worship? Today is one of the most holy days for Christian Arabs who live in Israel, Jerusalem, and the West Bank. And the pressure put upon them, limiting their movements – even their worship, is difficult to describe. The military presence was only in the city from early morning until 2 p.m. – the military presence begins during the specific hours when worship is scheduled and ends when all of the parades and celebrations are supposed to have finished. A friend described the scene as a military fortress – a terribly accurate description. I have never quite seen anything like it…

However, I saw a glimpse of what things might have been like a decade ago… I saw young boys and girls wearing beautiful Boy Scout uniforms smiling while having their pictures taken with their parents. I saw young and strong men and women playing the bagpipes and shouting over and over again “Sabt el Noor, Ou Ayyadna, Ou Ayyadna Issael Masih” which means “Saturday of Lights & the holiday, the holiday of Jesus the Messiah.” I saw the Holy Fire – taken from the sacred space at the Tomb of the Holy Sepulchre passed along candle by candle through the crowds… a beautiful image… Light in the midst of darkness… May the Light of Christ truly come to the Holy City…

Participants sharing the Holy Fire as the Light is spread

throughout the Old City of Jerusalem.

I saw many things today. I was reminded once again of the fortitude of the Palestinian people… a people removed from their homeland who have been displaced since the 1948 war… Many of the residents of the Holy City of Jerusalem do not have any nationality; no status of citizenship. Most do not hold passports – they are not Jordanian – they are not Israeli – they are Palestinian. Yet the world has still not yet recognized the degree to which they have sacrificed… and the degree to which – day by day – they continue to sacrifice. Today, as I saw the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem gather for worship… I am reminded of the great hope that Easter represents. As the sun breaks forth upon Easter morning, we are reminded “He is Risen”… Christ was not defeated on the cross… the worldly powers did not have their way… injustice will not reign for ever… there is hope on the horizon… May it be so for the Holy City of Jerusalem… and may it be so for the people of Israel and Palestine.