Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Day 7: A Time of Remembrance

Day 7: September 17, 2014  
        If yesterday was a time to celebrate the Annunciation since we began the day with the celebration of Mass at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth,
then today should be a time to celebrate the 2nd Joyful Mystery, the Visitation, since we began by celebrating Mass at the Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem.  As we all know, the Feast of the Visitation came about because after the Archangel Gabriel secured Mary's "Yes" to God's request that she become the Mother of Jesus, Gabriel also told Mary that her cousin, Elizabeth, who was an older woman and to that point in her life, barren, had become pregnant and in fact was in her sixth month, "for", as Gabriel stated, "nothing is impossible with God".  The next thing that St. Luke tells us is that Mary immediately packed and traveled into the "hill country of Judea" to spend the next three months with her cousin to help her and to see her through to the delivery of her blessed son, who would be the one we know as John the Baptist.  This was my first visit to the Church of the Visitation, which is truly in the beautiful, lush hillside not far from Jerusalem.  That means that Mary, herself now pregnant, had to travel through the mountains all the way from Nazareth to Ein Karem, which is perhaps more than 120 miles (the better part of a three-hour bus ride).  To realize that fact puts the "Visitation" in a whole new light for me.
         Once we arrived in the beautiful town of Ein Karem and got out of the bus, we still had quite a walk through the village, and up a steep hill which has perhaps as many as 100 steps up to where the church is.  Needless to say, there were many of us huffing and puffing by the time we reached our destination.  The Church is small, and beautiful.  We had a beautiful celebration of the Holy Eucharist commemorating the Readings and Prayers of the Feast of the Visitation.  What a wonderful way to begin our 7th day in the Holy Land on our Bishops' Pilgrimage for Peace.

        Today was a day of more meetings, but also a time of profound remembrance.
        After returning to the hotel from celebrating Mass, we had a meeting with two representatives of the Israeli government in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bureau of Jewish Affairs and World Religions.   That meeting was followed immediately by a meeting with the Council of Religious Institutes in the Holy Land, chaired by an Evangelical Lutheran Bishop, and accompanied by a Muslim and a Rabbi, who shared with us their concerns of "the complex situation.”  Needless to say they advocate strong involvement of Church leaders, and feel very strongly that the Church throughout the world must support a solution.  We left that meeting to travel to a restaurant in Jerusalem to meet, pray and discuss with a Jewish Rabbi. 
        At this point, I can say that the major points, no matter who is sharing the information with us, is always the same; however, there are diametrically opposite opinions as to who is responsible, and who must do what.   It's very clear that "someone" needs to "do something"; however, in most cases, it should be "them" that has to change, not "us.”  That's part of the essence of why this is such a difficult and complex problem. 
        We left the lunch/meeting to travel to Yad Vashem, on the hillside of Jerusalem,

which is the world's largest museum commemorating the Jewish Holocaust.  It was a profoundly moving and disturbing visit.  We were privileged to have with us one of the Holocaust survivors, Rabbi Fabion Schonfeld (91) along with his wife.  Though aged and frail, Rabbi Schonfeld was very articulate in telling his story of survival.  His daughter, Debbie,
was our knowledgeable tour guide.  There are no words that can adequately express the horror of this atrocity and attempted genocide of the Jewish people living not only in Germany but in most of the countries in Europe which Hitler was conquering in his attempt to establish the Third Reich in the 1930's and 1940's.  What is so sad, for all of humanity, is that the world stood by and did not speak out.  I know that is one of the sins that most people of good will continue to deeply regret and of which we repent.  Of course, as with all historical events, we must also learn as best we can, not only never to forget, but also never to repeat the same sin/atrocity. 

        In many ways, that is what is happening in our world now.  ISIS is committing unspeakable crimes of inhumanity and barbarism even as we speak, waging so-called "holy war" against any one (Jew, Christian, or even fellow Muslims) that does not bow to their opinions and perspectives, indiscriminately.  It is this "fear" learned from the past and the "fear" of the present that is, in my opinion, making the finding of an equitable, just and peaceful solution to this "complex problem" in the Holy Land so very difficult.  It's not bad will; it's not bad people; rather, I believe, it's fear.  Or to put it another way, it's the inability to trust the "other.” 
        At the end of our visit to Yad Vashem, we Bishops, joined with Rabbi Schonfeld and his family, concluded with a beautiful time of shared prayer in the front of this powerful memorial. 
        We returned to the hotel, had an internal meeting among ourselves to help us to process all that we have been seeing and learning, and concluded the day with a beautiful dinner with the leaders of HLTOA, the Holy Land Tour Operators Association.  This is a group of 48 Christian and Muslim tour guides in the Holy Land area that are encouraging pilgrimages and tours to the Holy Land, and of course, urging us to use Christian touring companies to help support them in their livelihood.  During our time here, we have been associated with the Near East Travel company, which has been excellent.
        Our Pilgrimage is coming to an end.  Bishop Pates, the head of our delegation, had to return to his diocese this evening, and four more bishops will be leaving tomorrow.  The remainder of us will spend the entire day in Bethlehem, and then depart on Friday.  So, as we have celebrated the Annunciation and the Visitation, can you guess what we will be celebrating tomorrow in Bethlehem?

        Part of what is common ground among the world's three major religions is the great love and respect for our Blessed Mother.  Let me conclude today's reflection with selected verses of our Blessed Lady's great prayer of praise, the Magnificat:  "My soul proclaims the greatness of The Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior...the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name.  He has mercy on those who fear Him in every generation.  He has shown the strength of His arm, He has scattered the proud in their conceit.  He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly....He has come to the help of His servant Israel, for He has remembered His promise of mercy, the promise He made to our fathers, to Abraham and His children forever."  Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us; lead us to Jesus, Who will lead us to Justice and Peace.   Amen.

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