We were accompanied on our bus tour from 8:00 until 11:00 a.m. by Attorney Daniel Seidemann, who refers to himself as Danny, and who is one of the most influential and knowledgeable people in the world about the Israeli situation. He was born and raised in the United States, and more than 40 years ago, emigrated (along with thousands of others) to become citizens of Israel. He refers to himself as a "Zionist"---not religious, but deeply devoted to a just and equitable solution for all involved in this conflict over Jerusalem.
Before proceeding, let me confess something: I realize now how uninformed---or should I say misinformed---I have been about the complete story about the situation here in the Holy Land. Let me also say: I dare say that most Americans might need to confess the same thing. Most of us, naturally, get our information from the secular media; however, as we all know, the media is not usually objectively accurate---rather it is typically slanted in one direction or another. That being said, I believe that I, along with most people, do not have an adequate sense of what the situation is here in the Holy Land, nor do we understand the reasons behind why things are the way they are. Even more, I don't believe that most of us have an appreciation of the dire consequences that might await this part of the world, and indeed the entire world, if the wrong solution is found for the control of Jerusalem.
Going back to Danny Seidemann, he took us to six very significant sites along the "green line" (the line which divides East Jerusalem (Palestinian controlled) and West Jerusalem (Israeli controlled), which of course include such holy sights as the Mount of Olives
Mount of Olives
and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and so many others. He gave an impassioned and articulate overview trying to explain the complexities involved in this age-old conflict. I can't possibly get into all of that here; let me just make a plea to all of us that we would attempt to learn more about this situation rather than simply accepting what it is that we read in the newspapers or on the internet. The root of this situation is faith; there are lots of cultural complexities involved; and there is undeniably political issues at stake---both locally here in Israel, as well as globally, including in the United States. However, the bottom line question is: what is the just solution to this problem? What is it going to take to find a solution that is just, and one that will lead to peace.
Let me just say that one of the disastrous facts that I learned today is that in 1967, when the new arrangement was established, Christians made up nearly 20% of the population in Jerusalem; now, it's down to 1.5%; due to many factors, including religious persecution, Christians have been fleeing out of fear and for other reasons. Let me say again: only 1.5% of the population are Christians---which includes Catholics, Orthodox, and others. If that decline continues, it doesn't take much to see that the Holy Land will become a museum to Christianity; it will have lost the vitality and presence of the Catholic and Christian Church in that holiest part of the world. That would be a disaster for everyone! Something must be done to find a just solution, leading to peace.
Following this enlightening tour, we travelled to the Latin Patriarchate (the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jerusalem) to meet His Beatitude (which is an alternative form of His Excellency) Patriarch Fouad Twal, along with his two auxiliary bishops and a number of his staff.
Patriarch Fouad Twal is leaning forward
after which he hosted a wonderful luncheon for us and many of those involved in the leadership of the Church here in Jerusalem.
We then went to visit the Custos, that is the Guardian, of the Holy Places in the Holy Land, a Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzabella, who also gave us some great insights---though I would have to say they were not all that optimistic insights---into the current situations here in the Holy Land.
We returned to the Hotel about 3:30 for some brief time of rest. By the way, I should say that the weather here is wonderful. However, today it was extremely hot---in the high 90's. There is no rain in the forecast throughout the time of our Pilgrimage.
At 5:30 we got back on the bus to travel to a Reformed Jewish Synagogue to join them for an interfaith prayer service as they welcomed in the Sabbath. It was quite an interesting, and yet very devotional and spiritually uplifting time of prayer. We returned to the Hotel for dinner at which the Consul General from the United States to Palestine, Mr. Michael Rainey, met with us to give us his impressions of this difficult and complex situation. His words were very enlightening, but I have to say, not all that encouraging.
So, all in all, this was a very long, enlightening, and disconcerting day. We traveled a lot, we learned a lot, and we prayed a lot. As we conclude this second Day of the Bishops' Pilgrimage for Peace, may we pray, asking the Holy Name of Mary to lead us closer to her Son Jesus, Who is the Way to Peace!
Here are some additional photos--
Here I am in front of the Old City--notice the Golden Dome in the background
Here we are erected praying at the Wall built by the Israelis several years ago further dividing the Jewish and Pslestinian residents of Jerusalem.