As we conclude day 8, which is also the final full of this amazing adventure, we conclude the Bishops' Prayer Pilgrimage for Peace. Just as all the first seven days were full and amazing, day 8 was, as hard as it is to imagine, even longer and fuller than these last ones have been.
I was very much looking forward to visiting Bethlehem since I had never visited there before. We left the hotel at 7:00 a.m. to arrive in time to celebrate Mass in the Church of the Nativity at 8:00 a.m. How great to see Manger Square, which I've seen on so many Christmas Eves as Mass is celebrated from there each year. The original church, dating back to the 7th century, is under renovation; we celebrated Mass in the Chapel of St. Catherine of Alexandria,
We left the City to drive a short distance to the Marie Doty Park in Bethlehem for an Interfaith Prayer for Peace Service, which included Catholics/Christians, Jews and Muslims. It was a beautiful time of prayer and conversation.
We then travelled to Hebron, perhaps the most ancient part of Israel, a city that traces its roots back 3,500 years to King David's time---the place where the patriarchs of Judaism and Islam are buried.
The final part of the day was spent over dinner at a wonderful place known as Tandor, which is run by the Holy Cross Community (the same ones who are our neighbors in South Bend at a little place known as Notre Dame). This place, dedicated to ecumenical dialogue and study, runs sabbatical programs for priests and others. We had a delicious dinner with a number of ecumenical leaders, along with those who are there on sabbatical. We enjoyed a wonderful time of conversation and dialogue, and then concluded, appropriately enough for us, with a beautiful time of prayer for peace.
I have written before about the "Wall" that runs along the borders marking the Israeli controlled and the Palestinian controlled lands within the Holy Land. It is the ugliest sight in all of the Holy Land---and it is impossible not to see it. It's everywhere. In some places it looks like the Great Wall of China, but far less beautiful. It's symbolically toxic. Those on one side of the wall say it is for their protection and security; those on the other side of the wall experience it as separation, exclusion, and areason to be treated with indignity and disrespect. Part of this incredibly long Wall runs along the border between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The only way to get through it is through checkpoints guarded by armed guards.
I have learned a lot during this week. I have seen a lot this week---much more than at times I wanted to see. I and my brother bishops have prayed intently this week with religious leaders of all faiths, and with sisters and brothers in our Catholic family living, and suffering, in this Holy Land. As I prepare to return back to the United States, and back home to the Diocese of Kalamazoo, in many ways I'm more confused that when I came seven days ago, even though I've learned a lot. In spite of all the depressing, sad, and discouraging things I've seen while here, and even though I may be confused as I try to sort out this entire experience in my mind and in my spirit, while this might sound like a contradiction, I am returning home also very inspired by so many things that I have seen, by so many great, courageous and devoted people that I have met, and by the absolute conviction that, while this whole situation is "complicated", and to some people a solution seems impossible, I believe with all my heart what Jesus Himself taught us: "with God, all things are possible.” This is the Land of Miracles. And I for one believe in miracles. Let us continue to pray for, work for, dialogue for, learn for peace and justice for all people in the Holy Land, and pray for the miracle of changed hearts, open minds, and eyes and ears ready to see and hear what God shows us and says. And one day, we can sing that song of the Angels and mean it: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to people of good will." Let it be so!