A trip to the Holy Land: Jerusalem journal
By Helene E. Paharik
Recently, Helene Paharik, director of the diocesan Department for Human Dignity, traveled to the Holy Land to visit and pray with Catholic organizations in the region. Below is an excerpt from her journal describing a day spent in Bethlehem with Hanan Nasrallah of Catholic Relief Services. To learn more about CRS, visit their website at: www.crs.org.
Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian and development agency of the Catholic Church in the United States. One of my tasks in our diocese is to serve as the diocesan director for CRS.
After lauds and Mass with the Benedictine monks at Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion, I began my trek across the Old City to meet Hanan Nasrallah, a senior project officer for CRS in the Holy Land. It was already hot, though the sun was still partly hidden behind the Mount of Olives. As I walked over the cobbled pavement, 30 or so adorable Israeli girls in matching cerulean skirts passed me, giggling on their way to school. My fingers slipped into my pocket for my olive wood rosary. When I am in the Holy Land, one of my favorite things to do is to pray the mysteries of the rosary in the places where they occurred. I thought about what mysteries I should say today. Since the school girls I had just encountered exuded such joy, and because I was on my way to Bethlehem, it was an easy choice: the Joyful Mysteries. These mysteries provided the lens through which I interpreted my day with CRS.
The First Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation. Hanan Nasrallah is a highly educated Palestinian Christian woman who has served CRS for over a decade. As I entered her car, we introduced ourselves and reviewed our itinerary for our day in Bethlehem.
The town of Bethlehem is a Palestinian community in the occupied West Bank. I always feel sad as I approach the fortified checkpoint. Ten years ago, when Palestinian suicide bombers injured and killed scores innocent people, the Israeli government began erecting a wall around Palestinian communities like Bethlehem. Certainly, the Catholic Church is deeply concerned for Israeli security, yet, it is also concerned about human rights. The wall has saved Israeli lives. However, for Palestinians of Bethlehem, the wall separates them from their families, their jobs and their fields, causing a great deal of suffering for thousands of ordinary people. The economic and social hardships caused by the wall have accelerated Christian emigration from Bethlehem.
When Pope Benedict XVI visited Bethlehem and saw this wall, he said, "In a world where more and more borders are being opened up -- to trade, to travel, to movement of peoples, to cultural exchanges -- it is tragic to see walls still being erected." As the young soldier politely asks for my passport, I pray: Lord, bring down the walls of hurt in our hearts that separate us from you and our neighbors. Bring down the walls of fear in our minds that close us off from your truth. Bring forth in us and in this world the civilization of love that gushed forth from the cross. Let your Divine Mercy flow through the barriers that keep us apart from you and each other.
I believe that we in the Diocese of Pittsburgh have a special role to play in bringing people together -- after all, we are a city of bridges. We are a city with diverse religious and ethnic groups living side by side. The mystery of the Annunciation is that Jesus was conceived in Mary's womb by the power of the Holy Spirit, and he entered into our humanity so that we might enter in to his divinity. Jesus bridged the divide between God and humanity, and between groups of people. I prayed that we, his followers, will also strive to heal all divisions in our world, in our nation, in our church, in our families.