By Sr. Therese Maria, MSCL
The week of September 8th, I along with twenty others from diverse backgrounds were given the unique opportunity to visit the Holy Land on the Philos Catholic Tour. A gift that I am grateful for and will always treasure, especially the meaningful encounters, and interactions we had with the local residents and each other.
There are so many layers to unpack from this trip as we met with Christians, Jews, Muslims, government officials, Church leaders and journalists who are working on the local ground with the Philos Project to help promote dialogue, positive engagement and peace in the Middle East. One of the things I observed first hand was the pluralistic landscape of Israel and the intricate and complex situation, and dialogue that is occurring between Christians, Muslims, Jews, Palestinians and Israelis as they “strive” to peacefully co-exist.
In addition to visiting the holy sites of Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Magdala to name a few, our focus for this trip was to learn more about the Christians and their role in the Middle East. Unfortunately, due to the lack of political stability, persecution, ongoing discrimination, and poor job opportunities thousands of Christians are leaving Israel and other places in the Middle East to seek security and stability. Today, Christians are a minority of less than 2% of the population in Israel, and after hearing from Christians in their own villages about their daily struggles, I have come to see even more why we need to materially and spiritually support Christian families. Their impact and presence in the Middle East is a much needed witness, especially in the areas of education and healthcare.
Each day, I found myself switching gears as a tourist visiting the holy sites to a pastoral/service mode in visiting various places such as the Saint Rachel’s center for undocumented refugee children. Also, being present in attentively listening to the difficulties of Christians who seek to be free, to be seen, to be healed, to be accepted and to have their human dignity and rights recognized and respected. In these vulnerable and raw moments, the group bonded, as various people expressed their heart-breaking stories. I assisted to translate from Arabic to English so that the group could better understand their narrative and enter into their plight.
During the trip, I felt that I was truly living out my spiritual motherhood as a Maronite Servant of Christ the Light, leading prayer, answering questions on the faith, and letting those sharing their stories know that they are being heard, seen and loved. Let us continue to intensify our prayers for peace in the Middle East and for our fellow brothers and sisters, and those whose voices need to be heard.
On a final note, it was such a blessing to take your prayer intentions with me as we remembered each of you and your loved ones in our Liturgies and prayer times.