BY CHRISTINE HOGAN
Getting to Taybeh was not ever going to be easy – but that is in the very nature of pilgrimage itself...
In Jesus' time, there were painful thoroughfares, just two camels or donkeys wide. These days the roads are marginally better – two huge coaches-wide in some parts. But still these roads up in the mountains outside Jerusalem take some negotiating.
We left Jerusalem at 8am, to make sure we were on time for mass in Taybeh, a little village of 1,300 Christians not so far from the city.
First, we had to negotiate Ramallah, capital of the Palestinian National Authority – home first to the compound of Yasser Arafat, and now to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. He was returning Sunday from his successful visit to New York and the United Nations to have Palestine confirmed as a member State.
Checkpoints and road works and general schemozzle combined to make the start of the journey testing for Soori our driver. These were days of joy in Ramallah, a joy tempered though by the Israeli government deciding to both withhold Palestinian tax revenue from the PNA, and to announce the building of 3000 housing units (settlements) between East Jerusalem and Ramallah, thus eroding hope even further of the two state solution called for at the end of the 1940s and never implemented.
Up in Taybeh, the mood was also joyful. Even though at the assisting parish priest Fr Peter said the Palestinian Christians were discriminated against by Israel because they were Palestinian, and by Palestinians because they we're Christians.
“There can be no peace without justice, no security without justice,” he said in his homily. It was a message which went down well the with congregation, and one he reinforced when he spoke to our pilgrimage group afterwards.
It is hard for us to understand the plight of these people, but the figures give the picture. There are close to 11 million Jews and Arabs here, and fewer than 200,000 Christians. The Christian population of the Holy Land is being reduced dramatically year on year, and there are fears that soon there will be no Christians left here at all.
Fr Peter's message was colourful, political, and blunt. It was also very well received by the congregation in the packed Church of the Redeemer. It was a beautiful, spirit filled Mass, complete with child acolytes, boys and girls, and a choir whose hard work was evident in its effortless melodies.
On Monday morning, we had an appointment with the new Papal Nuncio to Jerusalem, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarrotto. He was, of course, most recently in Australia, and took up his role in the Holy Land at the end of November. Among his many titles here – he is the Apostolic delegate to the PNA – he is also the Bishop of Notre Dame of Jerusalem, where our group is staying.
This is not a new posting for him. He was here as the deputy more than 20 years ago, and welcomed our group to the Nunciature on the Mount of Olives. The house had been a pilgrim refuge for an eastern European archdiocese, and so glories in a full complement of eastern European saints, and a certain quasi-Balkan air.
He took us into the chapel, and spoke of our pilgrimage, in a place where the residents were on perpetual pilgrimage. “There are joys,” he said. “But there is also effort...”
Being in the Holy Land, the place where God Incarnate Was born and lived was an amazing experience, he said... It was one which had changed his life forever, and one which would change the lives of all of us who saw him this morning.
“You will read the Gospels in a completely different way, now you have been to the places Christ was. And you will find that the experience you have had here will also be a little bit provocative...”
As he farewelled us, the Nuncio led us in the Lord's Prayer on his front terrace, as he lawn ran down to vista of Jerusalem spread out before us both inviting and challenging. The essence of what a pilgrimage should be.
Christine Hogan is the Publisher for the faith-based publications produced by Church Resources. She is currently on the CathNews Pilgrimage to the Holy Land and is blogging regularly for the duration of the journey.
Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.