19 December 2011
In an aerial view of the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem you can see the domes of the Church of the Holy Selpulchre. (photo: George Martin)
My first visit of the day was to meet with our staff in Jerusalem. They were all waiting to greet me and certainly made mefeel most welcomed and at home. As I was introduced by Sami, our regional director, I went around to all the offices and took photos of the team.
We had a great meeting together and this afforded me an opportunity to introduce myself and share with them some of my goals we would pursue together down the road. It was also rewarding to listen to each one tell me of their work; Sami obviously sets a very collaborative tone with them and they work well as a family.
From this most satisfying office visit, we walked to the offices of His Beatitude Patriarch Torkom II of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Jerusalem. He received us most cordially and immediately offered me his prayerful bestwishes. He was most charming in our visit. He is 93 years young and has been patriarch for two decades. Among his many accomplishments was a proficiency in athletics; he’s a great hiker and musician, and proud of the fact that he lived more than 20 years in the United States, including California, New York and Chicago. For a man of his age, he had amazing recall of many details of his career.
Joining us was Archbishop Aris Shirvanian, who directs the patriarchate's ecumenical and foreign relations outreach. He, too, was most cordial and shared more details about the patriarch and the richness of his long life.
I thanked the patriarch and he asked when I would be coming back for my next visit. He was gracious in giving us a blessing as we said goodbye.
From this visit, we headed to a busy market area and found the entrance to the Wujoud Center, a facility that offers training and empowerment for Palestinian women, especially Christian women. There are training and employment opportunities in classic Palestinian embroidery, cooking, painting, woodworking and a whole variety of self-help skills. The center is run by a dynamic lady named Nora Kort, who is the embodiment of a community organizer and advocate. She is a real charmer, an elegant woman who does not like to take “no” for an answer. We have collaborated with her on a number of programs and the partnership is most fulfilling on both sides, as affirmed by both Nora and Sami.
She introduced us to about a dozen ladies. Some work with her as community leaders in the walled city of Jerusalem or benefit from the center's many programs. Some of the women, including a few Muslim ladies, told their stories of how they were able to secure employment and a new lease on life through the participation in programs at this center.
And of course, there was food, plenty of it in the form of a banquet lunch — all homemade Palestinian dishes. We expressed our gratitude to the ladies and both Nora and I reaffirmed our commitment to collaborate in supporting these self-help programs geared to help the Palestinian Christians remain in their hometown of Jerusalem.
From our big lunch, we went to the offices of the Coptic Orthodox Metropolitan and Vicar of Jerusalem, His Grace Anba Abraham. Although the archbishop has some challenges with his vision, he was a most congenial and humorous host. His wit was very sharp and he expressed his faith-filled thoughts to us, sometimes with humor and a hearty laugh.
When I was asking him how he is able to work in the midst of so much conflict, strident personalities and social, cultural and religious divisions, he gave a great answer: “Monsignor, it is no different than a bishop or a pastor in one parish or diocese having to work with his neighbors in other parishes or dioceses.” He also affirmed that everything is in God's hands.
After a good visit, we tried to go on to our next appointment, but Anba Abraham insisted we stay awhile longer and have something to eat or drink. I think he really enjoyed our visit and he, too, pressed me about when I would be back to visit again.
By the way, I have to make a comment about Father Guido. Everywhere we go in the Old City, people come up to him with a warm greeting: “Abuna Guido!” and give him a big hug. I asked him if he was running for mayor of Jerusalem, he is so very well known and beloved by so many people here.
Our final visit of the day was with Patriarchal Vicar of Palestine Bishop William Shomali. As the only Palestinian bishop in the Holy Land, he is entrusted with the spiritual care of the Palestinian people in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, the areas that make up what is Palestine, at least unofficially.
The bishop was actually standing in for the Latin patriarch, who was called to Jordan yesterday and could not see us today. However, we are having dinner with him on Wednesday, and I will be spending much of Saturday with him, as I have the honor of accompanying him in a procession to Bethlehem for the Mass of Midnight for the Christmas celebrations. Of course, there will be much more on this privilege after it happens.
I just had a first look at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Of course, I will have time later in the week to visit there and the other principle holy sites and I will be sure to share all ofthat with you.
I continue to remember all of you in my prayers as I live out the biblical stories in my pilgrimage.
Tags: Middle East Jerusalem