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But the evening had not yet ended. The younger participants now began their own procession, led by Arab Catholic Girl Scouts bearing the statue of Mary. The Arab Catholic Boy Scout marching hand – a colorful drum and bagpipe corps – brought up the rear. The scouts delighted in playing loudly, and their drumming and piping resounded off the stone buildings lining the narrow streets of the Old City. This procession of young people wound its way through the labyrinthine back streets of the Christian Quarter, continuing until dark.

I had never before seen so many young Palestinians out on the streets of Jerusalem. They were clearly having a good time as well as making a public display of their faith. It brought back memories of my having marched in similar processions many years ago. I tried to remember what it had meant for me, to help me understand what these young Catholics of Jerusalem were experiencing. Public displays of faith such as rosary processions are a mixture of different elements: devotion to Mary, certainly, but also a proclamation of one’s identity and an expression of pride in it.

I surmised the celebration of the Feast of the Visitation carried more meaning for the Catholics of Jerusalem than the rosary processions of my youth had for me. There were more Catholics than any other denomination in St. Paul and our processions were done in the psychological comfort of knowing that we were the dominant group in town. But Christians in Jerusalem make up only about two percent of its population and Latin Catholics, only a portion of that. It seemed as if every one of them had turned out for this public celebration of the Feast of the Visitation; being a tiny minority within the Jewish and Muslim majority did not daunt them.

Other factors gave additional meaning to their celebration. The rosary procession had been suppressed in Jerusalem during the intifada, the Palestinian uprising that began in 1987. The procession was reinstated in 1994, after the Israeli-Palestinian peace process took hold. The 1994 celebration had been rather low key; it was only in 1995 that the Arab Catholic Scouts were allowed to participate. I had witnessed their return to the streets of Jerusalem after an eight-year absence.

Another factor: the Israeli celebration of Jerusalem Day had occurred just three days before the Feast of the Visitation. Jerusalem Day is an annual commemoration of the Israeli capture of the Old City and East Jerusalem during the 1967 war. Israeli youth groups had been bused in to march through the Old City, and that evening loud fireworks had kept the Christian Quarter awake until late into the night.

Now it was the Palestinians’ turn to march the streets of Jerusalem. When I watched the members of the Arab Catholic Boy Scout band playing their bagpipes and beating their drums with gusto it seemed to me they were proclaiming in music, “We’re still here. We’re Catholics. We’re Palestinians. And we’re proud of it.”

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