As part of the British contingent of St Mark’s Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Fiona and Ian W. and Hazel and Dave W. are blessed to have encountered so many new friends from the US and also South Africa. 

What we are seeing is troubling – often disturbing and we feel the weight of history on our shoulders, decisions made by US and UK governments over the past 100 years have left a tinderbox legacy. In Yad Vashem, the museum to the Holocaust, one is greeted with a plaque which states ‘A country is not just what it does – it is also what it tolerates’.

What we see as being ‘tolerated’ is beyond belief. The scene that greeted us as we entered Bethlehem of an 8 metre high security wall with watchtowers at regular intervals means that never again can we sing ‘Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie’ without thinking of the concrete barrier that divides communities and minds.

Our spirits are upheld by the daily Compline Service we hold, where we pray for the compassion of Jesus to enter into this situation.

There are heartbreaking beautiful images – this little boy behind a window in Hebron. His smile is captivating – sad to think that every morning when he goes to school he has to walk through a checkpoint and bag search. Please pray for him and all the people in this land who suffer on a daily basis. This is just one way the people normalise the situation they find themselves in and are dehumanised by their oppressors from a very young age.

 

Trophies from the Walled Off Hotel, Bethlehem

I think the ability to be irreverent and poke fun is a sign of resilience and hope. The Walled Off Hotel served us excellent coffee and also houses the important new Museum about the Occupation. Well worth a visit!

This post was brought to you by Randy M…

During the pre – Pilgrimage days in Jerusalem, Karen and Tom G., Alan T., and Randy M. met with the co-directors of Kids4Peace, Jerusalem, Tareq S. and Meredyth R.

Kids4Peace brings together American, Israeli, and Palestinian children for camps and other activities with the aim of overcoming ignorance and fear through many activities in which they can discover trust by telling oneanother their stories and building relationships of trust thus creating a deep love and connection.

Meredyth and Tareq told us their own fascinating stories, described Kids4Peace’s history and current activities, and discussed the opportunities and challenges ahead. Particularly for those of us who had heard about Kids4Peace from St Mark’s friend and the executive director (and St Mark’s friend), Josh T. It was definitely an inspiring morning.

This post was brought to you by Heather P…

How does one summarize such days as these and the lessons we can only try to hold?   We toured The Old City of Jerusalem, stood in quiet awe at the Dome of the Rock, placed prayers at the Wailing Wall, and descended into The Church of the Holy Sepulcher…. and that was only the first day.  The next day, we met a gracious and brave Holocaust survivor who described herself as the daughter of 4 mothers.  Four different women mothered her during her childhood during World War II, being welcomed into an American family by the last of those 4. Later, we met the Israel Colonel who was ordered to build the Barrier Wall between Israel and the Occupied West Bank.

Holding these stories and more, we prayed at the Garden of Gethsemane, then later watched as our guide was videotaped by an Israeli who was threatened by a perspective not his own, a perspective which threatened his denial.  On Saturday night, our group was delighted to dance with arms aloft in the home of a Palestinian family!  It was an evening of good food and music in the hospitable home of the Abu Sarah family in the town of Azeria, the site where Lazarus was raised from the dead… the lively evening certainly resurrected hope in us. During these visits this past week we have driven through checkpoints unhindered and have walked through worker checkpoints- chastened by guards and disturbed by the cage-like atmosphere. Entering Bethlehem, provocative graffiti on the Barrier Wall greeted us and then we dined in a Bedouin-style tent restaurant near the field of the shepherds who were the first to receive news of the nativity story.

Monday morning, the 22nd, we entered the crowded Greek Orthodox Church of the Nativity, where our guides lifted heavy wooden planks to reveal newly discovered 5th century floors there.  Later we walked from the Roman Catholic church, St. Catherine’s, with the monks and others gathered for the processional, to the grotto of Christ’s birth beneath the Church of the Nativity.  Our fearless leader, Tom, opened locked doors so we could view crèches collected from around the world in the Bethlehem Peace Center, an exhibit which Karen had a hand in creating 15 years ago.  Later, we walked along the road though the agricultural village of Wadi Fukin.  The olive trees were ready for havest, their branches heavy with ripe olives. Further into the countryside, our local guide, Muhhaned, led us to one of the natural springs under the watchful eyes of the ever-encroaching Israeli settlement of Bellit.  Its fence, nominally meant to protect, serves to enforce separation and ignorance of the “other”.

Through all of this we have been most blessed by the people we are meeting- Jews, Christians, and Muslims- Israelis and Palestinians.  The former mayor of Bethlehem, Vera Baboun, wove a beautiful tapestry for us all with the vibrant and hopeful threads of her story and insight. Then Muhanned, a Wadi Fukin native, bravely shared the reality of his village’s experience of living and farming beneath the pinching claw of the fence.  Finally, we met two declared brothers from the The Bereaved Parents Circle Families Forum who are bound by the murders of their daughters and their commitment to be neither pro-Palestinian nor pro-Israeli, but rather pro-peace.  No one hears their stories and goes unchanged.   They remind us to hold to the humanity in each other and ourselves.

Through all our days we have been guided by Aziz, Yuval, and Adam whose courage, good humor, and honesty we have witnessed first hand.  Under their tutelage, we hear stories of heartache and pain and love and peace.  As a group, we are sharing our own stories and navigating the treacherous landscape of this conflicted country, while witnessing great beauty and a whirlwind of senses, bodies, souls, narratives, and history.  May we all see each one’s humanity and live into being pro-peace.

of senses, bodies, souls, narratives, and history.  May we all see each one’s humanity and live into being pro-peace

 

Salaam, Shalom, Peace, and Love, Heather P.

This post is brought to you by Karen G…  

The 2017 St. Mark’s Pilgrimage Group (28 St. Mark’s family and friends) will be travelling in the Holy Land October 17 – 28 (with 14 going on to Jordan for an additional  5 days).  In Jerusalem, we will worship at St. George’s Cathedral and meet with Bishop Suheil Dawani to present the  Maundy Thursday/Good Friday offering for the work of the Diocese of Jerusalem.  It is a symbolic gesture from representatives of the St. Mark’s community.  While we are absent, we hope you will pray for us and keep in touch through our St. Mark’s Pilgrimage Blog.  Our site will be managed by MEJDI Tours.  To follow us as we travel you can use the following link:

Before our departure, the travellers from Washington, DC were sent off to journey with a Blessing of the Pilgrims which is included below.  We will try to be Thoughtful Listeners and Peacemakers in our actions.  Please enter into a pray of intention with us as we travel as did those who witnessed our blessing.

A BLESSING OF THE HOLY LAND PILGRIMS

 

Presider: Today, we ask God’s blessing on these “pilgrims” as they prepare for their journey to the Holy Land.

To the pilgrims gathered:  We pray you will be spiritually nourished as you travel to the holy places shared by Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

Pilgrims:  We will with God’s help.

Presider:  Recognizing the tension and conflict you will encounter, we pray you will minister to one another and those you meet with patience, kindness, and compassion.

Pilgrims:  We will with God’s help.

Presider:  We pray you will gain new perspectives on the search for a just and lasting peace for Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Pilgrims:  We will with God’s help.

Presider:  When you return, we pray that you will share your experiences of faith and understanding, not only with the St. Mark’s community, but with the wider-world.

Pilgrims:  We will with God’s help.

The people stand, as able.

Presider: To the community here gathered, will you keep these pilgrims in your daily thoughts and prayers while they are apart from you?

All:  We will.

Pilgrims: And we will keep all of you in our thoughts and prayers each day.

Presider: Let us pray together:

O God, make us instruments of your peace.  Fill us with your abiding spirit and strengthen us to be your reconciling presence in the world.  Amen