A Common Bond Among the Children of Abraham

Robert Menard, OFM Features

This is the first in a series of reflections from participants in the March pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Friars and their partners-in-ministry who are interested in participating in the next Franciscan Peace Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, scheduled for Nov. 3 to 13, 2009, are asked to contact Jacek Orzechowski, OFM.

TRIANGLE, Va. — For 800 years, from the time of Francis’ meeting with Emil-al-Kamil to the present, Franciscans have sought to be in contact with the Islamic world.

This spring, I joined the Franciscan Peace Delegation to the Holy Land as we traveled to Ramallah in the West Bank. It was an experience to remember: habit-clad friars crossing the border between hostile areas, passing through check points, and being ushered into the presence of a Muslim leader. This was the scene as Sheikh Tayseer Al-Tamimi, head judge of the Supreme Shari’a Courts in Palestine, welcomed us.

In his remarks, he spoke of the common bond that exists among the children of Abraham. This connection, he insisted, required us to speak strongly against terrorism, for human rights and justice for all parties when there is any grievance.

He further asked us to observe carefully the condition of his suffering people, to pray for them, and to do what we could to share their story when we returned home. He gently reminded us that the United States had an enormous influence on the flow of weapons and the shaping of policy that affected the Palestinian reality.

After his remarks, we could ask questions. I took the opportunity to tell him of my association with the local mosque in Triangle, Va. I explained that I met frequently with Imam Nahidian and his community. To prepare for this trip, I visited them and told them I was coming to the Holy Land. I then asked Sheikh Al-Tamimi, “What message can I bring back to them?” He said: “Tell them to enter deeply into the culture wherever they are. They should become active in the communities of which they are a part, in their family life, work and service. They should participate in the political life of their community. Remember the Palestinians and their plight. Then do what you can for us.”

After more questions and responses, he introduced us to his newest appointments to the high court of Palestine: two women, a first for much of the Islamic world.

We asked him for a blessing before joining him in photo opportunity. Like Francis of Assisi many years before, we left with a gift and a blessing, and an invitation to return.

As I reflect on this encounter, I cannot help feeling the significance of our holy father Francis’ prayer as he bowed low, “We adore you … and we bless you here and in all your churches throughout the world … because you have redeemed the world.”

Shalom, salaam and pax et bonum on this 800th anniversary of our life in the Church and in the world.

— Fr. Robert is the guardian at St. Francis Church and Friary in Triangle, Va. He will speak at the church on April 25 and 26 about how new life is struggling to arise again in Bethlehem and the West Bank in Palestine, and how to be in solidarity with fellow Christians living in the Holy Land.  He is shown at right in the photo above.