Last month, Joseph Nangle attended the 70th anniversary commemoration of Pax Christi International, an organization established in France in 1945. After his return, on May 24, he reflected on the most memorable aspect of the event.
Recently, thanks to the generosity of Holy Name Province, I had the opportunity to visit the Holy Land. The trip had two objectives. First, and quite obvious, to walk the places where Jesus walked; and second, to attend the 70th Anniversary World Assembly of Pax Christi International, the official worldwide Catholic peace movement.
In an act of remarkable courage, the organizers of the assembly chose Bethlehem as the venue for this historic meeting. As most people know, the Israeli government has sealed off Palestinian Bethlehem from the rest of the country by an ugly Berlin-like wall that runs through the entire city of Jesus’ birth. We were not sure how the Israeli Defense Force might react to our presence there.
One moment on that trip sums up for me the entire two-week experience: the closing Eucharistic celebration of the Pax Christi event. Through a series of unexpected circumstances, I was asked to preside at this Mass.
The entire assembly gathered at an open space next to the wall, exactly where, some months ago, the iconic picture of Pope Francis was taken as he leaned into that evil structure, obviously deeply disturbed at what he was touching. One can imagine the emotions that flooded us as we stood there and heard Biblical readings centered on Jesus’ promise of the Spirit, as various members of the congregants offered pointed and heartfelt prayers of the faithful and as we celebrated the death and resurrection of the Lord.
I knew beforehand that anything I might say by way of a homily would be presumptuous. However, in the Rite of Reconciliation at the beginning, I did ask the assembly to join those of us from the United States in an act of repentance for our country’s significant role in maintaining the systemic apartheid being imposed on the Palestinian people.
There was no music prepared for the liturgy — a statement, no doubt, about the immense power of that moment when silence seemed most appropriate. However, during the time of Communion, the people spontaneously broke into song, “Peace is flowing like a river…” — a song of hope, gift of the Spirit.
— Fr. Joseph, a solemnly-professed Franciscan friar since 1955, is a member of the Provincial Council. He lives in Washington, D.C.