NEW YORK — Seven friars from around the Province visited the Holy Land in a March 1 to 10 pilgrimage of peace to commemorate the Order’s 800th anniversary. The trip expressed the Province’s commitment to the peacemaking charism of St. Francis and acted on the preemptive peacemaking proposal passed by Holy Name Province at its 2005 Chapter.
The following friars traveled to Israel: Francis Di Spigno, OFM, and Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, of Maryland; David McBriar, OFM, of North Carolina; Robert Menard, OFM, of Virginia; Joseph Rozansky, OFM, of Rome; and A. Francis Soucy, OFM, and William “Jud” Weiksnar, OFM, of New Jersey. They were accompanied by Elias Mallon, SA, of the Franciscans International office in New York City, 14 partners-in-ministry, and Louis Bohte, OFM, head of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission for the Holy Land Custody.
Jacek, co-chair of the Province’s JPIC Directorate, said the visit gave him hope that there can be peace. “Cynicism is a buffer against making a personal commitment to working toward justice and peace,” he said.
David, who was on his second pilgrimage to the Holy Land, added, “I continue to be amazed at the struggle for peace among people on both sides of the conflict.”
Learning About the Situation
In addition to visiting the holy sites in Bethlehem, Galilee and Jerusalem, the friars:
• Met students at the Franciscan school in Bethlehem.
• Interacted with young Christian and Muslim women and men at Bethlehem University.
• Learned about the Christian community in the Holy Land and the efforts of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation to help the indigenous Christian community remain in its homeland through economic development and support of Christian schools.
• Visited a Christian family on the outskirts of Bethlehem, learning first-hand about the impact of the Israeli military occupation and the peaceful, nonviolent resistance to a confiscation of Palestinian land.
• Spoke with the Custos Pierbattista Pizzaballa, OFM, and the religious leader of the Muslim community in Palestine, Sheikh Al-Tamimi, Palestine chief judge and chairman of Sharia’a Judiciary Supreme Council.
• Met with representatives of Israeli peace groups: Parents Circle, Breaking the Silence, Rabbis for Human Rights and B’Tselem.
• Heard about the grassroots, non-violent resistance in the Palestinian society from an activist of the Holy Land Trust.
• Attended a presentation on the current political situation in the Holy Land by a member of the Palestinian Negotiating team in Ramallah.
• Had a guided tour of East Jerusalem by the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolition.
The pilgrimage of peace was also “a fact-finding mission,” according to Jacek. The JPIC Directorate hopes to offer a plan for mobilizing Provincial ministries to join churches, synagogues and mosques in advocating for peace in the Holy Land, he said.
Impressions of the Trip
David said he was especially impressed by the Breaking the Silence advocacy group. “These are ex-Israeli military men and women who have taken it upon themselves to reveal to the Israeli public the daily routine of life in the territories, a routine that gets no coverage in the media.”
He continued: “There is a moral price being paid by Israeli society, they state, for the way in which many of the young soldiers treat the Palestinians. The young ex-military man who spoke to us is an observant Jew who loves Israel but who condemns the abuses leveled against the Palestinian civilians. The peace activists on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides are hopeful signs that peace may one day come to the Holy Land. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”
Joseph Wolyniak, advocacy coordinator for the Franciscan Coalition for Justice and Peace at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Raleigh, N.C., said: “We were extremely fortunate to meet with Sami and Mubarak Awad. Their work is incredible, and it is so important to remind people back in the U.S. that there are people like this in Palestine — peaceful, nonviolent activists.” He added, “I cannot stress enough what an impact this trip had on me. I am not being melodramatic when I say that it was life changing. I feel so, so fortunate to have had this experience.”
Fr. Elias said, “The trip was extraordinarily well done. I used to take religious news editors and concerned people to Jordan, the West Bank and Israel to meet with peace and human rights activists. I did it for Americans for Middle East Understanding. I found this trip very valuable and am grateful for the good work which went into its planning.”
Jud, who is pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Camden, N.J., said he would remember the trip for the rest of his life.
CNS Reports on the Trip
The trip was reported by Catholic News Service’s (CNS) Judith Sudilovsky, correspondent in Jerusalem. She wrote in a March 18 blog: “The Order is no stranger to the Holy Land. St. Francis visited the Holy Land after 1220, and his Order has been there ever since. Today, the Franciscans are in charge of caring for most of the holy sites in the Holy Land.”
Jacek told CNS that Franciscans are called to be “bold and strengthen our commitment to overcome a great deal of misinformation bordering on propaganda.” He invites those who would like information about the next Franciscan Peace Pilgrimage to the Holy Land to contact him.
The photo above shows the pilgrims gathered with Sheikh Al-Tamimi.
Editor’s note: Over the next few months, HNP Today will feature reflections from both friars and partners-in-ministry on the Holy Land peacemaking delegation. The JPIC Directorate welcomes feedback. Questions and suggestions should be sent to Jacek at email@example.com.