Last week, North Carolina friars Steven Patti, OFM, of Durham, and David McBriar, OFM, of Raleigh, returned from a 10-day pilgrimage to several sites considered holy in the Middle East. David organized the trip with help from theHoly Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation. It was his third trip to the Holy Land.
RALEIGH, N.C. — Steve Patti and I accompanied 22 pilgrims from St. Francis Parish and six others from Washington, Silver Spring, Md., Pompton Lakes, N.J., and Siena College on a 10-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land. We visited the sites made holy by Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, his ministry in Galilee, and finally Jerusalem — the place of his suffering, death and resurrection. But these sites were only half of the reason for our journey.
We were also there to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian Christians, the Living Stones of the Holy Land. These Christians once comprised over 25 percent of the population of the Holy Land, but with the continuing years of occupation they number 1.5 percent. Their life is hard. They are denied freedom of movement in their own land. Unemployment is 40 percent. Basic necessities like water and electricity are often denied them.
The land once given them by the United Nations is being more and more appropriated by Israel for settlements, housing for Israelis. And yet the Palestinian Christians do not hate. They refuse to teach their children to hate. It was a privilege for us to celebrate the Eucharist one Sunday in a small village. The parish was alive. We were even treated to lunch by the seniors.
One of our pilgrims said: “It was a great experience, both spiritually and emotionally. I consider the Palestinian Christians to be heroes, people I will never forget.” Another said: “I had no idea what was happening there. Our media distorts the reality.” And still another: “I will do what I can to tell people about my trip and to speak about the injustice that I witnessed first-hand.”
We will meet soon to identify ways we can continue to stand in solidarity. There are at least 600 Palestinian children from the ages of 10 to 17 in Israeli jails, with sentences ranging from one year to ten years. They are there for throwing rocks at military vehicles patrolling their land, and for other misdemeanors. We can make our legislators aware of this injustice. The children are often abused and neglected.
We also hope to increase our advocacy to halt the building of new settlements on Palestinian land. And, above all, we lift them up in our prayers that one day peace will come to Jerusalem. Any friar interested in joining one of our pilgrimages should contact either me or Jacek Orzechowski, OFM.
The photo above was taken in Jerusalem
— Fr. David has been based at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Raleigh since 2006. He also served as pastor of the parish from 1987 to 1995.