RALEIGH, N.C. — Jacek Orzechowski and David McBriar led a two-week pilgrimage earlier this month of 20 parishioners from St. Francis of Assisi Church here and Immaculate Conception Parish, Durham, N.C. The pilgrimage, held from March 3 through 17, was sponsored by the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation. Participants traveled to Jordan, Israel, and Palestine.
The goals of this pilgrimage were to visit the holy places where Our Savior lived and died, and also to be in solidarity with the “living stones” of the Holy Land, the Palestinian Christians. We lived with Palestinians in two villages near Bethlehem – Birzeit and Jiffna. We held meetings with the leaders of the Holy Land Trust and the Christian Ecumenical Foundation, as well as with Christian and Muslim students in Bethlehem University. We met with His Beatitude, Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. We saw for ourselves the plight of the Palestinian people. They are a people under siege. Over and over again, we saw instances of abuse and harassment. These were confirmed by the leaders of the Holy Land Trust, as well as by His Beatitude.
The Christian population in the Holy Land has decreased from 5 percent of the total population to 2 percent. Is the day coming when the last Christian lives on his/her land? Is the day coming when the Holy Places are museums for pilgrims? And yet, these ancestors of those first to hear the Good News of Our Savior are filled with hope. Their hope is founded on the belief that the world will not forget them, and in particular, we friars who for 800 years have walked with them in solidarity and faith.
The 2005 Holy Name Province Provincial Chapter recognized the urgent need for a Franciscan preventive peacemaking effort that would address the economic, social, political and cultural factors that can be the source for violence in the Holy Land. This recognition must be made concrete now through action.
The JPIC Directorate of Holy Name Province of which Jacek is a member will be considering a next step in working with an organization like the Holy Land Trust to “be our brother’s keeper” and to work with Palestinian, Israeli, and international groups committed to addressing the root causes of the conflict in the Holy Land. In every meeting we had with the Christian Palestinians, they continually asked for our help in making their plight known to the world. The mass media, especially in the United States, distorts their plight, their economic degradation, their suffering, their abuse and harassment. The people also asked for our prayers. We friars throughout the world can be a force for a just peace in the Holy Land today as we have been in the past. We must be.
— Fr. David is parochial vicar at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Raleigh. He is shown at bottom right in the photo; Jacek is at bottom left.