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Soul Mending

By Yvonne Zarowny


Pilgrimage to the Holy Land doesn’t turn out as well as expected

Mary Deutscher

“Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Mt 5:4).

I certainly hope Jesus the Nazarene was right as reported in Matthew. I am in deep mourning.

During September and October 2014, I had the good fortune of being part of a “Catholic” pilgrimage to a portion of what is commonly referred to as the Holy Land. The tour agency with which I went advertises in our archdiocese newspaper. In the Dec. 15 edition, there was a full page “infomercial” praising it for its Catholic-themed pilgrimages to places around the world.

I was hoping for an experience that would deepen my faith and enable me to be more at peace with the structure, teaching and practice of the Roman Catholic Church. My faith/spirituality did deepen as did my love and appreciation for the life and teaching of Jesus.

So did my despair with the church and how we live out our faith.

Besides our having a priest with us who said mass daily and our occasionally saying the rosary, I do not know what was “Catholic” about this tour.

Surely there is more to being a Roman Catholic Christian than that — isn’t there?

I don’t blame the gentle, compassionate, inclusive man who served as our chaplain. In spite of getting sick in south Jordan and not fully recovering during the rest of the tour, he did his best to be upright for mass and weave themes of love into his homilies.

For me there is something deeper about how we understand ourselves to be Catholic Christians that was missing.

We went to Jordan, Israel and that part of Palestine known as the West Bank. To our tour organizer’s credit, we entered Israel and the illegally occupied Palestinian Territories through the West Bank. It was an experience to witness the difference between how we and the Palestinian Muslims were treated.

While there, a couple of beautiful Palestinian Muslim women noticed I was about to lose one of my earrings. Through their broken English, my non-existent Arabic, hand signals (we had been warned not to touch) and giggles, I got the message. They then welcomed me to Palestine . . . making a point of saying not Israel. I said: “Got it.”

They then asked that I take the message back to my people how much they want peace . . . and that it is only possible with justice.

The West Bank includes Bethlehem. To our Israeli Catholic Christian guide’s credit, he made sure we noticed the obscene separation wall illegally built by the Israeli government. He pointed out how it was of a different colour around the Israeli “luxury settlements” being illegally built on Palestinian land in Bethlehem.

In Luke 19:41 we are told Jesus wept for Jerusalem 2000+ years ago. Today he must be uncontrollably sobbing. He, Divine Mystery and Spirit, must wonder why they bothered. It seems so few are listening or taking his teaching to heart.

On the tour, a sense of hopelessness and mourning grew and deepened within me.

As I was not alone in this, I asked, unsuccessfully, that we be exposed to some “hope.”

I suggested the Tantur Ecumenical Institute. We passed within yards of it on our way to Bethlehem. In Haifa, the centre of the Bahai faith was acknowledged. Why not this centre started by Pope Paul VI?

Or the Sabeel Ecumenical Centre in Jerusalem for Palestinian Liberation Theology? It was gathering for its 26th international conference in the very centre in which we were staying while we were there!

As Roman Catholic Christians, do we not believe in a Living Divinity active in our lives and worlds today?

Shouldn’t a Roman Catholic pilgrimage include some prayerful reflection and engagement with the “living stones” of a region? If I hadn’t mentioned the work of Development and Peace/Caritas nothing about social justice or what folks could do to assist those in this region would have been mentioned — except to spend money in Christian businesses. Seriously?

Upon my return my sense of hopelessness and mourning deepened.

The homily during my first mass back in my home parish was about how we dress to go to church. I don’t remember Jesus talking about that nor do I remember a “dead stone” commemorating it.

The first issue I saw of our Diocesan Messenger disappeared any reference to a social justice/justice and life ministry from our diocesan list of priorities.

Our new bishop’s dog gets copy but there is nothing about social justice/justice and life. I have nothing against Merlin. I think it is a nice touch. But — really?

What happened to our official church teachings — never mind the teachings of Jesus?

My sense of hopelessness and mourning grew during Advent and Christmas.

I was uncomfortable with the talk and songs about Bethlehem and Nazareth without a whisper of there being places of great suffering and injustice today. There was not one prayer request for the “living stones” of the region — even though my parish priest had just returned from his own “pilgrimage.”

As for the peace and justice brought by Jesus the Nazarene . . . not noticing it!

Surely more is expected of us Roman Catholic Christians.