Bishop Nicholas Hudson writes:
“For the peace of Jerusalem pray!” (Psalm 122, 6). That was the phrase that resonated most deeply within me as we sought as a group of bishops to fathom Jerusalem’s religious vocation. We had gathered from diverse nations to make up this year’s Holy Land Coordination.
That Jerusalem is a Jewish city, a Christian city, a Muslim city: that was the deepest truth we took away from our visit to this city, which is so sacred to all three faiths. We also took away the conviction that the Christian community in Jerusalem has a particular calling to articulate this conviction. Not only is the Christian community an essential part of Jerusalem’s identity. It also has a peculiar freedom to speak the truth of Jerusalem’s multiple identity.
Meanwhile the Holy Land Coordination feels duty bound to warn that the Christian community’s continued presence there is threatened by occupation and injustice. Many of those we encountered are facing violence and intimidation by settler groups, restrictions on their freedom of movement, or separation from their families because of the status they are assigned.
Issues of occupation, status, diverse cultures and faiths being forced to live alongside one another – every one of these modern realities was, of course, central to the Jerusalem into which walked the Holy Family two millennia ago. The Massacre of the Innocents, of “Rachel weeping for her children” (Jeremiah 31, 15), were made all the more real for us as we witnessed the pain being experienced by the family of Palestinian Catholic journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. She had been gunned down as she went about her work as a journalist reporting on the inequities she observed in Israeli society – only for her mourners to be fired upon as they laid her body to rest.
“I came into the world for this,” Jesus told Pilate, “to witness to the truth” (John 18). Because he witnessed to the truth, his life was taken from him. The life was taken from Shireen because she too witnessed to the truth.
Visiting Jerusalem at the time of her mourning brought home to us with greater force than ever the truth that Christians worldwide share a dual vocation with regard to Jerusalem: to denounce the persecution of the continuing Christian community there but, at the same time, call that community to have the courage to declare more loudly than ever that this sacred place is not only Christian but also Jewish and Muslim. For that is surely the only way to “the peace of Jerusalem”.
Bishops meet with family of Christian Palestinian journalist killed in Jenin