Monday, November 15, 2010



Another beautiful day and early start. Drove via valleys through quiet Checkpoint to Shepherd’s Fields where I celebrated Mass at the edge of the domain overlooking the hills and nearest Jewish Settlements. Taught the pilgrims to sing the Angelus (and other things) then to see the Chapel of the Angels (by Antonio Barluzzi) before the group were let loose in the Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative Society where they managed to fund the Palestinian economy for the next year… After that we went for lunch via a detour to view the Security Wall at the Beit Jalla Refugee Camp. This had a profound effect on many of us as we saw close up the massive concrete blocks which now intrude into the lives of the population. Many people from many countries have used the wall, as they did in Belfast, to express their rage and anger, fears and philosophy about this development. It is a reminder of the walls one finds in any divided society but in particular of those places which have found a need to separate communities. Whatever the short term benefits of this form of security, the long term effects can only add to the divisions and the violence associated with frustration and anger. Yet as the Jewish writer, Amos Oz, pointed out the Jews have become accustomed to living behind walls and the ‘ghetto mentality’ is deeply ingrained in the experience of many. Yet who is imprisoned? Who, exactly, is walled in? They have created another ghetto, but just who exists in it is questionable.

Lunch was at the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation, a project founded by Gp. Cpt. Leonard Cheshire in 1960 and still run by Christians and now an important hospital for the West Bank. Whilst we were there we were told that Christians now form only 1.5% of Israel’s population of app. 5mill. Many have emigrated because of the situation and because of the fear that this exodus will continue, but there are some who are trying to create work for young Christians to help them remain in the land.

After lunch we drove into Bethlehem to visit the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem where we were able to venerate the birth-place of Jesus and visit the caves associated with S. Jerome and the early monks. We were lucky to have to queue for only 30mins before we gained entrance and were able to sing our Christmas carols in the grotto of the Nativity. It was first erected by Empress Helena in 323, destroyed during a revolt in 529 and subsequently rebuilt by the Emperor Justinian. The building we is a remarkable place in that it has avoided destruction since that time.

We were able to spend time in prayer here before returning to the hotel – and the noisy bustle of the final day of the Muslim feast of the Hajj. On the way back I discovered that the Muslims in Israel are Sunni, not Shi’ite, which explains why they are less ‘fundamentalist’ than their Shi’ite counterparts. Certainly it’s more relaxing here than in West Jerusalem and more welcoming – maybe another example of the way in which living in ghetto’s and formed by a religion that is very exclusive affects the way in which one deals with strangers.

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