image of jerusalem 2013

Jerusalem in an Outbound Heart!
I was attending holy mass at St Saviour's Church yesterday evening at the conclusion of the first post-Synod meeting of the Catholic Churches in the Holy Land, when the penny dropped - abruptly!...

23 May   |   2001   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

... I realised that my own chapter in Jerusalem had indeed come to an end, and it was time now to pack and move on ..! It does hit you eventually - I suppose - but it takes a while for the message to travel from the head to the heart before it sinks in and becomes an immutable reality.

After four years in Jerusalem, a city holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, I am now a ‘free’ man! Not necessarily foot-loose and fancy-free, but rather unencumbered by the onerous and manacling constraints of my previous responsibilities as Director of the Middle East Council of Churches in Jerusalem. I can move on now in order to dedicate some of my time to the same issues but from a broader perspective. It is a refreshing feeling! Invigorating and renewing too!

But no matter how unburdened I feel today, it is not easy to leave Jerusalem. This city is a miasma of different meanings to different people. It could be the magical sunset from the Mount of Olives and the Haas Promenade, or even the golden reflection coming off its old walls and ramparts! It could be the strange aromas that permeate the old city! It could also be the richness waiting to be discovered in the many mosques, churches and synagogues dotted all over this city. Jerusalem often blends its diffuse and eclectic facets together - almost as if reminding us that its earthly dimension is a precursor to its heavenly counterpart.

Jerusalem remains three-dimensional for me. It is the site of the Jewish Temple, the city where Jesus unfolded his plan of Redemption for humankind, and the location whence the prophet Mohammed ascended into heaven. However, despite the pull Jerusalem exercises on many residents, pilgrims and tourists alike, it also has a sombre and dark side. Such a frightening side has become more tangible over the past few months, where animosity is more palpable between its peoples and where fear traumatises some of its inhabitants. It has regrettably become a bee-hive of rancorous and bitter memories, psyches and attitudes. Its symptoms manifest themselves in the political, religious, social or economic dimensions. But in the final analysis, it is the men and women who render Jerusalem what it is meant to be - or not! This city is the mirror of many faiths, the receptacle of many histories and the seat of many emotions. It is not easy to cope with - and no wonder Jesus wept over it too (Lk 19: 41-44).

My four years here have been a time for giving as much as for learning. During this time, I realised on the whole that the Church leadership is not yet ready to assume fully its ecumenical and grassroots responsibilities. There is too much turf-staking that goes on within many denominations. The Church as an institution - as the body of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ - should learn to re-assemble itself more cohesively and with more integrity, courage and vision. It should also learn to commune more closely with its assembly of believers. In the wonderful words of the theologian Joanna Emri, “self-interest, self-involvement, self-indulgence, self-love, self-importance and self-image are too many selves for the Church to carry with it.” Indeed, it weakens immeasurably the prophetic message of the Church world-wide and diminishes its Christian ministry of love, reconciliation and forgiveness.

Coming to the wider political scale, allow me add my two words too! Palestinians and Israelis - Jews, Christians and Muslims alike - must learn to become more inclusive toward each other. Living as neighbours in a tiny parcel of unreasonably hallowed land, they cannot but afford to put an end their unending conflict. To do so, good will, good faith and mutual trust ought to be the mainstay of their - future - negotiations. But how does one go about endeavouring to start up anew this process?

Israel should desist from applying its expansionist and colonial policies toward the Palestinians - treating them as lesser mortals, occupying their land, penning them in their territories through a system of closures and resisting to acknowledge those historical wrongs committed against them. Conversely, Palestinians should also learn to be more truthful with themselves and with each other. They should hold their authorities more accountable and strengthen their beleaguered civic institutions. Both sides should know that all forms of violence - from occupation and structural violence, to physical violence and intimidation - are inadmissible. After all, are Palestinians and Israelis not two peoples chosen by the One God like all other peoples the world over ..?

As I share my valedictory musing with you today, I would like to thank all the Church leaders of Jerusalem - notably His Beatitude Patriarch Michel Sabbah - as much as all those women and men labouring within the larger church institutions here and abroad for counselling me when I went wrong, strengthening my resolve when I felt tired and supporting me when I was wronged. And finally, I reassure the Olive Branch - alas Father Raed! - that I shall continue to contribute to his home-page in order to keep up the wonderful links that this site has provided me in the past year or so with many other writers, thinkers and readers!

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2001   |   23 May


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