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Saturday, February 09, 2008


From Jerusalem - Ash Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ash Wednesday was a day of incredible contrasts for our group. In the morning we walked where Jesus walked along the Via Dolorosa. In the afternoon we travelled to Hebron, site of recent tensions between Muslims and Jews.

We began with a walking tour of parts of the Old City of Jerusalem associated with Jesus Christ. First we walked to the Church of St. Anne, certainly of the most beautiful churches in the Old City. According to tradition, this church is built on the site of the birthplace of Jesus' mother, Mary. Tradition says that her parents' names were Joachim and Anne, hence the name of the church. It is a very beautful church, simple by Jerusalem standards. One is able to walk down underneath the church to a crypt, the traditional site of Mary's birth.

Outside of St. Anne's Church is the Pool of Bethesda, site of Jesus' healing of the man "who had been ill for thirty-eight years." (John 5: 1 - 18). Many people come to this place to pray for healing. The ruins of the pool are extensive and one can see where the two baths and five porches (porticos) once stood. I said prayers for those from Trinity who are hospitalized this week and others in need of healing.

We next made a quick stop at the Church (Chapel) of the Flagellation, the traditional place where Jesus was tortured. This small church is very dramatic with amazing stained glass windows and a stained glass crown of thorns in the ceiling above the altar (must be quite a place to preside at communion and preach!) This is also the probable site of Jesus' trail before Pilate, although there is another very possible site in front of Pilate's residence outside of the city.

On our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Church of the Resurrection) we went inside of an unnamed church to see ruins of a very old city gate. The gate was large enough for a loaded camel to enter. Next to that larger gate was a very small gate, one that could be opened at night when the larger gate was closed for the night, but only for the entry by a person, not a camel or other animal. The smaller gate is called the "Eye of the Needle!"

We then hurried to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Church of the Resurrection). This large church covers BOTH the likely site of Jesus' crucifxion (Golgatha) and ressurection, his tomb. That is surprising to most first time visitors, that these two sites may have been so very close together, but good historical/Biblical study has supported these as the actual locations for both. Kris and I had been here twice before. This time the church seemed brighter and cleaner than our previous visits.

We grabbed lunch to eat on the bus and headed to Hebron, both a holy site (the traditional site of the tomb of Abraham and Sarah) and a modern conflict site (location of many Jewish/Muslim confrontations). This large Palestinian city (nearly 200,000 residents) includes around 500 Jewish settlers protected by more than 1,000 Israeli soldiers. The city is divided into two sections, H2 (Israeli contolled) and H1 (Palestinian controlled) and there are internal checkpoints between them. We were accompanied by four volunteers from the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment program. These (mostly) young adults from Europe and the USA escort Palestinian school children to the Cordobal school which is located near one of the Jewish settlements. We visited the Cordobal school and spoke with its principal, Reem Shareef, who was working despite a Palestinian strike this week. We then walkedd down Al-Shuhada Street where many Palestinian shops have been closed because of the local tensions - there was netting over the street, full of garage thrown down by hostile settlers. We tried to visit Ibrahimi Mosque but it was not open to non-Muslims during the prayer time when we arrived. We did visit the Cave of the Machpela Synagogue (both are part of a large combined but separated building built on the traditional site of Abraham's and Sarah's graves and, thus, a very important holy site for these two religions) The mosque was also the site of a massacre in the 1990's so both the mosque and the synagogue are heavily guarded by Isralie defense soldiers. Our guide in the synagogue also claimed that this is the site of Adam's and Eve's graves (news to me!)

Here is one example of the tensions here - We were told of a recent incident when a pregnant Palestinian woman was denied passage at one of the internal checkpoints between the H1 and H2 . Not able to get to the hospital (through the checkpoint) in time, she delivered her baby at the checkpoint!

We then travelled by bus to the Al-Arroub refugee camp outside of Hebron. There around 10,000 Palestinian refugees have lived since they were removed from their homes in 1948 in more than 35 now-Israeli villages. We met with leaders of the camp's women's cooperative, started as a needlework guild and now extended to many health and education activities. The women we were meeting with today all shared a similar story - their young sons (mostly around age 15) had been arrested by Israeli solders and held without trial. The charge was always similar (and denied by these mothers) - throwing rocks at soldiers. Each was taken at night in a raid in their homes. Most of the time, they were released after five months in jail (no trial). But, these five months were often precided by a long wait so that their "official" sentence would begin after they turned age 17. When asked, they added that some young girls have also been arrested. One young boy showed us the scar on his back from an Israeli soldier's shooting - he hadn't thrown any rocks, just had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Tensions in this camp are very high. We were welcomed by the women we met with, but certainly looked at suspiciously by others in this community. Another place filled with much tension and pain. (And, I'm certain there are similar tensions and pains in the Jewish settler areas).

We were glad to get back on our bus and head back to Jersualem where Bishop Younan hosted us for a goodbye dinner at the Christmas Hotel in east Jerusalem. It was a very fine, late dinner.

We returned to the Holmans home. Earlier that evening they had hosted nearly 40 members of Redeemer Church for an Ash Wednesday mean and service in their home. Our Ash Wednesday did not include the literal imposition of ashes but it certainly included many marks of the suffering of God's people.


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