Berthold Werner, Wikimedia Commons

Day 2: Religion a reality in little town of Bethlehem

  • May 13, 2014

Below me the Bridgettine Sisters are chanting the office and it echoes through their guest house built into the hillside entirely out of stone, steel and tile. Outside the muezzin calls Muslims to prayer through giant loudspeakers.

Life in Bethlehem isn't more religious than life in Toronto. The shopping streets are crowded with mundane, secular life and concerns — politics and economics, fashion and necessity. But life is lived close to the religious. Church steeples and minarets bracket every commercial strip. There is a habited nun in every crowd. There are bearded imams taking tea at the restaurants.

The little town of Bethlehem feels more like a city, with its cosmopolitan swarms of tourists and NGO visitors. And every glance to the skyline brings the site of Jerusalem and Jerusalem's hated satellites — dense, rich, uniform Israeli settlements on the Palestinian side of the international border.

So Palestinian life is lived with these two neighbours — God and the Israelis. When the lawyer asks Jesus "And who is my neighbour" Jesus tells a story about a hated and persecuted outsider, a Samaritan and the real relationship between a Jew and Jewish robbers, a Jewish priest, a Jewish merchant and the Samaritan. Jesus seems to be telling the clever lawyer that he doesn't get to choose his neighbours.

The sisters who pray the prayer of the Church and the Muslims who answer the call of the muezzin do not choose to live as neighbours to God, they merely acknowledge the fact. Neither do they choose the Israelis. What counts is how they acknowledge their neighbour.

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