Palestinians travel in vehicles loaded with their belongings as they flee Rafah due to an Israeli military operation in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 28, 2024. OSV News photo/Hatem Khaled, Reuters

Lara’s spirit walks on

By 
  • May 30, 2024

Throughout the month of May, we have been responding to the call from Palestinian Christians to pray and walk in solidarity with them by making a “Ceasefire Pilgrimage” for peace. The idea is that people walk 42 km, either on their own or in combination with others, the distance it takes to traverse the entire length of Gaza. It is an ecumenical effort coordinated in Canada by KAIROS. We have been joining with many of our Christian brothers and sisters to call for an immediate ceasefire and a path to peace. Pilgrimages have been taking place all across Canada, including one as far north as Yellowknife, led by Mackenzie Fort-Smith Bishop Jon Hansen.

Another bishop who has greatly inspired me is Bishop Bart Van Roijen of Cornerbrook & Labrador. He walked the entire 42 km himself from York Harbour to Cornerbrook and then led a prayer service at his Cathedral. In a story published by CBC he was quoted as saying, “Many people are forced to walk under much more difficult situations where they may well be bombed or be carrying possessions or maybe traveling with children or whatever it may be.” 

One of those people is 19-year-old Lara Jiries Al Sayegh. Her story was shared with us by Caritas Jerusalem. Lara and her family had been living in refuge at Holy Family, the Latin Church compound in Gaza, for six months. Lara had already lost her father to heart complications, as the war prevented him from getting proper medical care. One of her brothers made it to Egypt where he was to receive a kidney transplant. Sadly, the transplant failed and he was struggling. Wanting to reunite the family and to help her son, Lara’s mother decided to join three other families and undertake a perilous journey with Lara across the scorching heat to Rafah. They paid thousands of dollars in coordination fees to the Egyptian authorities to make the Rafah border crossing into the safety of Egypt.

The journey from the compound to Rafah is approximately 35 km by its most direct route. Sadly, it was too far and too hot a journey for Lara to make. She only made it about half-way to the Al Zawaideh area of south Wadi Gaza. Caritas Jerusalem wrote, “The path to salvation, however, proved treacherous. Restricted by Israeli regulations to minimal possessions and exposed to the blistering heat, Lara succumbed to dehydration, her young life extinguished in a heartbreaking moment of exhaustion.”

The message from Caritas Jerusalem concluded, “In the wake of Lara’s untimely death, her story resonates as a call to action. It highlights the urgent need for humanitarian assistance in conflict-ridden regions and urges compassion for those grappling with unimaginable suffering. May Lara’s soul find peace, and may her memory inspire meaningful change to alleviate the plight of others in similar, and even more dire, circumstances.”

On May 22, I walked for Lara in Ottawa, making my own pilgrimage with 200 others and arriving on Parliament Hill. The Ottawa pilgrimage culminated the month of pilgrimages that have collectively travelled over 10,000 km. We carried images from other pilgrimages held across the country. Church leaders spoke at a prayer event where we also heard the witness and testimony of Palestinian Christians in both word and song. The Church leaders held a press conference and met with several MPs to carry our Christian message of peace to the government of Canada. We were even able to get the Prime Minister to respond directly to one of our questions in Question Period.

There is something about walking in prayer that I find utterly hopeful in the face of despair. Moving my body towards the hope that is in my heart is liberating. I can feel my prayer for peace not only in my words, but in my legs, my arms, my feet and my beating heart. I carried Lara’s picture with me as I walked and prayed. It was hidden in my pocket — not on display for the world but for my own private prayer to God for her. While her body succumbed to the oppression and injustice to which she was subjected, our feet as pilgrims for peace ensure that her spirit walks on.

(Stocking is Deputy Director of Public Awareness & Engagement, Ontario and Atlantic Regions, for Development and Peace.)

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