Holy Land pilgrims find desire for peace

By  Christl Dabu and Sheila Dabu, The Catholic Register
  • April 6, 2009
{mosimage}With the radio blaring Arabic music, we sit in the minibus, praying for a safe journey. It’s 7:30 a.m. and we are travelling from Jerusalem to Bethlehem as part of our Holy Week “backpacking pilgrimage.” No tour buses. Just us with a map and our rosaries.

We must go through the checkpoint to enter the separation barrier into the West Bank, and a part of us wonders if we will make it. Surprisingly, the two guards let us through, no questions asked. Not even a glance at our Canadian passports. It’s a relief we aren’t interrogated like our experience at Tel Aviv airport.

The separation wall, built to prevent terrorists from entering Israel, emerges into view with the graffiti of a lion devouring a bird wearing a black and white kaffiyeh (Arab headdress). This reflects what the Palestinians’ say is their life behind the wall: divided families, economic hardships and a sense of alienation.
“No justice, no peace,” reads more graffiti on the wall.

Three years ago, backpacking through the Holy Land during Holy Week by ourselves wasn’t exactly the spring break adventure most 20-somethings plan for. During our two-and-a-half week trip which included stops in Jordan and Egypt, four suicide bombings struck the areas we visited.

Newspaper headlines often paint the Middle East as hopelessly trapped behind a wall of hatred and violence. But taking a “leap of faith” by visiting the region offers a glimpse of something beyond the wall: a more profound and complicated reality. Life goes on, and for most people, the desire for peace isn’t just graffiti on the wall.

Back in Bethlehem, the cycle of violence between Palestinians and Israelis is something Rebecca Calaor, 55, says is hard to understand, even after living in the Holy Land for two decades. The Filipina lay missionary worker isn’t taking sides on the divide.

At 18, Calaor joined a lay missionary order and worked in England, Spain and back to the Philippines before she was sent to the Holy Land. Loved ones back home wonder how she can live in a place that’s so volatile.

She says it’s generally safe for tourists, but she advised us to take a taxi rather than the bus and avoid crowded places, previously targeted by bombers, in predominantly Jewish West Jerusalem.

Peace may still be a far-off dream, yet Calaor has hope.

“Peace is in the hearts of everyone,” she says, except the extremists who have “hatred in their hearts.”

During a tour of the Vatican-sponsored Bethlehem University, Calaor recalls how students had to take refuge in the library from missiles and tear gas during an Israeli military operation in 2002. She points out the hole, now covered with glass, which burned through the library from a missile.

After a day touring the town, we have to take another route back to our hostel because without the approved licence plate, the Palestinian taxi driver was refused entry.

The tight security and fears of violence don’t stop pilgrims, mostly people in their 60s and 70s, who have been waiting their whole lives to see the Holy Land, says Andre Mubarak. As a minority Christian living in the Holy Land, Mubarak, 30, is determined to stay in Jerusalem despite the hardships and discrimination he faces. Five times a day soldiers ask for his ID. Even with his knowledge of five languages and a university degree, it’s difficult for him to find a job.

While forgiveness isn’t easy for either side, he says he’s optimistic about peace.

“I have many Israeli friends and Muslim friends. Most people want to live together,” says the Christian Palestinian who guided us around the Sea of Galilee region on Easter Sunday.

Walking the streets of towns in Israel and the West Bank, it’s almost instinctive to look over your shoulder. It’s hard to forget the area’s tumultuous history. But beneath its deepest scars is a land that is breathtaking, pristine and in moments, peaceful.

“Most Christians have left because it’s very hard for us to survive,” says Mubarak, noting half of his family now live in the United States. “But I feel I have a calling to live in the land. My heart is in Jerusalem, to stay in Jerusalem and live in Jerusalem.”

(Sheila Dabu is a reporter with The Catholic Register and Christl Dabu is an editor at the Toronto Star.)

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location
Type the text presented in the image below

Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.