ANDDP Congress continued with the program on Thursday, October 17: "Church Reality and Life in the Holy Land." The day ended with a visit to Bethlehem to discover and experience the local pastoral.
Marie-Armelle Beaulieu, editor of the magazine “the Holy Land” presented the history of the Custody of the Holy Land and its mission today. Bishop William Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop of Jerusalem spoke about the perspectives for the Church of Jerusalem after the Synod called by the Pope for Catholic Churches of the Middle East last year.
Bishop Shomali reminded the delegates of the National Association of Diocesan Directors of Pilgrimage (ANDDP) that he could not describe how the Holy Land can live the Synod without including the whole Middle East. "We cannot talk about the Middle East issues without putting in the center the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." He returned to the Synod Message for the People of God and the 44 proposals focusing on five main points.
First point: renewal of Christian faith based on daily reading of the Word of God. In the Holy Land, the “Five minutes with the Word of God” project meets this objective, “that every family can dedicate five minutes to read and pray together from God's word every day.”
Second point: communion within the Church and even among the various Catholic churches in the Middle East. As a good example, a Catholic library will open in Beit Sahour next Sunday, to be opened by the Latin Bishop of Jerusalem, the Greek Catholic Bishop of Jerusalem, the Syrian Catholic Bishop of Jerusalem and the Latin Bishop of Nazareth.
Third point: ecumenical dialogue. There are two directions, one of theological dialogue and one of charity combined with humility. “Unification of Easter date between Catholics and Orthodox would be a great sign of Christian unity for the world. (...) If we are unable to reach a joint decision regarding the calendar, how will it be possible to make decisions in the dogmatic field?” asks Bishop Shomali.
Fourth point: interreligious dialogue with Muslims and Jews. “With Muslims we must seek equality in rights and duties.” Recent events in Iraq and Egypt seems to contradict the moderate position of the Synod. The Bishop sees in the Proposition 29 of the Synod “a prophecy,” the call of all Catholic churches “to institute an annual joint celebration for the martyrs of Eastern Churches and to ask each Eastern Church to establish a list of its own martyrs and faith witnesses.” The Synod strongly encouraged dialogue with Jews, but it is often poisoned by political issue.
Fifth point: emigration of Christians. The scourge of exodus will be limited when the presence of Christians in these areas will not be considered “as a pure coincidence but a vocation from God to be a sign of the Gospel in predominantly Muslim societies, or Jewish society in the case of Israel.”
Bishop Shomali concluded that “the Synod of for the Middle East ended a year ago, but we are still at the beginning of our work to put the guidelines into practice.” He cited Synod Proposition 8 on pilgrimages for the information of the diocesan directors of pilgrimages, “The East was the land of biblical revelation. (...) Pilgrimage to the holy places ... is an opportunity for a thorough catechesis, for a return to roots. You can discover the wealth of Eastern Churches, to meet and encourage local Christian communities, living stones of the Church.”
Mr. Sevin, congressman and professional pilgrimage organizer is delighted with the balance found in pilgrimages which must be both time to meet and time to get into the Word of God: “We must have at heart to live the Word of God there, and to allow pilgrims to enter the heart of the incarnation mystery. (...) In this time of crisis as we know, French people desire for a return to fundamentals and benchmarks and the pilgrimage may be an appropriate response to this thirst. This is an essential pastoral focus.”
The Custody: a Franciscan vocation
Marie-Armelle Beaulieu, editor of the magazine “the Holy Land” dealt with the long presence of Franciscans in the Holy Land for nearly 800 years. The Custody of the Holy Land is responsible for many Holy Places but the Franciscan vocation also concerns the poor and the sick. This calling is expressed today in the following five axes.
First, “to lift the poor out of poverty, Franciscans teach them new skills. So, they brought to the Holy Land the olive wood and mother of pearl handicraft. (...) The Custody recently reopened two schools of mosaic, one in Jordan, the other in Jericho and a school to learn the art and craft work with mother of pearl in Bethlehem.”
The Custody, as with all other churches, “have undertaken to provide housing and building renovations, and make these houses available to hundreds of Christians at very moderate rents.” In Nazareth or Jaffa, entire neighborhoods will soon be built on land owned by the Custody. A rehabilitation program has been planned for Custody-owned buildings and houses in the Old City over a period of two years.
Reception of pilgrims, and schools are part of the work of the Franciscans as well as communications network. From the mid-nineteenth century, the Custody opened a print shop that produced the first catechism in Arabic. “This year, 5,000 Bibles were printed in Arabic.” "The Holy Land" magazine celebrated its 90th anniversary this year. “The magazine will soon have its own website and we began work on its evolution to a digital Ipad tablet and other electronic means od communication.” she explained to the delegates.
She concluded by acknowledging that “for 800 years the Custody has been a steady presence in the Holy Land. Is it too much? No, it is even not enough with regard to rapidly evolving and growing needs in a complex situation that doesn't seem to have a solution to conflicts and problems in the very near future. Is the Custody perfect? No. It lacks means, it lacks vocations.”
In the afternoon, conference participants went to Bethlehem to discover the local pastoral (Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour). Mass was held at the Church of St. Catherine. Ms. Khouloud Daibes, Minister of Tourism of the Palestinian Authority was present.