On the visit of the Pope
April 1, 2000
 
      The papal pilgrimage to the Holy Land injected new life and a
sense of pride into the declining community to which I once belonged
and with which I feel  very connected.I am hoping that this visit will
put to rest the  question :"when did you convert?" an annoying yet
common question that I have encountered over the years. Many seem to
have forgotten the origin of Christianity.

        I grew up in Nazareth,was baptised at the Basilica of the
Annunciation  where the Pope celebrated the mass of the Annunciation.
My husband Nabil grew up barely ten miles from where the Youth Mass at
the Beatitudes by  the Sea of Galilee was celebrated.In fact it was
his uncle Archbishop Boutros Muallem , Bishop of Galilee,who hosted
that mass ,a mass that combined Eastern rite and Latin rite liturgies
in a splendid show of unity.The show of unity and solidarity extended
beyond the Catholic church: the  Pontiff was accompanied and warmly
embraced by the Eastern orthodox  bishops ,Anglican and Lutheran
bishops and clergy.In the face of  adversity christians in the Holy
land have united and co-operated much more than elsewhere in the
world.

        The percentage of christians in the Holy Land has dropped from
13% of  the population to about 2% in the last fifty years.Political
and  socioeconomic factors have contributed to that decline. But
despite that  decline,the churches there have maintained an important
role mainly in  the areas of education and health care. Services that
are provided to all regardless of religious affiliation. Without the
support of the churches, both health care and education would be in
the dark ages  within the Palestinian community. For example the
Catholic church has two   hospitals in Nazareth and at least ten
schools. The presence of these institutions have had a moderating
effect in a very volatile part of the world.

         For  many years after 1948 the organization of the Church in
Palestine was in total chaos.Chaos that mirrored the reality of a
people displaced  and uprooted,families separated by hostile borders
etc..The church is now trying to rise from the ashes , the local
leadership is wonderful, however they need our moral support,the
support of the Catholic community at large . "Living stones "
pilgrimages,ones that involve interaction with the local parishes,
youth exchange programs, "pen pals" programs between children in
American Catholic schools and their counterparts in the Holy
Land.Parish to parish programs are being organized.There is so much
that we can do to ensure the survival of the mother church in
Jerusalem. Hopefuly the Papal visit will give  such efforts a momentum
in this country,the Europeans have been more responsive,it is our turn
now to educate ourselves as to the origins of our church and the need
to maintain its presence where it all started.

        The pope has also extended a hand of friendship and compassion
to the two other Abrahamic religions ,we can only hope that his
efforts will lead  to friendship and compassion for those whose basic
human rights have  been neglected for many years.

        Najla Bathish Muallem
        Wyomissing Hills