REFLECTION #45 -  IMPACT OF POPE JOHN PAUL II
                               PALM SUNDAY WEEKEND
Tom Getman
World Vision Palestine
         written in Croatia


Dear Family and Friends:

Dubrovnik, Croatia is a good place to ponder the impact of the His Holiness John
Paul II's visit in Jordan, Israel and Palestine.

The beautiful Byzantine city on the Adriatic which has been the location for a
World Vision directors' conference is still being restored after the Serbian
bombing in 1991-2.  The smell of burnt buildings still pervades the air.  As we
drove along the coast the other day we saw many village homes still in ruins.
Palm Sunday weekend is a good time to ponder how celebratory crowds so easily
turn in the brutal ongoing sacrifice that victimises the innocent in our world
whether in the former Yugoslavia, Ethiopia or the Holy Land. In Joseph Hayden's
Seven Last Words of  Christ, number 5 is "I thirst".  Hayden's interpretation
expands on the words of  Christ, "curb your vengeance, assuage your wrath!
People...may mercy render you submissive, may understanding fill your hearts",
be they the mobs of the first century, Balkan villagers, African children, or
the scapegoats of the Middle East.   "How long shall there still be cruelty?"

                         DO NOT BE AFRAID

 Jesus Christ was not the last to suffer such ignominy but the Cross certainly
continues to present a compelling focus for rethinking how and why we respond to
the victims of excoriating violence.   Maybe this was why the Pope had the
transcendent wisdom to name the destructive mechanisms in our fragile social
order, as victims increase because of politician's sense "sovereignty" and need
for domination.  In the midst of the ongoing struggle he reminded his hearers in
Bethlehem, quoting from St. Luke,    "Do not be afraid.  There is good news of
great joy".  He went on to say:

     This not just in the past.  It is a joy today.  The great mystery of divine
self emptying, the work of our                          redemption unfolding in
the weakness of the crib and the cross...in a "land of deep shadow a light has
shone".
     This is a place that has known "the yoke" and "the rod" of oppression.  How
often has the cry of innocents                     been heard in  the streets?
Peace be with you.  Don't be afraid.

I have purposely waited to write anything about the Papal Pilgrimage until my
own thinking could transcend the rush to analysis of so many who had even quite
profound things to say about this humble and frail prophet.  In the stirring
pilgrim one could see something  special in the equanimity and grace beyond the
ordinary.   The mystery of this one in the succession of St. Peter and as the
"representative of Christ on earth" became so compelling that for the first time
in any one's memory the Israeli press was actually publishing New Testament
sermon texts and explaining the context of each preaching moment.  Why Galilee,
Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem?   The Pope certainly lifted up again the
truth that one need not be strong to be strong!   In his weakness and brokenness
and sorrow for victims, whether Jewish at the Yad Vashem or  Palestinian in the
refugee camps, one caught a glimpse of the divine reality and the necessity to
move beyond the usual combative and sullying politics to  "a saintly demeanor
bereft of guile", as one Israeli journalist said.  The virtues of humility
certainly did get a  boost in this self serving world.  Especially during a week
when even more investigations and indictments were announced regarding a growing
number of felonious senior public figures in Israel, and another innocent young
Palestinian male was shsot dead without provocation by Israeli border guards.

A good reason to withhold words of analysis is to avoid breaking the spell which
still lingers two weeks later.   Gil Baile, author of an  important book of the
past decade, Violence Unveiled..Humanity at the Crossroads, said it best by the
simple observation that the Pope's painful shuffle through his exhausting
schedule was like "the Passion in slow motion".

For this one magical long awaited moment in a conflicted society the alienating
powers seemed to be overtaken by a gentleness and resistance to scapegoating
"the other".  The streets were cleaner and the flowers and flags more beautiful
than I have ever seen here.  New road surface and walkways were prepared for the
Popemobile.  And the multi-religious population stood together sometimes for
hours transfixed by the notion that maybe truth, mercy and justice could be
glimpsed in even the frail flesh and often barely audible voice of a servant
figure...and in one who carried with grace suffering of his own as if to
underscore the point.

                GOOD HUMOR AND POWER IN NEW PAPAL STORIES

The grist for the human interest mill in the midst of unprecedented anxiety and
security was impressive as well.  There are many new vignettes to be added to
the growing mythological storehouse of this unique papal figure.  One of the
best is that at the Ecumenical Gathering, which was supposed to have been a sign
of the reconciliation possible between Jews, Muslims and Christians, both the
Chief Rabbi and the representative of the Muslim Waqkf embarrassed themselves,
and apparently gave the Pope a headache,  with blatant political point- scoring
and crowd angering rhetoric.  As a result neither of them was able with their
troubled spirits to join the Pope at the symbolic olive tree planting and
watering at the Notre Dame Vatican Conference Center garden.  So John Paul II
patiently poured the nurturing waters from the containers reserved for the
others as well.   Just before painfully making his way to the tree site the
third of the three religions children's choirs sang.  This one from the Muslim
Koranic school.  It was pretty sad and quite unrehearsed.  As the choir left the
stage one of the children who knew they had bombed rolled his eyes and crossed
himself.

Another challenging circumstance that forced creativity was that those who
worship regularly in the Old City had to have passes to our churches to get into
the area of the Holy Sepulchre because of the nearly simultaneous private papal
mass.  Even with our very official looking documents it was a test!  One of our
Armenian priest friends who came along to the barricades while we were
negotiating with the police said, "today it is easier to get into Paradise than
into the Holy City".

So when we came out of our worship shortly before the Pope's arrival we were
caught between the proverbial "rock and a hard place".    The soldiers were
explaining in their usual forceful manner that we had to return into the
Lutheran Church for the duration of the papal mass or we must exit out of the
Damascus Gate road.  Neither seemed appealing since we had other passes for a
special audience along with the staff and families of the Latin Patriarchate
after the Holy Father's private worship in the ancient church.   The moment was
drawing near and we were still standing on the corner of the Lutheran Church of
the Redeemer.  When the soldier asked for our decision we explained our dilemma
and showed our passes with the Patriarchate seal.  He said, "goodness, you
belong inside!  What are you doing here?  Quickly go through the security gates
and move into the Church before the Pope."  We very suddenly found ourselves,
along with life-long friends Jack and Kate Kallis from Massachusetts, in the
forecourt of the Holy Sepulchre, the only interlopers in the small gaggle of
Archbishops, media representatives and security officials.  In short order the
feeble figure appeared in front of us and made his way with a slow shuffle
toward the massive doors where he was greeted by the Patriarchs of the other
churches.  We followed closely behind and the found ourselves in an even smaller
number as the Pope deep in reflection knelt at the anointing stone of Jesus just
inside the entrance.  What a moving privilege to see so closely this very
intimate spiritual act by our Christian brother, and then be carried along by
his small entourage into the site of the mass near the Holy Sepulchre Tomb.   We
were overwhelmed to be in this setting clearly by divine circumstances and the
soldier's inability to read correctly the French and Arabic invitation we
carried!  A memory to be treasured for the rest of our lives.

A third and concluding story is about the Pope's compelling desire to go back
for an unscheduled time of quiet prayer at the Holy Sepulchre Crucifixion site
on Golgatha which had not been included on his schedule.  After his lunch and
rest at the Patriachate when the time had come for his  Ben Gurion airport
departure he instead personally called the Franciscan responsible to ask
permission to return to the church.  When he identified himself the monk laughed
thinking it was a joke!   "The Pope himself would not be calling me!"  he
assumed.  But once he was convinced it was his senior bishop the complicated
arrangements were made and John Paul II made his way back with a puzzled and
frantic Israeli security detail who then kept him waiting in the armored car for
some minutes while they once again "cleared" the Holy Sepulchre Church.  The
Holy Father then, we are told, made his way all by himself up the steep stairs
to the site of Jesus Christ's sacrifice for some minutes of quiet reflection.
What a fitting end to his historic visit.

                   PRAYER AT THE CENTER OF THE WORLD

In a region where there is a serious shortage of hope after years without peace,
the Pope exclaimed it with his very body on the site which symbolises like no
other the realm of the cosmic battleground for the human soul.  The place which
the Greeks call the "Center of the world" near the site which the Muslims call
the "naval of the universe", half way between heaven and earth, he boldly
proclaimed non-verbally that the Cross should no longer be seen as an "offence
to the Jews" or an instrument of imposed guilt by Christians.  Rather he lifted
up the possibility, by this one final act of his pilgrimage,  that the ultimate
sacrificial table could be a gathering point of merciful understanding.  His
exclamatory and painful ascent was the embracing of  other peoples' suffering,
Jewish and Arab Israeli and Palestinian alike.  Indeed his word of "fear not"
proclaimed in this deed was the embracing of all our suffering and fear.

May you be encouraged in this Passover and Easter Season to trust more deeply in
the transcendent reality of God's action in the world and find your place in
expressing the incarnational mystery of the Word made flesh.

Grace, mercy and peace,
tg

PS:  This month's attachment is a timely advocacy piece by our wonderful friends
at the British sister organisation Christian Aid.  Their suggestion for a letter
to their Prime Minister can still be easily adapted for your head of state
should you want to participate.  As well I have attached a Word Document, for
those who would like to see it,  which is the uplifting Easter greeting from the
13 Ecumenical Patriarches of Jerusalem.   It is a great encouragement that they
are sending a joint letter after years of inter-religious conflict!

(See attached file: Easter.rtf)

Tom Getman
World Vision Palestine
Box 51399
East Jerusalem, Palestine
via Israel

972-2-628-1793
972-2-626-4260

Thomas_Getman@wvi.org

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Cross the divide
An action for Palm Sunday 2000

On Palm Sunday many churches distribute palm crosses as Christians recall Jesus=
entry into the holy city of Jerusalem for the Jewish feast of Passover. Jesus,
hailed by the crowds of pilgrims as a king, entered on a donkey fulfilling the
prophecy in Zechariah 9:9,
--------------------

?Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and
victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey...?.

Today Jerusalem is at the centre of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The
majority of Palestinians are still denied the right of free access both to visit
and worship in this troubled city; a right freely granted to every tourist and
pilgrim. In fact the majority of the 4.6 million Palestinian refugees cannot
even freely enter the Holy Land. The status of Jerusalem and the future of the
refugees are two of the most contentious issues facing the negotiators in the
Israeli-Palestinian final status talks this year. If these issues are not
resolved with justice, there will be no lasting peace in the Middle East. The
British government can influence this situation through its diplomatic links and
its role in the European Union.

Palm Sunday is a unique opportunity for your congregation to contribute to this
process in two ways. Ask them to:

- pray that Jerusalem will become an inclusive city where people of three faiths
and two nations have equal rights and security and can feel that they belong

- act by sending a cross* with the suggested letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair
to tell him that justice and compassion are essential in addressing the needs of
those Palestinians who cannot visit Jerusalem, or even enter the Holy Land ?
their historic homeland.

*Send palm crosses if your church uses them, or ask people to make their own
crosses.

Prayer
Pray not for Arab or Jew
for Palestinian or Israeli
but pray rather for ourselves
that we might not divide them in our prayers
but keep them both together in our hearts.

Based on a prayer of a Palestinian Christian

Jerusalem       an inclusive city
In Jesus= day, Passover was a time when the Jewish nation looked expectantly for
a Messiah to liberate them from their Roman oppressors. Jesus, however, came on
a donkey in humility. Constantine Dabbagh, a Christian Aid partner who runs the
Middle East Council of Churches= work with Palestinian refugees in Gaza,
believes Jesus= humility shows that God=s kingdom was built on ?? love thus
inclusion, peace thus safety, and justice thus place and belonging? ?.

Today Jerusalem is not a place of peace, safety or justice. A way must be found
for Jerusalem to serve the rights and aspirations of all ? whether Christian,
Muslim or Jewish ? based on the social, economic and security needs of both
Palestinians and Israelis.

PICTURE
Three-year-old Renata is a Palestinian Christian. She lives a few kilometres
from Jerusalem in Beit Jala. Although Renata was born in Jerusalem, she cannot
visit the city because her father is a West Bank resident. Her parents are
registered as refugees. Future freedom of movement for Renata and millions of
Palestinian refugees like her depend on the peace process.

Statistics Box
[bullet point] 3.6 million Palestinian refugees registered with the United
Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)
[bullet point] 1 million unregistered or displaced Palestinian refugees

A suggested letter

The Rt Hon Tony Blair MP
10 Downing Street
London SW1A 2AA

Dear Prime Minister,

As a Christian Aid supporter, I am writing to you on the occasion of Palm Sunday
to draw your attention to the unresolved issues of Jerusalem and Palestinian
refugees. These issues are due for discussion in the current final status talks.

I am deeply concerned that 51 years after the creation of Israel, Palestinians
are still denied the right of free access to Jerusalem which is granted to every
tourist and pilgrim. Five million tourists are expected in the Holy Land this
year, yet the Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip face
restrictions preventing their free access to the city. A further 3.3 million
Palestinian refugees outside the Holy Land are not only barred from entering
Jerusalem but also have little or no access to their homeland.

Over 100 Members of Parliament signed an Early Day Motion [No 78] last November
stating that there will be no lasting peace in the Middle East without a just
resolution of the issue of the Palestinian refugees. I urge you to press for
full international support to achieve the rights of the refugees as laid down in
international law, including the right of return and compensation specified in
UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (1948).

I am sending you this cross as a symbol of the need for justice and compassion
in resolving these issues. I encourage you, as a matter of urgency, to ensure
that Jerusalem will become an inclusive city with free access to religious sites
for people of all faiths and free access to the city for the Palestinian people.

Yours sincerely,
 

For further information contact: Katharine Maycock       e-mail:
kmaycock@christian-aid.org