Being a regular visitor to the Holy Land, I'm still enjoying new and very different experiences especially in the people that I meet writes Father Mark Madden.
The Coordination Meeting left the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem to head north to the coastal mountain range of Mount Carmel. Luscious vegetation covers the slopes: pine, oak and olive trees. I n ancient Canaanite culture, high places were frequently considered to be sacred, and Mount Carmel appears to have been no exception. According to the Book of Kings the prophet Elijah built an altar while he lived in a grotto on the Mountain. According to the Bible in 1 Kings 18, the challenge was to see which deity could light a sacrifice by fire. After the prophets of Baal had failed to achieve this, Elijah had water poured on his sacrifice several times to saturate the altar, prostrated himself in prayer to God, fire fell from the sky, and immediately consumed the sacrifice and the water, prompting the Israelite witnesses to proclaim, 'The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!'. In the account, clouds gather, the sky turns black, and it rains heavily, ending a long drought. Though there is no biblical reason to assume that the account of Elijah's victory refers to any particular part of Mount Carmel, tradition places it at a place known as Al-Mohraqa meaning the burning. This is where we began our visit with Mass, gathered around another altar of sacrifice, the altar of God's Word and His Body and Blood. The Liverpool contingent also remembered with affection our three Carmelite Monasteries within the Archdiocese.
This gathering of Bishops visited for the first time Elias Chacour the Archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and All Galilee of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. He is famous for his efforts to promote reconciliation between Arabs and Israelis which was clearly evident by all present. We met the Archbishop at his home in Haifa with the Deputy-Mayor of Haifa. The Archbishop urged us all to take the prophet Elijah as our model and strive to promote justice for all. The role of every Christian is to 'answer the call to build bridges between peoples of all faiths'. He reminded us that to be a friend of Palestine must also mean that we are friends with Israel, so when we work for justice and peace we work for the sake of everyone.
The Deputy-Mayor warmly welcomed the gathering and introduced us to the very beautiful city of Haifa. He explained that it was a city where all faiths coexist peacefully and as friends and neighbours. Archbishop Patrick likened Haifa to Liverpool as both cities having ports and universities. He explained that Liverpool has a University called 'Hope' and a street separating two Cathedrals called 'Hope'. Liverpool has a chequered history but what changed that history was 'hope'. We are a people of hope who pray for something new. Hope is precisely the formation of people, especially young people, who should have the spirit and remain true to the prophet Elijah. The Archbishop said that Mount Carmel is a wonderful place to root this vision of Elijah and 'Better Together' should always remain our vision.
Archbishop Chacour was very strong in his belief that we need to make an act of solidarity with local Christians and it's something which is clearly seen with the Coordination Meeting every year. Later he was to tell us that with solidarity, 'together we are stronger than the storm. Together we can overcome violence and war. Only can we make peace together when we all recognise that God is the Prince of Peace. Our common vocation is to be Bridge Builders.'
With the Archbishop's words ringing in our ears we moved to an Inter Religious Exchange with Jews, Muslims and Druze. A very impressive gathering, the first time for this local group of believers to come together to talk, share and listen. For those observing this exchange it was very clear and heartening to hear that all faiths in this part of the country and working and living together. There was a real sense of acceptance regardless of religion and this was much appreciated. Much work is still to be done especially in Education but there are positive signs. Religious Leaders were urged to not only talk about their own community but to help people realise that we all belong to the one world and that we are created to love.
Many people often ask me if I see signs of change and hope in the Holy Land. What do you think? I think our role is to show the people of this land these signs, and despite what the Leaders are achieving or fail to achieve, many people are working together. Many people are trying to build bridges. Many people are trying to live 'better together' and are a true inspiration to the rest of us!
More pictures of the visit
Pictures © Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk
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