Today is Easter Sunday, May 5, my first Orthodox Easter. It is my second Easter this year, the first having been celebrated on March 31 in Ottawa under the Gregorian calendar.
The three teams from Yanoun, Jayyous and Tulkarm meet in Nablus every Sunday to attend services in the Christian churches.
Today we celebrated with the members of St. Justin’s Latin Church, the only Latin Patriarch (Catholic) church in Nablus. Father Johnny Abu-Khalil warmly greeted us at the door and invited us in to a packed sanctuary.
Although small in size, the voices of the congregation were firm and voluminous. And as the service started, we were asked to Share the Peace with each other. This is a tradition at my church Emmanuel United Church and in other congregations of the United Church of Canada.
During his Homily, Father Johnny noted that there are only 650 Christians remaining in Nablus, down from 3,500 in 1967, and that they are not allowed by the Israelis to travel to Jerusalem to worship in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Also known as the Church of the Resurrection, it is the place where Jesus is said to have been crucified, buried and resurrected. It has been an important pilgrimage destination since the 4th century.
He said: “If we leave the Holy Land, the holy sites will become museums with no life. Your support encourages us to stay. We are the living stones keeping Christianity alive in the Holy Land. There are two governments here, two peoples and three religions. Tell people in your countries about what you see here.” He then celebrated Mass. I strongly felt the need for communion and hope that we will be able to visit other churches in Nablus that have an open table.
As we left the service, many people wished us well and thanked us for coming to Palestine to work for peace.
It felt so good passing the peace with others who live in a land where peace is lacking. I am so very proud of the United Church’s pursuit of a just peace in Palestine and Israel. Now, if the democracies of this world would become intentional about demanding justice, basic human rights and equality for all, the peoples of this Holy Land of Jesus, Jehovah and Allah might one day learn to live among each other in peace.
Yours, from near the Jordan Valley.