Dean Peter Wall's Blog
Jerusalem Blog – Day Seven
Driving from Jerusalem in to the West Bank – to Ramallah, the Administrative Capital of the Palestinian Authority – is only (according to the signs) a 10kilometre drive but it feels like another world. This evening Bishop John son, Bishop Pryse and I (along with five others from Jerusalem) attended graduation ceremonies for The Lutheran School of Hope in Ramallah. It was a fantastic evening, with talented choir of younger children, folk dancers, (also students at the school) who were just amazing, a klesmer band which really played well with a graduating student on clarinet, and a vocal soloist accompanied by a violin – also graduating students. Bishop Munib Younan (Lutheran Bishop of Jordan and The Holy Land) acts as Chancellor of the School and gave a powerful address, as well as handing out all the diplomas. It was, like all high school graduations, spirited and fun – a huge crowd was there to support the 45 graduates and there was much hooting and hollering! Two hours of non-stop Arabic is tough on the ears – it is a language which bears no resemblance to the languages I can usually almost decipher – English, French, German, Italian (although there was one valedictory speech in English and one in German) but it was still magical and a true privilege to attend.
When one goes to (and from) Ramallah, one is confronted with the confounding complexity of this place – a checkpoint around this incredibly ugly and intrusive wall. One of the other people in the mini-van described it as ‘pure evil’. It is pretty rough – no particular check when you are going into Ramallah – except for roads that are terrible and seem designed to snarl traffic beyond belief, and a total lack of any signs whatsoever – but coming out of Ramallah back into Israel is where it gets really rough – the wall is clearly designed not to keep people out, but rather to keep them in. It is a political and economic reali6y which is painful to observe. Driving through Ramallah, one sees large posters everywhere which say: ‘No Peace until we regain our Homes’. Since the Christian population in this region is virtually entirely Palestinian, it is easy to adopt an overly simplistic view that it is all about Israel’s dominance and oppression. That is too simple – the complexities of history and politics simply do not allow that easy an analysis. Meanwhile, Ramallah is a bustling, new, beautiful city, with life and vibrancy at every turn.
I parted company with Bishops Susan and Michael – they were staying in Bethlehem for a special service at ‘Christmas Lutheran’ in Bethlehem (no kidding!) and meetings today and tomorrow. As I bade adieu to Bishop Munib and to Pastor Sven, we agreed that this had been a very important and historic week – the local Anglican and Lutherans are committed – as are their Bishops – to developing agreements and to working closely together. Our presence – the five Canadians – enormously helped that to happen – it feels good and we know that it was more than worth our time and energy. And a wonderful expereince for us all, as well.
Driving back into Jerusalem as dusk was ending and night falling was beautiful, This country is all hills and every curve in the road yields a new vista. There is a softness to the evening sky, and the lights of hilly Jerusalem and settlements on the West Bank twinkle and glow. It is a hauntingly beautiful place, so full of history and depth and images and grace. I look forward to me next visit – Jerusalem is a city to which one is always bound to return. And, again in my life, as I say the words to Psalm 122, I will have a wonderful nostalgia in my voice.
Off to church this morning – my last day here – and perhaps a walk through the Garden of Gethsemane and its wonderful churches.
Thanks for travelling with me – I will continue to reflect and to write.
Jerusalem Blog – Day Six
This is a place of complexity – different names for where we are, each name having a particular meaning for a particular people. To speak of The Holy Land is one thing, to speak of The Middle East is another. I have met Jerusalemites, Jordanians, Palestinians, Arab Israelis, Arab Christians, Moslem Palestinians, etc. etc. And that all in five days. It is land redolent with sounds and smells, with lush gardens, and trees hanging with oranges, lemons, and limes. In Jerusalem, it can be very hot during the day but cools off at night because the city is quite high in the hills. There is a relaxed atmosphere to the place – you can tell that many people work in the mornings and late in the day but relax over an extended noon hour. Perhaps good modeling for us in North America who seem to want to work the clock around.
This is also a city of walls – like all medieval cities, and even more so. It is a city of monochromatic grey and white and all stone – no wooden structures, and very little steel (even if modern and built of steel construction, even those are clad in white Jerusalem stone). The walls of the old city define it completely; one walks down city streets outside of the old city and there are more and more walls – but behind those walls lie charming and beautiful courtyards, gardens and houses. It is extraordinary to the North American eye. And, of course, now newer and more sinister walls have appeared throughout this land – walls built to keep certain people out and, more significantly, others in. Walls define both the beauty and the difficulties.
Today was a relaxed day for the Canadian delegation – we had some informal meetings with others here but no formal meetings. It was also a day to wander the shops in the old city and to visit some Holy sites. The Old City is simply impossible to describe – hot, noisy, colourful, a challenge to walking because every surface is uneven stones, slopes, and stairs; a lot of climbing both up and down, mysterious small lanes and alleys moving off at angles all akimbo. It is so much fun!
Tomorrow – Ramallah – the de facto administrative capital of the Palestine Authority.
Jerusalem Blog – Day Five
This morning dawned as another beautiful Jerusalem day – sunny, blue skies, fresh air. One of the serendipitous gifts of our time here is that it coincided with today’s Installation of the Dean of Jerusalem. Canon (now Dean) Hosam Naoum has been on staff as Canon Pastor at St. George’s for several years; he now is the Dean. It was a magnificent service, colourful and joyous. Along with the local Diocesan clergy, both Anglican and Lutheran and a large congregation, several Heads of Churches were here to help celebrate this event, including The Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem, a Roman Catholic Bishop, and representatives from the Armenian and Coptic churches. Worshipping simultaneously in English and Arabic is an experience – particularly singing very traditional hymns like ‘Praise My Soul’ and ‘Praise to the Lord, the Almighty’ in both tongues was fun and exciting! Bishop Suheil presided; Archbishop Hiltz preached (his sermon was then repeated in Arabic, by the Dean designate!) and Bishop Munib Younan, the local Lutheran Bishop was present. Bishop Susan Johnson, Bishop Michael Pryse, and I were seated together in the choir – it was very moving to be present for the installation of the first indigenous, Arabic Dean in the Cathedral’s 160 year history. It is particularly poignant, also, in the context of the liturgy, to listen to the words of Acts 1 – ‘While staying with them, he (Jesus) ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father’. In this land where there has been so much leaving by Christians, and so much is so very fragile for all concerned, the reminder to ‘stay in Jerusalem’ holds a tender and crucial importance for these dedicated people. Hosam was so pleased to have another Cathedral Dean here as well – a special time, indeed.
Later in the day we convened again with the local commission members and concluded the formal part of our meetings. There is a great deal of local commitment to working together and to deepening the already close relationships between these two churches. We reviewed a number of international Lutheran/Anglican agreements and the history of these developments over the last half century. We spoke of the simplicity and the directness of the Waterloo Declaration and the ways in which it has borne fruit over the last 11 years in Canada. Both Bishops – Suheil and Munib – are looking forward to the work that their local commission will do, and have pledged to issue a joint Pastoral Letter within the next month setting these things in motion.
We enjoyed a lovely dinner together with our hosts and new friends, and continued our more informal sharing of experiences and ‘graces’ of full communion on the lovely Cathedral gardens.
A most moving and significant day…
Jerusalem Blog – Day Four
Today was the first full day of meetings between us, the Canadian visitors, and the local Anglican/Lutheran Bishop and pastors/priests.
Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and Bishop Suheil Dawani of theEpiscopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East are charming, delightful, and wise, good men who have been friends for many years since they served as parish priests together in Ramallah. They have both served as faithful pastors and, now, as Bishops in a part of the world which few of us in Niagara could recognize or begin to understand. They serve as Bishops in churches which are besieged, shrinking, and oppressed. They understand their unique shared history (which involves the fascinating history of Russia, England, and Prussia in the nineteenth century) which is geo-political in all its ramifications. As I have said earlier, this is a story which involves different countries and races; a story which involves trans-border intrigue and confusion, and s story which ultimately involves two monolithic religions – Judaism and Islam – systematically reducing the Christian minority to virtually nothing. And all of this surrounded by the very places and locales which define our story as Christians. It is breathtaking in its complexity and poignancy. These two devout and wonderfully good humoured servants of Jesus have toiled and troubled in these complicated lands for many years. They are surrounded by faithful and committed clergy and laypeople, some of whom joined with us today.
The group gathered prayed and laughed, listened and reflected, thought and reacted. We Canadians Archbishop Fred Hiltz, National Bishop Susan Johnson, Bishop Michael Pryse and me – told them of our history in the road to our full communion relationship; we shared the triumphs and some of the road blocks on the way. We spoke of the Waterloo Declaration and of the steps on the road which got us there. We shared the stories of good times and not so good times on this journey. In all of these things, we engendered in our hosts good (and sometimes deeply humorous) moments, thoughts, and experiences. In all of these things, we acknowledged that we can learn from each other and help each other toward that goal of Jesus; that they all may be one. The local Middle East church leaders have a real commitment to working together as well as distinctive shared history which will go a long way to help them on their way. At the same time, they have particular local political realities which make their way potentially particularly problematic.
We ate and prayed together, we came to know each other, we exchanged, in informal ways, our own stories, and we became ‘friends’ – surely the best way to move along on the ecumenical road towards full communion. It was a delightful, promising, frustrating, entertaining, and, ultimately, very rewarding day. We sang Evensong together and enjoyed dinner with each other, particularly mindful of the installation, tomorrow, of Canon Hosam Naoum, who has become such a good friend, as Dean of St. George’s Cathedral, a celeb ration which we shall all attend and at which our Primate, Arch bishop Fred Hiltz, shall preach.
More meetings shall follow………………….
More tomorrow. Please pray for Canon Naoum, and his family, and for the Church in these lands.
Jerusalem Blog – Day Three
Many reading this will have been to Masada, the stark mountain in the most desolate part of the Negev, adjacent to the hauntingly beautiful Dead Sea. Masada is that fortress where Herod had his winter palace in a place of strategic importance in the defense of the Jews. After the death of Herod in 4 BCE and the annexation of Judea in 6 CE, the Romans stationed a garrison at Masada, but a group of rebel Jews took Masada back and held off the Romans for several years, even after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, Masada was the last rebel stronghold in Judea and the Romans mounted a siege in 73 or 74 CE. The 8000 strong Roman legion besieged the mountaintop fortress for several months, finally building a huge map made of earth and wooden supports. Rather than submit to the Romans, the roughly 960 remaining members of the Jewish community, led by Eleazar Ben Yair, chose to commit mass suicide rather than be humiliated as Roman slaves. Masada has thus become a huge piece of Jewish history, and a modern day shrine in Israel. A national park, and a deeply significant archeological treasure, it has been extensively researched and excavated. Israel school children all see it as part of their schooling; tourists from around the world come to see it. Reading about it and even seeing movies about it do it insufficient justice - I found it a very important place to visit 15 years ago and today was no different. It is incredible. Just up the road is Qumeran, the site of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, another place which has been magnificently researched and preserved. Two such dramatic places, just a few miles apart.
Today we also began in earnest to prepare for the important meetings which will take place over the next few days with local Anglican and Lutheran Bishops and others as they work towards a new relationship between their churches here in the Middle East, as we have done in Canada over the last 25 years. While the circumstances are exceedingly different for the church here, we Canadians will tell them that it is because of our friendship with each other and because of learning about each other, that our churches have found such fresh and new strength in our full-communion relationship. They will be interesting days, no doubt.
Jerusalem Blog – Day Two
Imagine a relatively small geographical diocese, only 27 parishes (but including 35 others schools, hospitals, and related institutions) spread over five countries – Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon – among and between which travel is a Rubik’s cube of incalculable proportions. Imagine being a Palestinian spouse of an Israeli Arab priest, living in Israel, and therefore unable to drive, have health insurance, travel freely, fly from an Israeli airport, or work in any way. Such are the complexities of this breath taking land, all within a religious complexity of the three major world religions and, within those, many different Christian denominations and churches, all ‘part’ of this jigsaw puzzle of religious antiquity and practice. It is a fascinating place and so much more fascinating (and sad and incomprehensible) since I was here almost 15 years ago. A place of incredible beauty and determination; a place of deep and abiding patriotism, and place of significant and hard won citizenship; a place of sounds and smells and tastes that are exotic, incessant, and engrossing.
Today we visited The Jerusalem Princess Basra Center for Disabled Children – a deeply moving and impressive facility which helps children of all faiths and from around this region. It is a ministry in which the Anglican Diocese is closely involved. A place, simply, of wonder. I look forward to writing more about it on my return.
We were in the Old City with all its sounds and sights, in Bethlehem (including a visit to the ‘Milk Grotto’, so named because it was here that Mary supposedly nursed Jesus – now covered by a magnificent convent) and went to the Shepherds’ Field (yes, those shepherds –the original ones – see Luke 2!!) with an altar given by Canadians...Tomorrow – Jericho and Masada.
Jerusalem Blog – Day One
Flying from Toronto direct to Tel Aviv takes one over northern Europe, down across the Mediterranean and the Greek Islands into Israel-Palestine. The warm sun greeted us in landing at Ben Gurion; after a trouble free negotiating of Israeli customs, we were met by the Dean Designate of Jerusalem, Canon Hosam Naoum, in the ‘official’ car, with flag flying! The quick one hour drive ‘up’ to Jerusalem (it is quite high in elevation after the sea level of Tel Aviv) took us to St. George’s College where we checked in to our comfortable accommodations.
A short nap and then we went to Evensong at the Cathedral and then out for supper of pizza and beer with Hosam. We are privileged to be here this week because we will be present at his installation service as Dean on Ascension Day. Today we are off to Bethlehem, as well as spending some time in the Old City this morning. Our Lutheran colleagues join us later today and tomorrow we begin more detailed meetings with the local Bishops. As I recall so well from my first time in Jerusalem some years ago, the sunshine here is always bountiful and the gardens – particularly the ones here at St. George’s – are beautiful! It is a wonderful, beautiful and terribly complex land in which people can only freely go to so many places and for whom many other places are inaccessible. Today we will pass through the ‘Wall’ and checkpoints to reach Bethlehem, so different from several years ago. And yet the people are smiling and happy – we heard last evening at Evensong (along with a large group of Australian pilgrims) how ‘praying for the peace of Jerusalem’ (Psalm 122) takes on its own special poignancy here.
It is going to be a very interesting week – I look forward to reflecting on it.