Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Seeing things as others see them

Day 2 of our our journey of reconciliation began with a 6-30 Mass followed by prayers at 7-00. Not the usual way I start the day.

Our coach left Tantur promptly at 8-00 to take us to the old city of Jerusalem in the company of Alan Rabinowitz, a Jewish guide who had been living in Jerusalem for 20 years.

We entered the old city through the Dung Gate with the intention of going on to visit the Dome of the Rock on what Jews and Christians regard as the Temple Mount. The queues meant that tourists are back in Jerusalem, Israel and the West Bank. They also meant we would not be able to visit as we intended.

Instead we took a look at the mount from a wonderful vantage point and began a fascinating walk through the crowded, narrow alleyways of the ancient city.

We visited first the Muslim Quarter to be reminded of the centuries of Muslim presence in this ancient city. As we moved fromthe Muslim to the Christian quarter we went up on to the flat roof of an Austrian hospice to have a remarkable rooftop view of the whole of the ancient city.

It was then along part of the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Sepulchre. Mixed feelings here. Strange to think there was some reason for thinking this was the site of the Crufixion, the burial and the resurrection of Jesus. In some ways it was moving. In other ways it was forbidding, if that's the right word! I wondered whether the concentration of the importance of 'place' was a denial of all that Christ had stood for. Isn't the risen Christ let loose in the world and not identified with a 'holy place'? Much food for thought!

Our walk took us through the Christian Quarter and on to the Armenian Quarter.

It was back for lunch and a 90 minute break before a two hour session with a remarkable Rabbi David Rosen. Once Chief Rabbi in South Africa, in Ireland and now very involved in bringing together leaders of the three great Abrahamic religions in conversations with each other. This the first time such conversations have taken place at a formal level in history.

It was remarkable to hear of his commitment to his own faith, and at the same time a commitment to working for peace and reconciliation among those of other faiths. Not only food for thought, but grounds for hope.

After supper the final session of the day was a talk by Mohammad Haroun who has given a lifetime of commitment again as an Islam to an understanding of Islam that rejects what might be called Islamism with its agenda of world domination, in favour of the need to see in others people created in the image of God.

The most moving moment of our journey of reconciliation came when one of our number, a vicar in Belfast, Northern Ireland insisted on getting in one more question after the alotted time. Drawing on her experience of peacemakers in Northern Ireland experiencing the rejection of their contemporaries and sometimes of their communities, she thanked our speaker and urged him to continue in his commitment to work for peace for the good of his chidlren and his grandchildren too.

A remarkable day that seemed to give rise to hope.

Our journey continues tomorrow at an even earlier hour ... so more news later!

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