Holy Land journey: Back in my grandparents’ homeland

By Bishop Gerald Kicanas
One in a series

(Editor’s Note: Bishop Gerald Kicanas (below) of Tucson, Ariz., vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is in Lebanon, his ancestral homeland. The trip will also take him to Israel and the Palestinian territories for an international meeting of  bishops in support of the church in the Holy Land. He has agreed to be a guest blogger for us during the trip.)

DAY ONE: Jan. 5, 2010

BEIRUT, Lebanon — I arrived in Beirut at night. I flew over the pitch black Mediterranean Sea on Middle East Airlines to see the lights of the city glittering in the night. I felt excited to be back a second time some 40 years later in the land my grandparents spoke about, whose food I grew up enjoying, and where my roots lie. I hope to learn more about this land which has faced so many heart-breaking struggles and keeps bouncing back proudly.

Steve Colecchi, director of the Office of International Justice and Peace at the U.S. bishops’ conference, and William O’Keefe, senior director for advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, are accompanying me. They have visited this country before and know well its challenges.

Samir, a young man born in Lebanon who works as a driver for CRS, greeted me with the words, “Welcome home, Sayeedna (Bishop).” It felt so good.

Being late we drove right to the hotel where I met Mark Schnellbaecher, regional director of CRS, and Melinda Burell, country director for CRS, who planned our itinerary. We enjoyed a late evening meal of Arabic food at a lovely restaurant quite close to the hotel. Hummus, baba ghanouj, good Lebanese bread, grape leaves and lots of olives adorned the table. Mark and Mindy spoke of our next-day activities, which would start at 9:00 a.m. and end around 10:00 p.m. non-stop. I collapsed that night hoping jet lag would not menace my sleep.

One Response

  1. Bishop Kicanas’s visit to the Middle East is very interesting to me, since I lived in Turkey for nine years and was able to visit the Holy Land at least three times, the first as early as Nov. 1963, not all that long after the State of Israel was established. We had to go last to Israel and be sure that no visas or customs stamps appeared in our passports. The trip included visits to Damascus and Beirut, the Dead Sea, Jericho, Bethlehem, etc. We had to go through the Mandelbaum Gate to get into Israel. The second time I went, in the summer of 1965, with my mother, my college scripture professor, a Dominican who was studying at the Ecole Biblique, was able to spend some time with us, so we had good guidance.The last time was in the summer of 1976, when my mother and father, my daughter and I had a week on a private tour with our own (Israeli) guide. We were still able to get into Bethlehem and other places which I believe are not possible now.

    Anyway, my point is, Bishop Kicanas’s blogs are really difficult to get to. Could we not have the whole report of his trip in one long article somewhere? Only bits and pieces are available the way you have them now. I believe it would be very helpful for everybody to be able to hear about his trip. Those who still think Israel is the only side for Americans to support as well as those who believe that war is the only way for the Palestinians to respond to Israel’s oppressive presence would get a more balanced view, as well as some idea of what might be possible for Christian involvement in a realistic settlement of the morass that whole area is in now. I was very glad to see his visit in the NCR’s column, but there seems to be a lot more that we really can’t read. This is a subject of utmost importance to all of us right now. It affects all kinds of other foreign policy aspects indirectly, as well as directly our long-time efforts to be the catalyst to settle the matter.

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