Holy Land journey: We arrive in Jerusalem

By Bishop Gerald Kicanas
One in a series

DAY FIVE: Jan. 9, 2010

JERUSALEM — Steve Colecchi of the U.S. bishops’ conference, Bill O’Keefe of Catholic Relief Services and I left Beirut early to fly to Amman, Jordan, and then from Amman to Tel Aviv. It is complicated because Lebanon does not have relationship with Israel so you cannot fly direct. When we entered Lebanon, each person’s passport is checked for an Israeli stamp which could be at least somewhat problematic. For that reason we had to have two passports in order to travel to Lebanon and then to Israel.

With all the complications, our transit went very smoothly. After long security lines and careful screening, our two flights got us to Tel Aviv, where a CRS driver met us to bring us by car to Jerusalem, about one half hour from Tel Aviv. (continue below)

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(Editor’s Note: Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is on a trip to Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories to attend 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.)

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I am always amazed at how much development takes place in Jerusalem from year to year. The countryside on the road up to Jerusalem is marked by more and more major developments. When we arrived in the Holy City we went to the Knights Palace, the pilgrim residence for the Latin Patriarchate, where we will be staying for the week.

We quickly settled in and Bill and I went for a run around Jerusalem. There is always so much to see as one moves from the Arab center in East Jerusalem to the Hasidic Jewish section of Mea Shearim to the developments in West Jerusalem. Being Shabbat, there was little traffic. Many Jews travel to the Wailing Wall on Saturdays and it is a time for prayer and rest. It was good to see so many families walking together or gathering for prayer. This happens, of course, in Arab communities on Fridays for Muslims and on Sundays for Christians. We worship one God. We pray. If only we could be one in peace.

Franciscan Father Garret Edmunds leads a tour group around the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem in this photo from last year. (CNS/Debbie Hill)

Jerusalem draws you in by its history, fascinates you with its many sounds, overwhelms you with its diversity. As I wander through the Old City one cannot help but think how much and how little has changed in the generations who have called Jerusalem home. As a city sacred to three faiths, it is a place of pilgrimage that regretfully has known little peace. Still today you see armed soldiers and feel the tensions that can erupt instantaneously.

We enjoyed an evening dinner at Notre Dame, a residence directed by the Legionnaires of Christ where many pilgrims stay. They began a restaurant for pilgrims that served delicious food. Some of the staff of the restaurant have been trained in hospitality service at Bethlehem University, a marvelous university run by the De La Salle Christian Brothers on the West Bank in Bethlehem. George, our waiter for the night, was working for his first night. While nervous, he cared for us well.

It was good to see Matt Davis, Director of CRS in this country, along with Elias, a Palestinian who works with CRS, and Ian, who is assistant director in his first year in this area. They updated us on the work of CRS, especially in Gaza since the war last year and helped us figure out plans for our stay this year.

Holy Land journey: Misdiagnosis of terrorism, and a visit to my roots

By Bishop Gerald Kicanas
One in a series

(Editor’s Note: Bishop Gerald Kicanas (right) of Tucson, Ariz., vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is on a trip to Lebanon, his ancestral homeland, and to Israel and the Palestinian territories, where he will attend 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 FOUR: Jan. 8, 2010

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Yesterday I was able to connect with a Lebanese American family from Tucson who are visiting for the holidays. Ziad Safi and his wife and baby daughter welcomed us into their family home which looked out over the city, a magnificent view. Ziad’s father built the building in which various members of his family now live on different floors. This is very common in Lebanon.

His mother seemed so pleased that her son was home for a while and certainly delighted to see her grandchild. Family is so important to the Lebanese as to many other cultures. His mother has never yet visited in Tucson. I encouraged her to come and visit when that is possible.

As always there was food and drink offered and much time to chat. Almost immediately you get into the situation in the Middle East. It is on everyone’s mind. We discussed the many Christians who have left Lebanon which results from opportunities elsewhere as well as fear of violence and conflict. Despite living elsewhere they like to return to Lebanon. Many families, especially those in the Gulf states, have built large houses in Lebanon where they return from time to time. The challenge is how to encourage the young to stay and use their gifts for their country.

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On Friday Bill (CRS Baltimore), Mindy (CRS Beirut) and I went running in the early morning along the Corniche, a beautiful open space that runs along the Mediterranean Sea. This old man had a hard time keeping up with the two youngsters but there is so much to distract you the run was fun. Groups of men smoking on water pipes along with fishermen with large poles set out into the sea lined the walk.

Many people were out walking or running along the Corniche. It was a delight. You get to see so much doing a run. We passed the place where Rafik Hariri was assassinated. He had a great deal to do with renovating downtown Beirut through Solidaiire, a company he owned. Like the urban renewal in Tucson this development left many hurt feelings as many buildings were taken down for development, a difficult tension.

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Our business day began with a meeting with Rami Khouri, a professor at American University in Beirut. This famous university is one of the jewels of Beirut. It is well known throughout the world and is distinguished in many areas of study. Khouri is the director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs.

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Pope to diplomats: Denial of God devastates creation

VATICAN CITY — In his address today to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Vatican, Pope Benedict focused on the need to safeguard creation, which was the theme of his recent World Peace Day message.

His talk today looked at environmental concerns primarily from a moral perspective, and touched on belief in God, social injustice, misallocation of resources and protection of the unborn.

Here are some highlights from the Vatican’s English-language translation of the pope’s address in French:

The denial of God distorts the freedom of the human person, yet it also devastates creation. It follows that the protection of creation is not principally a response to an aesthetic need, but much more to a moral need, inasmuch as nature expresses a plan of love and truth which is prior to us and which comes from God.

If we wish to build true peace, how can we separate or even set at odds the protection of the environment and the protection of human life, including the life of the unborn?

The pope took aim at military spending.

…the protection of creation is indeed an important element of peace and justice! Among the many challenges which it presents, one of the most serious is increased military spending and cost of maintaining and developing nuclear arsenals. Enormous resources are being consumed for these purposes, when they could be spent on the development of peoples, especially those who are poorest.

He said the community of believers clearly has a role to play in fostering more responsible attitudes and lifestyles.

…the causes of the situation which is now evident to everyone are of the moral order, and the question must be faced within the framework of a great program of education aimed at promoting an effective change of thinking and at creating new lifestyles. The community of believers can and wants to share in this, but, for it to do so, its public role must be recognized.

But the church’s voice is not always welcome, he said.

Sadly, in certain countries, mainly in the West, one encounters in political and cultural circles, as well in the media, scarce respect and at times hostility, if not scorn, directed towards religion and towards Christianity in particular…. There is thus an urgent need to delineate a positive and open secularity which, grounded in the just autonomy of the temporal order and the spiritual order, can foster healthy cooperation and a spirit of shared responsibility.

Finally, he said the environmental crisis reflects a “yearning for salvation” present in the world.

There is so much suffering in our world, and human selfishness continues in many ways to harm creation. For this reason, the yearning for salvation which affects all creation is all the more intense and present in the hearts of all men and women, believers and non-believers alike…. May the light and strength of Jesus help us to respect human ecology, in the knowledge that natural ecology will likewise benefit, since the book of nature is one and indivisible.

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