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.