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Pilgrimage reveals challenges in Holy Land Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Joy and Bill Exner, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Mar. 24, 2016 -- 12:00 AM
exnier pilgrimage
Bill and Joy Exner are pictured at the Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem, venerated as a holy site for thousands of years by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. (Bill and Joy Exner photos)

Editor’s Note: Joy and Bill Exner are section representatives for the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. in the Diocese of Madison. They are members of St. Mary Parish in Pine Bluff, where they are both lectors and involved in marriage preparation. Bill is a parish trustee, Rosary leader, and sacristan.

We just returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and want to share with you some of our experiences.

Our observations focus mainly on the people living in the Holy Land rather than the holy sites, as it is the people who sustain these holy places and keep them alive.

Christians face challenges

The Christian Palestinian population does not enjoy the same rights as Israeli citizens. Identification papers and citizenship is difficult, almost impossible to obtain.

They cannot move freely throughout the land, jobs are difficult to obtain without “papers,” those who have jobs do not have the same workers’ rights as regular citizens as they have no “official status.”

They are Palestinians recognized by the Vatican, but not the United States, and have a non-voting delegation to the United Nations.

On Sunday we attended Mass at the Church of the Good Shepard in Jericho, an Arabic speaking Palestinian Catholic congregation. While there a local woman told Joy that she feels like she lives in a cage, unable to get out.

In Bethlehem Joy observed water tanks on the roofs of some buildings; we were told that these are homes of Palestinian Christians who have water delivered once per week while Israeli citizens have running water and swimming pools.

Visits to orphanage, university

We visited an orphanage where Bill was “high-fiving” some six-year- olds, and one boy grabbed his hand and put his other arm around him — he wanted to be hugged and have human contact. By law, these orphans have no official status and cannot be adopted.

We visited Bethlehem University, the only Catholic university on the West Bank. Of the 3,200 students, 70 percent are Muslim! We learned that 78 percent of the enrollment are women; when asked why, we were told there are three main reasons: in their culture the men must support the family when they become of age, that many are put in jail for practicing the faith, and some men are sent to Europe for an education and a way to get out.

Deeply spiritual experience

A pilgrimage to the Holy Land is a deeply spiritual event. One visits and prays in so many places that it is almost overwhelming.

We rapidly came to the conclusion that one must experience it, allow the sacredness to absorb, to contemplate the meaning of what we experience, and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us.

Pilgrimage is not a sight-seeing trip. We prayed the 20 decades of the Holy Rosary where each mystery took place. We prayed the Stations of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa, Calvary, and the Holy Sepulchre.

The Via Dolorosa itself is quite an experience. Narrow streets and winding pathways, uneven stone steps and pavement, shops and vendors barking their wares. Crowds of people talking, shouting, jostling.

Someone remarked that the Via Dolorosa should be a quiet, reverent place. Pilgrim Master, Fr. James McIlhone, reminded us that these conditions were exactly what Jesus experienced while carrying His cross.

Think of how He suffered for us! Suffering physically from the heavy cross and rough, uphill road, and suffering the humiliation of indifference to His sacrifice! Think of how He suffers to this day given the noise, distraction, and lack of attention so often experienced during Holy Mass.

We visited Mt. Tabor toward the end of our pilgrimage, the traditional site of Our Lord’s Transfiguration. We were saddened by the pilgrimage coming to an end. Father McIlhone reminded us that Peter, James, and John also wanted to preserve the moment. They wanted to set up tents for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses. Jesus refused them and they came down from the mountain.

In the same way we came down from the mountain to resume our mission on earth. Our mission to attain holiness and salvation, and to evangelize.

Good Friday collection

We are members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. The Equestrian Order is the only lay institution of the Vatican State charged with the task of providing for the needs of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and of all the activities and initiatives to support Christian presence in the Holy Land.

We therefore ask for your support for the collection for the Holy Land on Good Friday. We also request your prayer for a change in the political conditions for Holy Land Christians. The power of prayer is our singular most important weapon!

 
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