My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Monday, 30 December 2013

Holy Land Pilgrimage: In what language does a child cry?

In what language does a child cry? Isn’t a smile the same in any language?

wall painting at Jeel al-Amal
We are visiting the Jeel al- Amal (Generation of Hope) School and Boys Home in the village of Bethany, once home to Mary, Martha and Lazarus, but now in economic collapse, hidden from view in Palestinian territory behind the new Separation Security Wall. This is our second full day of our Holy Land pilgrimage and we have made a very early start again, something we will get used to by the end of the week!
At the school we hear a ten minute talk from Najwa, the daughter of Alice and Basil Sahhar, Christian Palestinians who founded the school and home in 1972. And she asks those questions: In what language does a child cry? Isn’t a smile the same in any language?
This home and school was originally for boys, but now there are girls as well. After the talk we have a tour of the building. We see the colorful dormitories and school rooms, the playground and even the laundry! We watch some children painting in the playground and hear a group singing to us with such joy and energy. Many of the children seem very happy; others are quiet and withdrawn. The pain I could see in the eyes of one of the little girls was to haunt me for days afterwards, and I don’t think any of us leave with dry eyes. I have to walk away, quite overcome by it all.
The running costs of this beacon of light in an otherwise troubled land are found by the Educational Trust formed by McCabe, our pilgrimage tour operators. The school is affiliated to the Palestinian Education Authority which pays the teachers’ salaries. One hundred boys live in the Home and three hundred children are educated in the school, coming from Jerusalem and from towns and villages in the Palestinian territories. We learn that many of these children are orphans or have endured terrible domestic problems. Several of us have brought gifts with us, which are hugely appreciated. This explains why one person in our group struggled with a guitar in their luggage all the way over here! I had wondered. Now I know. What a wonderfully inspirational place to support; what a splendid way to demonstrate the love and compassion of Christ.

painting in the Chapel of the Angels
From the school we are taken to the Field of the Shepherds, in Beit Sahour, where we are to celebrate the Eucharist with the other groups in the open air looking over towards the fields where the shepherds would have seen that angel of the Lord come down to them in Glory as they watched over their flocks on that cold Christmas night. This looks like big business! There are coaches galore, and we can see many different settings across the large site prepared for the purpose of holding services, with stone altars, various seating arrangements, and canopies to protect from sun and rain. We can see a demarcation fence boundary in the distance across the valley and beyond that an illegal Jewish settlement which is being developed, with many cranes and much building activity clearly visible. It all sounds a bit grim and touristy doesn’t it? But I will not forget the open air Eucharist in a hurry. It is an intensely moving experience, made more so by the bird song all around us, and the Muezzin calling the faithful Muslims to prayer as we recite our own Eucharistic prayer. After such an action packed morning we are all ready for lunch, which is an experience in itself…

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