Window Over Jerusalem
200 years ago Jesus entered Jerusalem as king. Coming from Bethpage, he descended the slopes of Mount of Olives to the Kidron valley and then ascending towards the Temple Mount, he entered the city by the east wall gate to the Temple.
Christians all over world commemorate this royal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Different churches here in Jerusalem make an ecumenical procession from the Mount of Olives down to St Anne’s Basilica in the walls of the Old Jerusalem City, through the North-east Lion’s gate.
Couldn’t it be more symbolic to follow the trace of Jesus? Certainly, yes! Christians would well like to do so. That would mean entering the city by the Golden Gate to the Temple Mount. Impossible! The Golden Gate is blocked.
The wall around Jerusalem’s Old City has 11 gates, of which seven are open: Jaffa, Zion, Dung, Lion’s, Herod’s, Damascus and New gate. The Golden gate occupies a special place among them all.
The Golden Gate is situated in the east wall facing the western slopes of the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron Valley with the Garden of Gethsemane and the road to Jericho and Bethany below.
The current gate, constructed between 520 and 620 CE, with features of the ancient Herodian one still visible, is a point of encounter of the three faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Unfortunately, not the encounter that promotes good understanding. Instead, It renders one faith in opposition, if not antagonism, to the others though this only simmers.
Owing to such diverse but particular interests it is virtually impossible to have its objective history, never mentioning why it’s closed. Each faith will tell the story in its own favor.
In ancient times, the gate was known as the Beautiful Gate. This comes from a Greek word horaia meaning beautiful, that possibly was confused with similar sounding Latin word aurea which however means Golden, hence the name today: Golden Gate. Its importance lies in its history and religious meanings that make it a sensitive spot.
For Jews it’s part of the sacred ground, the Temple Mount. It was the entrance to the Temple on the east hedge. And so it remains sacred even though Temple exists no more. Jews used this portico for ritual purposes and prayed here for mercy thus the name Sha’arHarachamim –the Gate of Mercy
Besides, the Jews are still waiting for the coming of the Messiah who will enter Jerusalem by east gate. It was partly in reaction to this that Sultan Suleiman I blocked the Gate in 1541 to shut the Messiah out.
It is also supposed that Muslims have deliberately made a cemetery on the grounds around the Golden Gate in order to prevent Elijah from entering. Why Elijah?
According to Scriptures the Messiah would be preceded by Elijah. And being a priest, he will not defile himself by passing through the cemetery.
For Christians, the gate is more commemorative than anything else. First, the triumphant entry of Jesus as King in Jerusalem celebrated on Palm Sunday.
The other event, though not with certainty, would be John and Peter’s healing of a paralytic who begged by the Temple gate, the Beautiful (Cf Acts 3:1-10).
The restoration of the True Cross is another important Christian event linked with the gate. In fact, one viewpoint is that the gate was reconstructed in view of the visit in 631 AD of a Byzantine Empire, Heraclius, who restored the True Cross to Jerusalem that the Persians had plundered in 614 AD. That is why at the time of Crusaders, Palm Sunday and on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross were the only times in a year when the gate was opened.
After the crusaders the Gate still remained closed, though possibly for other practical reasons, theological explanation was given. Since Jesus had passed through it, the gate would have to remain shut till his second coming.
Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east; and it was shut. And he said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it; for the Lord, the God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut….(Ezekiel 44:1-3)
Christians may understand this in terms of Jesus, not for the Jews. And Muslims have their own explanation.
Besides security against the feared Christian conqueror and Jewish Messiah, both who would come by the east gate, there are also other meanings for the Muslims.
The Golden Gate is the Gate of judgment, spoken of in the Koran (Surah 57, verse 13) the inner side whereof containeth Mercy, while the outer side therefore is toward its doom. Here, at the last day, the good will pass on the way to the houris of paradise.
Moreover, Muslims would not allow infidels match in and out of the holy place, so, the blocking also serves to keep the purity and sacredness of the place of worship.
In conclusion, it’s interesting to note that there are other spots in Jerusalem that are of common interest among different faiths, even among churches; yet, a pity, often these only manage to make parts of Jerusalem fields of landmines.
Just beyond the Golden Gate, is the Temple Mount where the Al Asqa Mosque; it’s a ground of passionate interest to the three religions, yet sensitive; more sensitive than the Golden Gate – well, a matter for another story.
© Evans K. Chama 2009
A Missionary of Africa studying theology in Jerusalem
The second of November is the All Souls Day. Catholics, and some other Christian communities, shall be commemorating the dead.
The fact that this has been commemorated since long time, it’s unsurprising that non Catholics alike would be conscious of this day to remember their beloved ones. In fact, in matters as this there is little boundary observed. The feeling of loss, the longing for our departed is something that touches us deeply beyond our religious margins. It touches a human heart. And this sets people at one despite whatever their religious affiliations are. Hence, I can imagine how many other people are actually drawn despite themselves into such commemoration.
Some will go to pray at the tomb of their beloved departed or perform intimate gestures of devotion, like putting flowers. This is healing. To some extent, it is an encounter of the level of its own that brings somewhat consolation. If only all people had this privilege.
Many are the people who not only suffer the loss of their beloved ones but on top of that they have no place where they can visit them, speak to them and perform those intimate rituals of love for them. This is really a pity. Yes, to be so doubly deprived can be quite devastating.
The frantic combing of the cemetery that I fell in two year ago made me appreciate how the tomb can border between healing and breaking a person’s heart. I’m afraid there are many others who are afflicted like Cecilia.
Indeed, you appreciate water when the well runs dry. Then you learn to keep water jealously and use it sparingly. This is not just a nice phrase, certainly not; not after what I experienced on that day.
If you have a father, cherish him; if you still have a mother, cherish her. No matter how outdated their counsel may sound in your ears they have nonetheless not outlived their usefulness. You may perhaps not appreciate that today, but I guarantee you tomorrow you may hunger for a discourse no matter how empty, no matter how patronizing, no matter how archaic but so long it’s the words from the mouth of a person you know loves you –a parent. Perhaps the case of Cecilia can instruct you as it did to me.
It was a Tuesday afternoon, 2nd November 2005. I was in Kidal –northern region of Mali- where I had gone to visit the small Catholic community to celebrate with them the feast of All Souls. It was during that visit that a woman arrived in the family where I had been accommodated. There I got caught up in her drama.
The woman’s name was Cecilia. She came from Tessalit, another desert town, some 250km further north towards the border with Algeria. Cecilia came to Kidal in search of her father. Not many people could know him except few elderly people who spoke with dim memory of a judge who had worked there some 39 years before. They were of little help to Cecilia. They couldn’t tell her where she would find her father and talk to him.
That was the search that brought Cecilia to Madame Irene’s home. Madame Irene not only remembered the judge but she also had an idea, though not with certainty, where Cecilia would likely meet her father. That however entailed a good search. For Cecilia that was already something. Finally she had somewhere to start from. She got some hope. You should have been there to see how her face beamed with what seemed a mission-accomplished though just in sight. And for that encounter with the father; she just could not wait. By charity we were conscripted into that pilgrimage to her father though at the peak of the day’s heat of the Sahara.
As I remember that day my body twitches. With the temperature of 49˚c I had felt like I was being grilled under my clothes. At the same time I had felt animated by an incredible, internal energy which I just could not account for as we went different directions in that expanse cemetery, combing tombs. We were to read every single placard. For all that effort, pity for poor Cecilia, all was in vain; if only all tombs still had a poster.
Cecilia’s natural smiling face that had shone at the beginning of the search become agonized and fatigued. Yes, you just could not miss the effect of that chilling, dark cloud that suddenly reigned in the midst of that messaging heat. She was like a child excitedly running to welcome the upcoming father but only to be greeted with a cold shoulder; a complete refusal. Far from her hopes the day ended up in a miscarriage.
Cecilia is a teacher, wife and mother. She is married to a military man of some rank in the Malian army. She has two children. After I visited her later, I remained with an impression of a happy family. Nonetheless, deep down her there was still an emptiness; a longing.
Cecilia had never seen her father in her life. That is why that was going to be a big day for her. Certainly, she would not have met him; but standing before his tomb, seeing it, touching it, and kissing it would certainly have made all the difference.
Cecilia’s father had died tragically. He was a victim of the harsh conditions of the desert life. He had gone hunting with his friends where they got lost and their water reserve got dry. But the desert heat was no less relentless; there was no village or a stream where they would appease the thirst. And how long would they hold it? They became so parched that they just could not resist doing what they well knew was not the right way –they drank petrol. That was their end. When that happened, Cecilia was still in her mother’s womb.
After her father’s death, Cecilia’s mother moved to the southern part of Mali, Segou, where Cecilia was born, educated and started working. When she was later transferred to the north she took the opportunity to meet the father. That’s how I met her and got involved in her drama only to come out of it a little wiser.
I often received young people who came to talk to me. Most of them were tired of their parents who pontificated things to them. They felt their parents did not understand them and only restricted their freedom. Patronizing though some parents might be it’s often out of the best of intention –out of love for their children. While this conflict of generation gap is real and for sure can be annoying, nevertheless, young people need to be a little more objective and appreciate their parents’ good will.
Today, when I hear someone speaking ungratefully about their parents, there is this mantra that spontaneously plays on my mind: you will search my tomb, you will search my tomb, you will search my tomb. It always rings.
And thus the case of Cecilia makes me think of the families of the victims of genocide in Luanda, war in Angola, victims of war in the Congo, victims of September 11, the victims of the Iraq war, the victims of the Israel-Lebanese war, the numerous young Africans who die on the way to try their luck in Europe; some die parched in the desert and remain to be buried by wind while others are merely dropped in the sea like a stone. Many of such families have to anguish like Cecilia. Perhaps, this is but just one sign of how limited we humans are. As we walk the journey of life, often we bump into what we cannot surmount. We are face to face with our helplessness. This can be painful. However, there is a little consolation.
This commemoration of the dead is, though we go to the cemetery, however not about tombs. No matter the way our dear ones have fallen or no matter where their remains lie; like those whose tombs we know, our sentiment and prayer for them is the same. We love them. We hold them dearly in the memory of our hearts. May they all rest in eternal peace.
© Evans K. Chama 2007
A Missionary of Africa studying theology in Jerusalem
We had just visited the site of the Hasmonean village and Palace here in Jerusalem, then after I felt so uncomfortable, especially about my belief. But every time we come back from such archaeological visits, I ‘m thrilled by the great achievement of the ancient people of this Holy Land. To the contrary, after this visit the experience was severely different. What exactly was my fear?
In Biblical History and Archaeology Course, we are doing the history of New Testament, which we started considering a way back to 134 BC of the Hasmonean period.
We had lectures about Alexander Janneus who crucified 800 rebellious Jews and commanded that their wives and children be slaughtered in the sight of these men hanging on the crosses. While that was happening, Janneus threw a big banquet with his concubines, enjoying the finest of wines.
Janneus was notorious for cruelty. If the Queen of Sheba travelled miles to come and listen to the Wisdom of Solomon, people would come to Janneus to learn the art of brutality. Who was he?
He was Hasmonean, a descendant of the Maccabees who had revolted against Hellenism and desecration of the Temple in 166 BC in order to preserve the purity of their religion. Janneus was king of Judah.
Were not his contemporary kings as cruel to their enemies? Possibly true! But Janneus was not only king; he was High Priest of Yahweh too. This is what punched me in the stomach. I reflected on how much evil, violence is done in the name of belief, in its widest sense. A Psalm immediately came to mind.
Psalm 135, a song of praise, captures and conveys this problem of a believer that I fear. The Psalmist sings God’s love that endures forever; love that is without end especially for his greatness and wisdom in creation, then, for using his might in favour of the people he loves.
He struck down the first born sons of the Egyptians, he drowned Egyptians army; he slaughtered Sihon king of the Amorites, Og king of Bashan; he dispossessed Canaanites of their land to give it to his chosen people as birthright –for all that because God’s love endures forever.
Unfortunately, God’s love and presence among his people would go on to be interpreted in many similar ways in the history of Israel.
Elijah would be presented to have killed the prophets of Baal (cf I Kings 18:20-40).Who would ever talk of murder for such a zealous action done in the name God? In fact, it is an episode with full sense of victory and assurance of God accreditation. Scenes of the kind are innumerable in the Old Testament.
This same zeal for God would blaze in the young Pharisee, Saul. Not only would he be content to approve the death of Stephen, murdered barbarically; he would also take the trouble to go hunting for Christian beyond Jerusalem; arresting and killing them in the name of God. Only the striking light would knock him off such mistaken belief and mission. But such self-styled manner of serving God would still continue.
Centuries later, soldiers would be dispatched well armoured with God’s benediction. Theirs would not be an ordinary war but holy war. I only wonder if the killing also would be holy.
Unjust! Judging history with today’s measure? We have to understand things in their context! True. But that does not change evil into good.
Then, we have the Jihad. Possibly here is a practice rooted in a positive spiritual sense that is now manipulated, not so much by fanatics of religion, but by those who use religion for personal agenda. Consequently, violence is written off as heroic service for God.
Isn’t this then a problem exclusively for those who go to the synagogue, church or mosque –to mention but just some religions?
The problem here goes beyond an atheist or theist. In fact, we all believe in something; in some cause to which we relate like religion. This does not only supply an understanding of belief in this discussion but also exposes the common danger that we share. History has great deal to testify. The holocaust, the apartheid in South Africa, colonialism; what else was beneath them if not a belief in some god? We are the superior race! We are the best nation! We have the power! We alone are human! We have the truth!
Others still may have a great sense of mission at the service of some ideology, as apostles of democracy, for instance. For that, they will go wild to thrust themselves onto others with blunt arrogance even when less than common sense is sufficient to caution stop! Something is gravely wrong here. They would not stop.
This is just human. We are bound to be mistaken. This calls for a good discernment and never take anything for granted.
Only now do I appreciate the remark of our professor of Moral theology. After defining conscience as man’s most secret core where God’s voice echoes in the depths of his heart, “Be careful” he cautioned us, “you risk passing your yens for the voice of God. The consequences can be tragic”.
Exactly this I fear, and it makes me tremble; the danger of believing in the bloodthirsty god of my whims whom I forge and manipulate to give legitimacy to my project. In his name, I go on doing violence both to others and myself with a clear conscience.
This is why I need, perhaps others too, to be knocked off the route of my own Damascus so that I believe in God as He is. The one who doesn’t have to destroy others to do me favour; curse others to bless me; cast others in sombre darkness to illumine me. Yes, I want to believe in the God whose eternal love showers upon me yet overflows to others as well.
Some people would attribute the breakdown in moral values to atheism. Well, theism misinterpreted might even be worse. Perhaps, it’s not enough to believe but also to believe correctly.
© Evans K. Chama 2007
A Missionary of Africa studying theology in Jerusalem
At exactly 8pm, Sunday, April 22, a siren diffused the air of Jerusalem, and then followed a moment of silence –that was the beginning of the memorial ceremonies at the Western Wall. The following day at 11am, again, the siren wailed ending into another silence –that was the launch of similar ceremonies but at the 43 military cemeteries countrywide. These were preliminaries leading to the 59th anniversary celebration of Israel’s independence.
The Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day, was in honour of the fallen soldiers and those Jews who died in terrorist attacks. The number of soldiers and security personnel, who died in 1947, is estimated at over 20,000 and in the 1948 War of Independence more than 6,000 died, with 15,000 wounded. In the Six-Day War of June 1967, after which Israel recaptured the entire Jerusalem City, over 770 Israelis were killed. And so the celebration of independence was preceded by cherished memories of these heroes.
Addressing the bereaved families that Sunday night at the Western Wall, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recognized the price paid for the State of Israel. “We paid with the blood of the best of our children for all our futures and for the hope to live in our country in peace …. We will remember the fallen and that their memory will remain etched in the heart of the nation forever.”
At the same function, the IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi warned Israel’s enemies: “We are a stiff-necked people, hurt but not tired. Even as our one hand is extended in peace, our other hand is well-placed on the trigger guard to meet any enemy and oppressor. No one should test our ability.”
Despite the great sense of identity as a people manifested during such festivities Israelis are however divided over what this independence is, how it should be celebrated and to where it should lead the nation. They have different views and expectations.
For the secular Jews, this is a mere national holiday like Independence Day in any country, that’s all. That however is not the case with others.
The hareidi-religious group (traditional Judaism) criticises, firstly, the means by which the state has been attained –not according to Messianic expectation. Besides, they are not happy with the secularised way of celebrating so much that some wouldn’t want even to participate in it.
The ordinary religious Jews take Independence Day as a religious holiday; a day of thanking God for saving Jews from the humiliation of long exile and bringing them to the Land of their own. So they recite the Hallel, have a festive meal, sing and dance, and wear special Sabbath clothes. Their prayer at the close of these celebrations is quite revealing: “May it be Thy will that just as we have merited the beginning of the Redemption, we shall also merit hearing the Shofar [horn] of our righteous Messiah….” for them the independence is already a step towards the fulfilment of the messianic promises.
The Religious-Zionist Rabbis have their own views clear of how things should be and Rabbi Uri Cohen is blunt about it. The status of Israel is so unique that it should not be compared with other nations that are mere grouping of people around their common interests by which a state is a mere means of realising those interests. Not so with Israel, the state of the Chosen People.
Israelis are “one soul in separate bodies,” Rabbi Yehuda HaLevy says. Only when they live in one community are they true to their make-up. Settling in the land and building the temple are therefore simply part of the natural expectations to fulfil.
Therefore, the justification of the existence of Jewish state, Rabbi Daniel Shilo observes, is not merely to provide shelter for Jews after centuries of persecution. For that he is not happy with the secular Zionist movement that emphasises the link between the Nation and its Land but weakens the bond of the Land and the Torah. He has the following proposals in order to correct the situation:
Firstly, the boundaries of the Land of the covenant promised to Abraham must be respected and never to be left to politicians to demarcate them.
Secondly, non-Jews have to leave the land or submit themselves to Jewish legal court that will allow them to live here but with limited rights –no political rights, for instance.
Thirdly, the Monarch is to be re-established and the Sanhedrin to take charge of judicial function based on the Torah.
And lastly, the Temple should be rebuilt in order to revive the full Jewish Divine worship.
That all depends on the Jews themselves to realise, Rabbi Kroizer urges, and they ought to be confident they are capable of such achievement. Even though the completion may not be in their generation they should not abandon the vision and these goals must always be clear to them.
At first sight, this reading may leave an impression of a people that is fanatic, discriminatory and even racist, perhaps. That would be but only one side. There would be another.
Here is a nation that continues to reflect on her future and does not simply pull the cork out of the bottle, fill the glass, do cheers, take a sip and then sit back and amuse at self-congratulations: We did it!
What next? How do we proceed? Always remain vital questions for a people with a vision. One may not agree with its content, of course –one doesn’t have to –but at the same time one simply cannot miss the great sense of direction and purpose.
If only many of the African political leaders could have that resoluteness for the wellbeing of their nations at heart, no matter how imperfect their visions might be, the years of independence of their countries could have already made a lot of difference for the betterment of the people.
© Evans K. Chama 2007
A Missionary of Africa studying theology in Jerusalem
I imagine. How many of the pilgrims would be delighted, once in Holy Land, to make a trip to the Jordan to see, touch, smell and listen to the water of the river where Jesus was baptised? Indeed, don’t pilgrims desire to trace the footsteps of Jesus? It’s only a pity however that not many of them have had this chance for such a trip.
Today the site is in a military zone, especially also that the river here marks the border between Israel and Jordan. The place is no longer accessible at any time. However, there is only one possibility.
The Franciscans, one of the custodians of the shrines in the Holy Land, have entered into a concession with the Israeli Army by which they are allowed, once in a year, to visit and celebrate mass at the baptismal site. This tradition has grown into an annual pilgrimage not only for the Franciscans but for the entire patriarchate of Jerusalem. The Orthodox Church has her own day too.
It’s a rare occasion that even some of Christians in Jerusalem still wait for day when they will able to join. I’m delighted to have participated in such pilgrimage within short time of my arrival in Jerusalem.
The 2006 pilgrimage took place on 26 of October. The participants were mostly from among theology and Bible students in Jerusalem, members of religious communities, priests and some local Christians. Pilgrims from different parts of the world who happened to be in Jerusalem at the time, profited to see what many others have only longed to visit.
There was a good mix of peoples: Africans, Europeans, Latin Americans and, noticeably, Indians and Filipinos. Besides, the colour of dress of the different congregations gave an added variety and richness.
The Benedictine monks some in white, black and still others in grey; Franciscans in brown, others in black; Dominicans in white, Salesian sisters in grey, Sisters of St Joseph in blue, Sisters of Charity (in the colour of Mother Teresa)…oh list endless. The blend was simply heavenly and the atmosphere ecstatic.
Standing before flowing water in the hilly, bald shaved Judean desert gave a contrast which was awesome and sacred. Standing before not just an ordinary river but such water with a venerated history; what a thrill!
At this stretch of 3km on the western bank of the Jordan are sites belonging to different churches where Jesus’ baptism is commemorated. In history pilgrims used to come to this place especially on the feast of Epiphany.
Outstanding among them are Russians who, until 1917, travelled, some on foot, to this place with shrouds which they wore at their arrival and baptised themselves in the water. The belief was that resurrection was guaranteed. Taking home water in bottles was, still today, popular practice because of the healing powers associated with it.
Today, only an altar remains at the site. There used to be a chapel and the hospice that were damaged by the 1956 earthquake.
After the mass, we went to Jericho; our destination was the Mount of Temptation or Quarantal (40) linked with the first and third temptations of Jesus in the desert forty days after his baptism.
‘If you are son of God, tell those stones to turn into loaves’. Then Satan took Jesus to the high mountain and said: ‘I will give you all these [kingdoms], if you fall at my feet and do me homage’ (Cf Mt 4:1-11).
On the cliff of this mountain there is a monastery of the Greek Orthodox monks; a quiet, prayerful place that overlooks the City of Jericho below. The pious tradition here is that in this monastery is the stone where Jesus sat when tempted.
This trip has a lot other remunerations to offer.
Firstly, travelling by bus between Jerusalem and Jericho gives you a magnificent view of the hills of the Judean desert, how many times is this area mentioned in the Gospels!
Besides, travelling on this road plunges you into the emotions of some events reported in the New Testament. You think about the compassion of a Good Samaritan to the man who had fallen victim to robbers.
In Jericho you think of Zaccheaus, Jesus and the sycamore tree. For are the pilgrims moved by mere touristy curiosity? Certainly not! Rather, is it not the yearning of the heart like Zaccheaus’; searching for something deeper? This sets us all at one with the chief tax collector. We identify with him and being in a place where this drama of search and encounter took place is simply overwhelming; you find yourself.
Who can resist, remain unmoved by this experience? Not only do such scenes enrich the Bible with freshness and realness they also slip you into a quiet prayer of admiration to which only your amen suffices.
I only understand why it’s with such nostalgia I reminisce this trip. And this is my consolation: I look forward with pleasure to October 25, Thursday, 2007; for this year’s pilgrimage.
© Evans K. Chama 2007
A Missionary of Africa studying theology in Jerusalem
Photos 2 and 3 by Sor. Janet Wintermute, taken during the Templar’s pilgrimage of 2005, lead by Master Antonio Paris.
May 16, 2007 Israel celebrates the 40th anniversary of Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day; the commemoration of the unification of Jerusalem after the 6-day war of 1967.
In 1947, the UN decided to create a Jewish and an Arab state out of the Land of Israel of which Jerusalem was to remain neutral, belonging to neither state. That couldn’t be realised exactly as planned.
When the British mandate ended on 15th May 1948, Seven Arab states waged war on Israel that ended in dividing Jerusalem. The East of Jerusalem, including the Old City, occupied by Arabs, belonged to Jordan while the West of Jerusalem was in the state of Israel. The borders were strict, no going and coming between these two peoples.
The matter nonetheless remained unsettled for Jerusalem was an organic, inseparable part of Israel in the Jewish conscience, belief and history. And Jews have always demonstrated against loss of Jerusalem in history.
Some refused to eat meat or drink wine when nothing of it could be sacrificed no longer nor poured on the altar as libation, after losing Jerusalem and the Temple. Even in times of joy a Jew would not forget the lost Jerusalem. In the house, he would leave a patch of wall unfinished, at the wedding a groom’s forehead would be dabbed with ashes, the jewellery of the bride removed, and a cup broken. Jews are enjoined, “If I forget you, Jerusalem,” Rabbi Yehudah Prero said, “let my right hand forget its skill.”
A Jew cannot make a home outside Israel, not matter his success in Diaspora he remains a slave; subject to immoral influences. The land of Israel is the holiest of all lands, and the city of Jerusalem the holiest in Israel. Only when in this holy land can a Jew be faithful to the Torah.
Owing to this passion, such division of the City was unbearable and tension was already growing between Israel and Arabs states like Jordan, Syria, and Egypt, to mention some. War was in sight. Israel pre-emptied this situation and launched an attack on 5th June 1967; a war that lasted six days ending in Israel’s capture of the East of Jerusalem.
The Commander’s Speech of victory to the soldiers at the Temple Mount leaves no shadows of that Passion:
”…For 2,000 years, the Temple Mount was off limits to the Jews. Until you, the paratroopers, came and returned it to the bosom of its people. The Western Wall, towards which every Jewish heart beats, is again in our hands…. To you has fallen the great privilege to complete the circle, to give back to the people its eternal capital and its sacred centre….Jerusalem is yours – forever.”
The Israel government was quick to effect the unification. The municipal area extended and Israel law applied in the whole City. Jews acquired houses in the newly conquered land. The garbage that had accumulated at the Western Wall, including the house around, was quickly cleared.
The situation was quite delicate owing to different interests involved in the city.
Firstly, for Jews, Israel is a land given to them as chosen people with Jerusalem as the citadel of God; his presence assured by the Temple.
Then Arabs had lived here hundreds of years but all of a sudden became foreigners in the land they had known as theirs. The Arab Muslim world was also concerned about the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest place in Islam, which stands on the Temple Mount.
Christians too needed assurance, would they continue to have free access to their Holy Places; respecting the existing rights?
Then, an international community. When Israeli Parliament declared Jerusalem, the undivided, eternal capital of the State of Israel in 1980 thirteen national embassies in Jerusalem closed as the declaration was against the UN resolution.
However, the Israeli Government pledged commitment to make Jerusalem open to all members of different religions. “In all these arrangements there is, of course, nothing that alters in the slightest degree any of the existing rights in the Holy Places, which the Government of Israel will respect in full”.
So Jerusalem Day, celebrated on Iyar 28, 8th month of the Jewish calendar, commemorates the re-possession of the entire city.
On this day “k’eir shechubra la yachdav” slogan is chanted that means “The city which was reunited”, based on Psalm122:3 “The built-up Jerusalem is like a city that was joined together within itself”. Even the festival Hallel, rarely used in Jewish liturgy, except at Passover and Independence day, is recited on this day because of the importance attached to Jerusalem, more than Israeli’s political power over the rest of the land of Israel.
Crowds march around the city singing, dancing, and waving flags walking through the Old City to the Western Wall where speeches and festive dancing continue.
This is a triumphal achievement for Jews. During the 19 years between the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the Six Day War in 1967, Jews could not dare set foot in the Old City, no access therefore to their shrine. Only one possibility was open for them.
They used to climb the Mount Zion or the cemetery on Mount of Olives in order to set their eyes on the Temple Mount.
Then, is it not just plain that Jerusalem Day is actually a Jewish feast?
Well, today a Jew or an Arab can walk on the streets of East or West of Jerusalem, though their relationship still leaves much to desire.
Besides, thousands of pilgrimages: Jews, Christians and Moslems pour into the city each day, free to worship and visit their Holy Places.
If all that is the fruit of the unification, then, Jerusalem Day should be a celebration for many other people than Jews alone; and therefore a reason enough to be interested in the well-being of this Holy City.
Therefore, if I do not pray for your peace Jerusalem, indeed, let my right hand forget its skill.
By Evans K. Chama (c) 2007
A Missionary of Africa, studying theology in Jerusalem
Tradition is an important reservoir for the transmission of both the Teaching and the ordinary religious life of the faithful in the Catholic Church. However, the diminishing active youth presence in the church poses a big threat to this important aspect of the Church.
The handing on of tradition demands two parties; the giving and the receiving one. The church must be proud of the presence of the committed members, but quite advanced in age, who are there ready to pass on the faith. On the contrary, there is sharp break in the generations so that you get the impression the members of some Church communities are deliberately selected from among the old.
This is a well-known phenomenon in the western Church but by no means is it an exclusively western problem. The churches I attend in Jerusalem betray this same problem. Don’t I seem to forget Catholics are minority here, and hence that only to be expected?
I’m conscious Christians here in Jerusalem are a minority, split between Western and Eastern churches, with Eastern churches further fragmented into pockets of denominations and rites. I don’t consider that a problem as such; at least not here. But such a diminished presence of the youth, especially at mass I find it severely unfortunate.
At Notre Dame de Jerusalem, you find an impressive presence of young people but then quickly you realise the point. You are in Jerusalem but once inside the church you feel you are somewhere in the Philippines; over Ninety-five percent of those at mass are Philipino immigrant workers, then pilgrims and some religious –that’s all. That does not give a local flavour.
St Xavier’s is a Latin, Roman Catholic Parish. Here, I attend the mass in Arabic for the local community. At a glimpse, I straightaway feel the gap –where are the youth?
I also go to Greek Catholic Church, Melkites, which is one of the Eastern churches in communion with Rome but with its own Byzantine rites.
Here I like sitting at the back, and at times distract myself a bit to count the people. We hardly exceed 50. Occasionally, the number suddenly swells to over sixty but drops before the mass ends.
Pilgrims, or tourists, hard to distinguish, come in. They are fascinated by icons all round the walls and ceiling of the church; amazed at the priest who presides at mass, not only facing them the back but also from a separate room, sanctuary, certainly not the type of the Catholic Mass they know today. Once their curiosity is satisfied and having taken the pictures they want, discreetly they leave at whatever stage of the mass –their pilgrimage, perhaps tourism, continues elsewhere.
The community here is very small, and the absence of the youth is even worse. This is indeed a future threatening affair.
This situation of the church is quite a different case with Islam.
Whenever I look out through my bedroom window, that opens in the street leading to the Mosque of Omar, one of the most sacred Shrines in Islam, about 300metres away; I see mothers pushing prams, young girls well done in veils, and small boys trailing behind their fathers precipitating to the mosque, especially on Fridays. I marvel at this enthusiasm of passing on religious tradition; imbuing children with it at tender age. In this way, the fire of Islam keeps ablaze and the future assured.
With this concern in mind; one thought always comes, perhaps, we could profit from our encounter with Muslims; they can teach us.
We Catholics strongly believe in tradition. Yet when I see the generation gap immediately I know something is seriously wrong. Tradition is at risk. Don’t we believe in it anymore?
Tradition is not just at the magisterial level, apostolic succession and handing on of the apostolic teaching but very much also the holy life of the ordinary faithful. That has to be transmitted too.
Secondly, Islam is a religion not so much left to the professional Pray-ers or few pious individuals. Men and women, old and young are all active practise the religion wherever they are, and not necessarily at the mosque. This has fascinated me.
When I drove through the desert in the north of Mali, all of a sudden I could see a herd of cattle apparently all by itself. I nearly began to marvel at the freedom in the desert given even to domesticated animals to roam without a shepherd. But then, I could see in some bush, a small boy on his knees, bend forwards with the forehead touching the ground and then backwards; then, standing up, he raises open hands high with a gaze in the clear, blue sky –the boy was at prayer. Yet, that was happening far away from parents. On his own, he committed himself to the discipline of prayer five times a day.
Without ignoring the well bred of our catholic youth, often when we see a child like that one suggestion is obvious: why don’t you become a sister, brother or priest? That is, to become a professional pray-er. It betrays our mentality.
This youth issue is a tumour spreading wide and far. The only difference being that in those places where there are still crowds at mass the problem is subtle; you are deceived into not appreciating it easily.
Perhaps, we can benefit from our encounter with Muslims; learn from them how they manage to instill and maintain this sense of prayer, sense of family belief. What is their strategy? But first, we need to acknowledge their success.
Perhaps, this is just another important element we hardly hear about or Christians are shy about in the Inter-religious dialogue with Muslims. I feel the first step would be to congratulate them; it’s only being open to their success; they are flourishing.
Indeed, it’s high time we faced the truth that we seriously need to address the place of the youth in the Church if we are to pass on and preserve the treasure of our religious heritage.
By Evans K. Chama (c) 2007
Missionary of Africa, studying theology in Jerusalem
A word from the editor:
Dear Templar Globe Readers:
We welcome today a new writer to the Globe. Evans K. Chama is a great addition to our Blog, with his interesting writing and views on subjects that are of great interest to the contemporary Templar. Evans lives in Jerusalem, just overlooking the Temple Mount. That is why we chose to title the series of texts “My Bedroom Window Over Jerusalem”. In them we will have an insight into one of the most interesting cities in the world, its culture, its mix of religions and traditions, the general daily events that make one reflect upon life and the relationship with other faiths, history, politics, the lot. We invite you to enjoy this Window view” as much we do.
Luis de Matos
Chancellor of the OSMTHU