“Hope is the capacity to see God in the midst of trouble, and to be co-workers with the Holy Spirit who is dwelling in us.”
These words, written in 2009, were published in a document by Church leaders in the Holy Land calling for peace, justice, and reconciliation in their homeland. As war rages in Israel and Gaza, and its ramifications are felt throughout the West Bank, the Middle East, and around the globe, I find myself coming back to these words in prayer.
The Holy Land is a second home to me. It is a place I’ve shared with so many I love, and a place that continues to teach me, challenge me, fill me with awe, and draw me closer to God. In college, I had the privilege of living and studying in Jerusalem for four months. Since then, I have been blessed to accompany Verso pilgrims on their journeys through the Holy Land and incorporate this place into my professional career.
The events of the past three weeks have shattered my heart. These are my former neighbors and classmates and current colleagues and friends whose lives are wrapped up into yet another war, as if over a century of conflict wasn’t enough. My relationships with these people and this place are not only the cause of more heartache, however, but also the source of the hope I have for the future of this land. They are where I “see God in the midst of trouble.”
For just as this land is one of suffering and conflict, it is also the land of the Resurrection. It is in this particular place that Jesus rose from the dead, conquered darkness, and proclaimed the victory of God’s sacrificial love. The people who call the Holy Land home are witness to that hope each and every day. They teach us what it means to be an Easter people.
The kindness of strangers, the friendliness of shopkeepers, people’s willingness to go above and beyond to be hospitable, the laughter of my classmates, the voices in song at Mass at the Church of the Nativity, the joy of children at play on the streets – all of these things witness to God’s love at work, even amidst chaos and pain. Experiences of the sacred amidst the everyday and embracing the beauty and suffering that define the lived experience of Christians in the Holy Land made places such as the Sea of Galilee or Church of the Holy Sepulchre all the more powerful. Living in the Holy Land showed me the transformative power of pilgrimage rooted in encounter and relationship.
The hope found in Christ’s love does not negate the experience of living amidst violence, war, and occupation nor promise that everything will soon be better. Rather, it gives strength to endure by recognizing God’s presence even amidst suffering and despair.
The land and the people cry out amidst immeasurable hardship. Let us listen to these Living Stones and be “co-workers with the Holy Spirit” in creating a world that mirrors the Kingdom of God. Let us honor their stories and learn how God speaks through them so that we too can be active participants in this hope and witnesses to Easter joy. We cannot remain passive in the face of such injustice.
Our Lady, Queen of Peace – pray for us. Pray with us, as we seek a lasting, just, peace – one that celebrates the dignity of all people on the little strip of land between the river and the sea.
A reflection by Jenna Streich, Pilgrimage Operations Associate Manager