Laura Sheahen, Regional Information Officer for Catholic Relief Services/Middle East, is in the Holy Land this week for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit. Catholic Relief Services is a Caritas member based in the United States.
No friend of the Israelis and the Palestinians can fail to be saddened by the continuing tension between your two peoples. No friend can fail to weep at the suffering and loss of life that both peoples have endured,” said Pope Benedict on the last day of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
In Jerusalem, where even buying a candy bar can be a politically-charged decision (should I buy it in Palestinian East Jerusalem or Israeli West Jerusalem?), sometimes it feels like you’re not allowed to be a friend to both peoples. If you’re friends with one side, the unspoken assumption goes, you are de facto the enemy of the other.
By simply putting the word “friend of” before both Palestinians and Israelis, the pope was saying it doesn’t have to be that way.
A Palestinian man I will call “Yusef” lives in Jerusalem; he was raised Orthodox and became an evangelical Christian. More than anyone I have met on this trip, he embodies what the pope was expressing. Raising a disabled son he describes as “God’s gift to us,” Yusef refuses to give in to despair or hatred. His own life has been made harder—financially and in terms of family ties–by the Separation Wall the Israeli government has erected, but he speaks kindly of Israelis, including the Orthodox Jewish woman who gives his 4-year-old physical therapy and helped him walk. He asks, “How can I say I love God if I hate my brother?”
“The Gospel reassures us that God can make all things new, that history need not be repeated, that memories can be healed, that the bitter fruits of recrimination and hostility can be overcome,” the pope said when visiting the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem on Friday. Yusef is young, and his troubles are not even memories yet—they are part of his everyday life. Yet he is healed inside himself.
“I am not right or left. I look straight ahead, and there is God,” says Yusef. “I look into God’s eyes, and I what I see is mercy.”