Two Cents on Iran Negotiation

1. I for one agree wholeheartedly with the idea that, with the passage of time, the USA and Iran could grow much friendlier. Looks like the potential agreement could mean that, in ten years, Iran could build a nuclear bomb. But ten years from now, the world could look altogether different to us. Iran could look more like a friend.

2. Problem is, we have to put ourselves in Israel’s shoes. Israel has no choice but to prevent Iran building a nuclear weapon–by whatever means necessary. While you and I can luxuriate in thoughts of less-expensive Persian rugs, the Israelis must presume that, on the day that Iran has a nuclear bomb, they will launch it at Israel.

Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv
Doesn’t really matter who controls the Israeli parliament, Likud or the liberals. If you’re responsible for the continued existence of the state of Israel, you have to presume that Iran wants to destroy you.

3. The Israelis, therefore, will do anything and everything to prevent the final success of these negotiations. They will almost certainly succeed in preventing a final agreement. And, in fact, by doing so, they will actually be doing us a huge favor. Because…

4. For the USA, there are really only two future scenarios vis-a-vis Iran. The good future scenario involves Iran becoming friendlier not only with us, but with the Israelis also. But, from where I am standing, I do not see the kind of diplomats at work who could bring about this result. Obama and Co. do not have that kind of game to bring to this court, so to speak.

5. Therefore, lacking a de-escalation of tensions between Iran and Israel, if this agreement (as very sketchily outlined) were to go into effect, the Israelis would have no choice but to attack Iran. They would be bound by the logic of self-defense to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. A war would begin. And where would the USA stand at that moment?

I will tell you where: Tied up in knots by our un-examined, knee-jerk, political acid-test relationship with Israel.

The news-cycle vibe has it that Obama and Netanyahu don’t like each other; the USA-Israel relationship is strained by personality conflicts. But that, actually, is not the problem at all. Dislike between American president and Israeli prime-minister is a passing thing, not a big deal in and of itself.

The problem is: we as a country have such an unquestioning loyalty to Israel as an ally that we cannot hold their self-defensive military logic in check. They will do what they think they have to do to defend themselves (for which no one could really blame them), and we will have to come to their aid no matter what they do.

So: Given that the alternative is almost certainly a war, the best scenario for this summer is the collapse of the Iran deal. Israel and her friends will bring about such a collapse one way or another, I think. The whole business will probably appear very ugly to the great idealists of a more peaceful world, like myself. Even tragic. But hardly blameworthy, all things considered.

I recommend prayer for a miracle, specifically the miracle of a channel of communication opening between Iran and Israel. Crazier things have happened.

Temple-Mount Chaos

Goofball on the horizon
Goofball on the horizon

Not sure if everyone knows that the city of Jerusalem sits on the brink of chaotic violence at this moment.

I laid eyes on the Dome of the Rock myself, up close, on Feb. 24, 2008. I wanted to see the place where Abraham obeyed God unto the edge of utter darkness. But: having a Roman cassock on gets you waved off by the Jordanian guards right quick…

This evening, on the PBS Newshour, Judy Woodruff misidentified the Dome of the Rock, calling it the Al-Aksa Mosque (which sits 100 yards south of the site of the near-sacrifice of Isaac). An understandable mistake. But at the same time, quite telling–when it comes to our utter ignorance, as Americans, of what we are dealing with.

If I might, an amateur’s dime-store history for you:

Abraham climbed the mountain with Isaac, but God wound up providing the lamb for sacrifice. Centuries later, Solomon built on this site, and the sweet scent of burning oblations began to ascend at the appointed hours.

After Babylon leveled the Temple, the Israelites rebuilt. Half a millennium later, Herod the Great enlarged the humble Second Temple and made it a wonder of the world.

Zechariah (of the New Testament) found himself struck dumb here, because he didn’t believe he could father John the Baptist. Our Lord frequented this site often, as we read. But the sacrifice of the new and eternal covenant took place outside the then-walls of the city. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher (which houses Golgatha also) lies west of the Temple Mount, a good twenty-minute walk through the maze of Old-City streets.

Thus, the journos’ claim that the Temple Mount is holy to Christians, just like Jews and Muslims: Not exactly, not exactly. It is exceedingly imprecise to refer to the Temple Mount as a Christian holy site. We have no particular designs on worshiping there.

Anyway, back to the dime-store history: Rome leveled Jerusalem in the first and second centuries of the Age of Grace. The western wall of Herod’s temple survived. After Constantine converted to Christianity, Jerusalem had a few centuries as a Christian city.

Mohammed consecrated the Temple-Mount site for his followers in some way that I neither know nor understand.

A millennium later, under Turkish rule, the Status Quo was established. I am in no way an expert on this, but I think I can safely summarize: On a certain date, about half a millennium ago, Jews of various kinds prayed in various places, and in various ways, and at various times of day (and week and year) in Jerusalem; Christians of different kinds did the same; Muslims of different kinds also. The way they prayed at that time was enshrined as the norm, and it cannot be changed.

The Status Quo enjoys the beautiful authority of having been established by none of the partisans, and–at this point in time–it also has history behind it. It is the delicate and precarious arrangement that keeps the peace in every holy place in the holiest city in the world.

If you have never visited, you cannot adequately imagine just how up-close-and-personal the realities of the Status Quo are. There is literally no elbow room, no room for error; the people on either side of the lines established by the Status Quo can smell each other, and I am not exaggerating. The first time I ever entered the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, I wanted to pray in the Golgatha Chapel. For five minutes I could, but then I had to leave, since I am a Roman Catholic priest, and the Status Quo prohibits us being in that chapel when the Orthodox have their evening prayers. Muslims meditating among the trees between Al-Aksa and the Dome of the Rock literally stand on top of Jews praying at the Western Wall. “Cramped” does not even begin to describe the religious reality of Jerusalem.

To modern times… After the Holocaust, the Western world fully embraced the Zionist enterprise, and the nation-state of Israel received international approbation and support. But Jerusalem did not make up part of the original land. Jerusalem and environs remained in a unique category (I guess, like the Vatican). To this day, our official US policy does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the city. (Israel took control of Jerusalem in 1967.)

For some time now, Jerusalem has been a relatively safe place. No reasonable person would hesitate to travel there as a Christian pilgrim. That appears to be on the verge of changing. To read of an Israeli-Palestinian gunfight in the neighborhood that immediately abuts the site of the Last Supper (and the Assumption of our Lady; they are right around the corner from each other)–this is chilling news. The Israeli police disturbed the Status Quo by asserting authority (which, in fact, the sovereign of Jordan actually possesses) and shutting the Temple-Mount mosque today. Palestinians appear to be mustering for mischief.

Please, let’s pray.

Quick War-Speech Dental Exam

Our jovial dentist used to glide in after the hygienist finished. With his metal pick, he would wiggle each tooth to determine the solidity of its foundation. He could tell by touch if a cavity had developed.

If I might, I would like to touch the teeth of our Islamic State strategy, as outlined by the president last night.

Tooth #1, the pre-eminent, most-important tooth: Having cause for war with the Islamic State. Do we?

Do they pose an immediate danger to our people? I don’t know, really. But it seems like they do, much more than any other terrorist organization ever has.

Flag_of_Islamic_State_of_Iraq.svgBut another legitimate question, by way of establishing casus belli might be: Is the Islamic state demonstrably guilty of crimes against humanity? If the decent people of the world tolerate these crimes, could we reasonably hope for peace in our time? Would not the innocent victims have legitimate cause to reproach us? Yes, no, and yes appear to be the answers to these questions.

The most solid grounds for war, then, are not necessarily the matter of a direct threat to U.S. citizens, even though that threat seems quite real. Rather, the unassailable cause, it seems to me, is the consensus among God-fearing people that to tolerate the crimes of these men would imply an abandonment of hope for a decent world to live in.

Now, I think this tooth would stand probing a little better if we explicitly listed the charges against al-Baghdadi and his collaborators. (I believe that the UN has done so already, at least in a preliminary fashion.) We should demand that the accused give themselves up and stand trial before a legitimate court of law, which could include Muslim judges. Then, when they fail to hand themselves over, we stipulate that our war aim is: To apprehend the criminals and their associates.

My quibbles notwithstanding, this tooth has no cavity. I am do dentist, no expert, but the crimes that have been committed—murder, enslavement, rape, attempted genocide, wholesale robbery of lands and goods—these crimes can be documented; they must be prosecuted; the guilty must be punished. If the defendants do not present themselves for trial, they forfeit the due protections of law and stand in peril of their lives. The decent people of the world would all agree on all this, I think it’s fair to say. We have proposed to go to war against genuine enemies of the human race. We have just cause.

Okay, tooth #2: “Iraqi partners.” The “inclusive” new Iraqi government. An effective Iraqi military.

The questions we need to ask in order to tap this tooth: Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, at our hands, a decade ago, have the ‘Iraqi’ people acted in harmony as a nation? Has the Iraqi military shown genuine signs of decisive action, even at peril of life and limb, aimed at protecting all the people of the nation of Iraq?

That would be a negative, I think.

Can the blame for this be laid completely at the feet of Nouri al-Maliki’s choleric temperament?

Can a reasonable person expect the new, more phlegmatic Shia prime-minister, who has put together a government with Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds in the same proportion as the old one (actually, there are apparently more Shias in the government now than there were under al-Maliki), who has yet to appoint a defense minister—can a reasonable individual expect Prime Minister Abadi to unify the nation of Iraq successfully and orient the military, in time to address the crimes that have been committed, before the victims of those crimes fall into despair?

This tooth has a very large cavity.

Tooth #3
. “Partners in Syria.” In an interview in early August, President Obama himself said that the moderate opposition in Syria had never really come together. He said that the idea that arming rebels in Syria could make a difference “has always been a fantasy.”

WeAreNWe have a policy of regarding Assad as an ‘illegitimate leader.’ Nonetheless, under international law, he has the right to refuse us access to Syrian airspace. Who has consistently championed President Assad’s prerogatives? Russia. Without Russia on our side in this war, we lose the diplomatic tool of the UN Security Council. (Not to mention all the constructive help which Russia could, and probably would, give us.) Without the UN endorsing our actions, we will have serious problems retaining allies. Fighting IS without Russia will make it much harder to win. Big, big cavity.

Tooth #4. “Partners in the region.” On August 15, the United Nations Security Council adopted a strongly worded, militarily toothless resolution against Islamic State. Today, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and United Arab Emirates agreed on the ‘Jeddah Communique,’ which confirmed their commitment to the UN resolution. The Jeddah communique includes no mention of military commitment. Turkey did not sign on. Syria, of course, was not invited.

This tooth appears to have a cavity. If the only fighting we need from our ‘partners in the region’ is the implementation of financial sanctions and travel restrictions, then we’re good. Maybe.

But: If we are not going to march—which the president says we won’t; only bombs from above—if we are not going to march; if we cannot reasonably expect Iraq to march anytime soon; if there really isn’t anyone in Syria who we could expect to march against IS in any kind of commensurate force; and if no one in the Gulf Cooperation Council, nor Lebanon, nor Jordan, nor Egypt, nor Turkey intends to march—then who is going to march? Who will march to apprehend the criminals in time to save the victims from despair?

st-augustineI do not think the plan, as it stands, has the prospect of success. The more I think about it, the more feckless it appears. Which renders it unjust, since a legitimate casus belli must be implemented with a war plan that enjoys the solid probability of success.

I think the plan as outlined by the president will lead to dangerous diplomatic strains and to the deaths and injuries of many innocent people. Our airstrikes will cause greater animosity against the U.S. and more terrorism.

The huge military elephant in the room is of course Israel, way too touchy a subject to be mentioned by the president or Secretary Kerry, I guess, at this point. But who can fail to imagine a scenario in which IS attacks Israel? Then we will have a wide Middle-East war, and we will inevitably lose ‘partners.’

Operating in Syria without authorization from Assad, coupled with all our saber-rattling over Ukraine, we could wind up at war with Russia.

Grim scenarios, indeed. I would welcome anyone with better information to talk me down off this particular ledge.

Anyway, it seems to me that it would be better to open our borders to the refugees who would prefer to come here, and welcome them in the U.S. Then await a more propitious moment for making war against IS—a moment when we have a genuine international military coalition organized and we are prepared to fight a real war with our own troops involved, so as to minimize airstrikes, which always cause unintended casualties and just make things worse.

The Great Project of God’s Grandparents

The great project of life: to avoid attachments to things other than God, so that we keep our eyes open for Him.

The Lord promised Abraham a great inheritance. The Lord espoused the nation of Israel to Himself. As we read, most of God’s people fell away from Him, became preoccupied with things other than Him, got attached to non-divine stuff, faithlessly chasing fleeting distractions.

Fresco of Joachim and Ann by Giotto
But some held on. Some clung to faith. Among the descendants of Abraham, a few always continued the great project of life, which Abraham himself had followed to the end. They believed the promises, and they looked forward to their fulfillment. The faithful remnant of Israel quietly kept the history of the chosen nation moving forward. They married and raised children in little sanctuaries of faith.

Among these nondescript, quiet, prayerful Israelites, the Lord chose two to be His own grandparents. Their flesh and blood would be His flesh and blood. Through their marital embrace, the Lord formed a new Eve to be His Mother. She herself would give birth to God, Anne and Joachim’s grandchild. This immaculate daughter of Israel conceived her child not through natural copulation, but by her nation’s most magnificent and all-encompassing act of faith: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.”

…“Blessed are your ears, because they hear. Many prophets and righteous people longed to hear what you hear,” the Lord Jesus says to us.

The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. How? Because God is good. And because Sts. Joachim and Anne pursued the great project of life to the end, and taught their beautiful daughter to do the same.

God first. Faith first. And the promises come true.

Jesus: “Hear, O Israel”

When we hear the Lord Jesus quote the Shema in order to express the greatest commandment, He draws us back into the beautiful drama of the book of Deuteronomy.

Hear, O Israel. You shall not have strange gods.

Now, the “strangeness” of any god other than God—this strangeness runs deeper than just ancient Jewish national identity.

Serving any god other than the real God estranges any human being from himself, not just a Jew.

The ancient Israelites received gestures of love and friendship from the Almighty Creator of heaven, earth, and every nation. Therefore, when we Gentiles read about God’s dealings with the Israelites—that is, when we read the Bible—the storyline does not come off as “strange” at all.

To the contrary, a harmony sounds in the depths of our souls: This God of the ancient Israelites is no stranger to us. He is our Maker and our Lord. We have known Him since the first moment we looked with wonder upon His world. The Bible is not the book of a foreign people. It is our book, because this is our God. The one God.

In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people: Do not degrade yourselves by serving anyone or anything other than God.

Do not degrade yourselves. In other words: We do not serve God for God’s sake; we serve Him for our sake. Unlike the strange pagan gods who manipulate, mistreat, and play vicious games with their adherents, the true God deals with us with strong, serene, and generous love.

Of course, God is nonetheless breathtakingly demanding. While serving Him does not in any way demean us, it does, however, require of us something more than any strange god could ever demand.

A person could spend his whole life as a slave of avarice or lust, exhausting himself while piling up money or chasing pleasure. But the innermost depths of such a man would never be touched. All his other faculties get strained to the breaking point with futile exertion, but his heart of hearts atrophies within him, like an un-used muscle.

Serving God, on the other hand, demands constant exercise of the center-point of my very being. We cannot serve the true God any other way than by loving Him with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds, and all our strength.

Quick Sacred History Quiz

Your ways, O Lord, make known to me.

We sing this prayer in the Psalm at Mass.

Why do we keep the season of Lent? The Spirit drove the Lord Jesus out into the desert. He fasted and prayed for forty days.

The prophet Elijah walked through the desert for forty days to reach God’s mountain. Jonah gave the Ninevites a forty-day warning of God’s wrath. Moses dwelt in the cloud on Mount Sinai and conversed with the Lord for forty days. When the Lord flooded the earth, it rained for forty days.

Six weeks. Can we learn the ways of God in six weeks? Let’s get started.

In six days, God made the heavens and the earth. On the seventh, He rested. (Maybe if we study His ways hard for six weeks, then on the seventh, we will find rest.)

In the beginning, God made the land and the seas and all they contain. Then what happened? Sin. Disobedience. Estrangement from the Creator. It got ugly. Brother killed brother.

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of human beings was on earth, and how every desire that their heart conceived was always nothing but evil. The Lord regretted making human beings on the earth, and his heart was grieved (Genesis 6:5).

The innocent blood that had been shed cried out from the ground. The good world that God had made needed to be cleansed.

Continue reading “Quick Sacred History Quiz”

Woe to you Pharisees, you fools!

(Luke 11:40)

In the beginning, man fell away from God. Many generations passed, during which the silent sky stretched over human history. Then God called Abraham.

The friendship between the Lord and Abraham was so pure and intimate that succeeding generations had a very difficult time getting a grip on it.

Fundamentally, Abraham lived with his heart lifted up to the Lord, trusting in His gracious promises. Abraham did not fret that he would die before the promises were fulfilled. Instead, his pure heart rejoiced in simple trust. God is good. He will provide.

This faith of Abraham, the faith of Israel, reaches into the absolute epicenter of the human soul. It is as invisible as God Himself.

Over the course of the history of the Chosen People, the holy faith manifested itself in different external trappings. The law written on the inner heart of man was spelled out in stone on Mt. Sinai. Abraham’s religious acts were carried out perpetually in the Temple in Jerusalem. King David ruled the people with the same faith, and he sang it in the Psalms.

Then the Israelites were driven into exile by their enemies. All the external trappings were taken away. The Temple was razed to the ground. The line of kings was broken.

But the pure faith of Abraham endured. It had always been directed to the future anyway. The faith and hope of the Israelite lived on, through the war-torn centuries that followed the exile, when the Jews found themselves back in the Holy Land, but nonetheless oppressed by one pagan empire after another.

The living guardians of the faith of Abraham were the Pharisees. Their teaching and example protected their disciples from the worldliness and cynicism of the pagans. The post-exilic Jewish monarchy could lay no real claim to the inheritance of King David, and the priestly class just went through the motions. In other words, the traditional institutions of the Chosen People had been completely corrupted by outside influences.

But the Pharisees guarded the separateness of the chosen nation. “Pharisee” means ‘separate from the heathen.’ They taught Jews how to keep their homes and towns quiet, hidden enclaves of pure faith.

Except when they didn’t. Except when they took their place right alongside all the other sons of Adam. Except when they, too, fell prey to vanity and greed. Except when their ‘pure’ observances covered over their selfishness and meanness.

Christ reserved his harsh words for the ones who came within millimeters of the truth, but missed it. He expressed nothing but patient compassion for humble sinners who knew perfectly well that they fell far from the mark. But the ones who got close enough to being right that they forgot that God is God and we are not? That’s how you make the Son of God mad.

Abraham rejoiced to look forward to the day of Christ. Abraham believed in the fulfillment to come. The Pharisees guarded the faith of Abraham so ferociously that, when the Messiah came, they tried to lock Him outside the house.

Instructions for Lent

Pretty cool cover of a lovely song:

Here is a homily for the First Sunday of Lent:

In the original Lent, the Lord Jesus spent forty days praying and fasting in solitude. The devil came to tempt Him. Christ rebuffed the devil by quoting Scripture three times.

1. “Man does not live by bread alone.”

2. “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him alone will you serve.”

3. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Let’s see who is really on-the-ball. When the Lord quoted these words of Scripture, which book of the Bible was He quoting? All three verses come from the same book.

Continue reading “Instructions for Lent”

Palmers’ Compendium

The palm–or the shell–is the insignia of the pilgrim who has returned from the Holy Land. A Christian who has visited Israel is a “palmer.”

Over the years, the term came to be used for a pilgrim to any holy site. Shakespeare punned on the word “palmer” in the scene in which Romeo and Juliet first meet.

ROMEO [To JULIET]
If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

JULIET
Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.

ROMEO
Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

JULIET
Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

ROMEO
O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray — grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

JULIET
Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.

ROMEO
Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.

[Kisses her.]

…Anyway: This palmer would like to present you with a compendium of Holy Land pilgrimage writings:

High-altitude prayer competition
Parable of the Lost Coin
Facing West on Earth Day
The Wall of Bibi I
The divine origin of Israel
Full account of my first pilgrimage

First-Anniversary Recollections, with Abp. Burke’s homilies:
Elijah and Mt. Carmel
Remembering Nazareth on March-for-Life day
Looking out over Jerusalem on St. Polycarp Day
Holy Mass in the Upper Room

Pope Benedict May 2009 Holy Land Pilgrimage:
At the Basilica of the Annunciation
Pope in Bethlehem
Mass in the Kidron Valley
At the Holy Sepulcher

Fall 2009 Pilgrimage Updates and Reflections:
Preparatory Praying
Arriving in the land of the Bible, the Crusaders, and many saints
Beautiful Blue Skies of Northwest Israel
In Nazareth
Sea of Galilee
Going up to Jerusalem (Jericho/Bethlehem)
Americans in the Garden of Gethsemane
Jerusalem Days
At the Empty Tomb (Pope, too)
Perspective on Holy Land archaeology
Concluding homily on the mystery of faith

Abouna Abiud Reports

jerusalem-sunrise

Greetings from Jerusalem. To catch you up, dear reader:

…The Holy Land first welcomed us with lush greenery and bucolic countryside—the Galilee of the Lord’s youth. Traveling south, we came to harder country. Then we entered one of the tensest cities in the world.

One could ask: Where on earth is there a place so beautiful and peaceful that it would be a suitable location for the Son of God to teach and to heal? The shores of the Sea of Galilee are certainly beautiful and peaceful enough.

But one also must ask: What city on earth is such a jumble of antagonisms, long-standing grudges, and self-righteousness that it could kill the Son of God? Jerusalem is such a city.

…Yesterday we left Nazareth. We headed south. We renewed our Baptismal promises on the bank of the Jordan River.

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Stepping into the Jordan River

We came to the place where the ancient Israelites entered the Promised Land after their journey back from Egypt. This is where the priests carried the Ark of the Covenant into the Jordan, the water piled up like a mound, and the people walked across the river bed with dry feet.

They headed for Jericho, and so did we.

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In hardscrabble Jericho

The Lord Jesus passed through Jericho a number of times, when He Himself was on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

His most famous parable is about the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. We ascended to the Holy City on this pilgrim road (now paved)…

…This morning we visited the Upper Room, where: 1) The Lord Jesus instituted the Holy Mass, 2) He appeared after He rose from the dead, 3) the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles in tongues of flame.

IMG_1066
Trying on the kafiyeh

Then we left Jerusalem and went out to the Judean hill country, to visit the church built where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived. This is where our Lady came to help her cousin—the Visitation.

From there, we entered Bethlehem. After eating delicious falafel sandwiches, we entered Manger Square, the sight of so much Christian piety over the centuries.

IMG_1126
In the hill country of Judah

We recalled the words of Popes who have come on pilgrimage here:

Pope John Paul II was here in 2000:

In Bethlehem it is always Christmas. ‘Here Christ was born of the Virgin Mary’: these words, inscribed over the place where Jesus was born, are the reason for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. They are the reason for my coming to Bethlehem today. They are the source of the joy, the hope, the goodwill, which, for two millennia, have filled countless human hearts at the very sound of the name “Bethlehem.”

IMG_1165People everywhere turn to this unique corner of the earth with a hope that transcends all conflicts and difficulties.

Bethlehem – where the choir of Angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men” (Lk 2:14) – stands out, in every place and in every age, as the promise of God’s gift of peace. Bethlehem is a universal crossroads where all peoples can meet to build together a world worthy of our human dignity and destiny.

Pope Benedict was here in May:

“Do not be afraid; for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy…today in the city of David a Savior is born for you” (Lk 2:10-11). The message of Christ’s coming, brought from heaven by the voice of angels, continues to echo in this town, just as it echoes in families, homes and communities throughout the world. It is “good news”, the angels say “for all the people”. It proclaims that the Messiah, the Son of God and the Son of David, has been born “for you”: for you and me, and for men and women in every time and place.

In God’s plan, Bethlehem, “least among the clans of Judah” (Mic 5:2), has become a place of undying glory: the place where, in the fullness of time, God chose to become man, to end the long reign of sin and death, and to bring new and abundant life to a world which had grown old, weary and oppressed by hopelessness.

Looking up at the Basilica, we could see that “the great church built over the Savior’s birthplace stands like a fortress battered by the strife of the ages,” as John Paul put it.

The main basilica, under the care of the Greek Orthodox, is in rough shape. Our visit to the grotto of the Nativity was very moving. Then we went to the cave of St. Jerome to celebrate Holy Mass.

From there we descended to the Shepherd’s Field, where the angels announced the birth of Christ to the humble men watching over their flocks by night.

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Barluzzi church on Shepherds' Field

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