Peacemakers All…

Blessed are the peacemakers;
you shall be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

While in Israel, I was amazed by the circumstances of its people and its property. Israel occupies a large portion of what we consider to be the Holy Land. Interestingly enough, the holiest places within its borders are controlled by various entities including Muslims, Christians and Jews. Our guide is an Israeli citizen who respects his countrymen whatever their beliefs. He speaks Hebrew, Arabic and Italian (among other languages). As a result, he gained us access to sites where others are denied entry. Whenever this occurred, Yossi didn’t revel in his success. He simply pointed out that being respectful of the ways of others and meeting others on their own turf or terms usually leads to peaceful encounters which benefit all concerned. “This is the way to peace,” Yossi would say.

Perhaps this is the reason Yossi exhibited some impatience with his Hasidic Jewish neighbors. I was surprised to learn that they make up only ten percent of Israel’s population. Most of this sect live in their own neighborhoods where they adhere to the strictest code of conduct. Our guide also surprised me when he shared that eighty percent of the population is non-religious. It seemed to trouble Yossi to acknowledged that the holiest place on earth is home to so many non-religious people. Yossi shared that the strict rules and intolerance of a few had soured many Israelis’ views of organized religion.

As I pondered all of this, I considered the “secular” Jewish people who shared the path with us during our stay. Though they didn’t profess a religious affiliation, they did work toward change through their interactions with neighbors of multiple ethnicities. I wondered if they realized that they were peacemakers just like Yossi.

Loving God, help us all to work toward peace with loving hands and loving hearts.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

An Oasis of Peace

“This is how you are to pray.”
Matthew 6:9

While in Israel, our guide lead us to several unexpected peaceful oases. One of these was the ancient city of Akko (Acre). Though the city dates back to biblical times, it is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it houses classic Crusader ruins both under and above ground. We walked through Crusader halls and streets which date from the 12th and 13th Centuries. The city which stands today is reminiscent of a typical fortified Ottoman town of the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Striking as these historical relics are, I found myself more taken by a tiny church resting in their shadows. The Church of St. Francis has been served for more than two decades by an Italian Franciscan priest. He ministers to a small band of parishioners who worship freely and peacefully in the midst of their larger Muslim community. Though the priest’s eyes glistened a bit when he shared the long years he’s been away from his homeland, his enthusiasm indicated that there is no place he would rather be. During this visit, I learned that Francis of Assisi visited Akko during Muslim rule. While there, Francis walked into a Muslim camp. Francis’ peaceful nature so moved their leader that the man allowed Francis to see all of the holy places from which Christians were banned at the time.

The priest who’d so warmly welcomed us gifted me with a holy card of St. Francis as I left. When I glanced at to see this tiny treasure, I found St. Francis’ prayer for peace on the back. What better message was there to take from this holy place where Muslims and Christians worshiped in peace in the heart of their Jewish country?

Loving God, make us all instruments of your peace.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved