The following is a reflection from St. Peter’s, Bennington parishioner Celia Berks, describing her experience joining a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and inviting us to join her in supporting the work of the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.
Photo Courtesy Celia Berks
Last month I had the pleasure and honor of joining a pilgrimage to the Holy Land led by the Rev. Deborah Dresser. There were 34 people on our journey and we were able to meet with many local folks, including Palestinian and Israeli advocates for peace in the Holy Land, and local Palestinians in Bethlehem, Jericho, Jerusalem and Nazareth. We were also fortunate to be invited to dinner in our Palestinian guide’s home.
There were so very many highlights, amongst which were staying at the St. George’s Cathedral Guest House in Jerusalem. We visited the Western Wall, The Dome of the Rock, now a holy Moslem Mosque built above the ruins of the two Temples in the old City of Jerusalem. We walked and prayed the Stations of the Cross, with emotional visits in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and at many, many other holy sites too numerous to mention.
One morning we got up very early and watched the sunrise and celebrated Eucharist in the desert in the West Bank near Jericho where Jesus went to pray after his baptism. This was followed by a visit to Nazareth where we stayed in the guesthouse of the Sisters of Nazareth. There we met Fr. Nael Abu Rahmoun, the Episcopal priest at Church of Christ, Nazareth, who conducted Eucharist for his parish in Arabic. I was surprised at the time to recall Fr. Justin Lanier’s teaching at St. Peter’s in Bennington on listening to silence, as he taught us to chant the psalms during one of our services here. Although the language in the Nazareth Church of Christ was strange to us, Fr. Nael included just enough English to allow us to feel involved in a full 100% of that celebration. Afterwards we enjoyed coffee hour, just as we do here, with members of his congregation.
On our way back to Jerusalem we walked in Jesus’ footsteps on the Mount of Beatitudes and down the hill to the Sea of Galilee where we took a boat ride and saw the crew casting nets as the fishermen who became Jesus’ disciples would have done two thousand years ago. We stopped by a secluded spot on the banks of the River Jordan and renewed our baptismal vows. All so deeply moving!
We returned to Jerusalem and during the course of our stay met with Bishop Suheil Dawani and became acquainted with the work which the Diocese carries out in the Holy Land. During our stay we visited one of their outreach projects where our group presented 17 baby blankets (two from St. Peter’s in Bennington) and many books for the children at Princess Basma Center for Disabled Children on the Mount of Olives. It is currently home to 450 children with disabilities.
During the course of our visit to the Holy Land we saw so many holy sites of all Christian denominations. It will take months for me to put the whole journey in perspective.
On returning home, the pilgrims who live near Reverend Deborah’s home in Newburgh, New York, got together for a pot luck supper at her house to discuss how we can continue to spread the word of the work of the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, and the Diocese’s amazing work in the Holy Land which they support. Several projects were mentioned and we finally decided that a new project Fr. Nael in Nazareth is promoting would be a superb way to use our resources.
Fr. Nael’s Christ Church owns a building at the rear of the church which he dreams of converting to a clinic and children’s center. We have heard that they are going to receive a grant (funded, I believe in the United States) to start the work and I am asking you if you would also like to contribute a little towards that project. Inviting children of all faiths into one school is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to make a small step towards peace in this very troubled part of the world. How wonderful it would be to send a check to The American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem from members of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont to help Fr. Nael build a dream. If you would like to make a donation, please email me or mail a chekc with the notation “Fr. Nael’s Children’s Center Project in Nazareth” to:
25 Old King’s Hwy No.
Darien, CT 06820