A Pilgrimage Reflection by Kitty
Waking from disrupted sleep on our first morning in Jerusalem, we hear the sounds of children on the playground at St. George’s school across the road from the Cathedral of St. George in Jerusalem. It educates both Christian and Muslim children and is known as a place fostering tolerance and understanding in a city and country where schools mostly serve children of one religion. These sounds of young voices full of energy and excitement at being together for another day of learning strike a note of hope for the start of the day.
Christians are a shrinking minority in the Holy Land, but as Bishop Suheil Dawani noted to us, they play an important moderating role between the much larger Jewish and Muslim populations. St. George’s School (and other institutions of the Diocese of Jerusalem) provide a significant opportunity for children of the region to develop lasting friendships and mutual understanding.
After a hearty Middle Eastern breakfast, we hear the fading roar of a leaf blower in the Biblical gardens on the Cathedral grounds. Sounds of the modern city rise outside the Cathedral close: car horns bleating, clanks of metal mingle with birds chirping in the green oasis of the garden trees, children’s and teachers’ voices from the school classrooms above us, whisper of breezes in the trees.
Climbing the Ottoman walls of the Old City, we enjoy wonderful vistas of the narrow crowded suk, the elevated rooftops and life of the Old City as well as the newer city beyond the walls on the west side and the Mount of Olives and Jordanian hills to the east.
Walking above the Christian Quarter we spot workmen below and a Catholic priest in black with a magenta sash supervising from a balcony above. He nods and says hello. Sisters of Charity in their white and blue saris hurriedly gather their wash from the lines as a rare rain fell at midday, and a Palestinian woman doing the same gathering in smiles as we pass. The Old City roofs bristles with dish antennas and solar water tanks that evidence the many people who live within the walls.
Suddenly the Dome of Rock on the Haram al Sharif (the noble sanctuary) comes
into view, just as the midday call to prayer echoes across the Old City
from several mosques and church bells ring out.
Later at the Armenian Cathedral of St. James, we hear the muffled soundof monks striking wooden boards as the call to evening service. It is a holdover from the Ottoman era when ringing church bells was forbidden.
Before Friday dinner we gather in the Cathedral courtyard to talk and enjoy the cool of the evening. Suddenly amplified Hebrew blares as a vehicle with loudspeaker makes several rounds in the neighborhood, calling the Jewish faithful to observe Shabbat. But we and the vehicle are in Palestinian East Jerusalem. This call is not a helpful reminder for non-Jews but more like an intrusion or even a provocation. Even sounds can carry overtones of intent, good and bad.
Our first evening in Jerusalem, as dusk fell, we heard the muezzin’s amplified call to prayer at the small mosque up the street from St. George’s. The mosque bright lit with typical green neon lights, the color green representing Mohammed’s favorite color.
These unfamiliar sounds remind us that we Christian visitors are a minority here, but tied to this place by shared Biblical stories. Though we visitors and sojourners will leave with memories and impressions, we do not live with the daily challenges of this much beloved and conflicted land. Our work is to carry the life and witness of those who create a holy life and a new hope in this long contested land.