Palestinian Christians: amid the clamor, voices for peace
By Jeremy Sabella '07 M.Div.
My arrival in a foreign country registered in earnest early in the morning after our first night in Bethlehem. The Muslim call to prayer filled the predawn darkness, alerting my senses, awakening my mind. I could not fall back to sleep. I stayed in my bed till the darkness began to fade. I then got out of bed, got dressed, and stepped out into the streets of Bethlehem.
My wanderings led me to the main square of the town and to the Church of the Nativity. I ducked under a narrow doorway and after walking through a dark corridor found myself in the ancient and dimly lit church. Even at that early hour, in the middle of the week, Orthodox priests and Eastern Right Catholic clerics filed in and out with their congregants. A tremendous sense of the weight of time and tradition settled upon me as I meandered, gazing at candle-lit icons and other objects of veneration many hundreds of years old. I later found out that it is the oldest continuous church in existence: the building has been restored and rebuilt multiple times, but worshippers have consistently congregated on that spot since the days of Constantine. I have been in many churches that are far more pleasing to the eyes than the church of the nativity. But they felt more like museum pieces on display than places of worship. Here however, spiritual vibrancy filled the sacred space—the 1700-year-old flame was brightly burning still.
Palestinian Christians reminded us multiple times over the course of the trip that this was in fact that land that Jesus walked, that theirs was the cultural milieu in which Christ lived. No one has a stronger claim to practicing the faith of the earliest Christian communities than the Palestinians. And yet, in the very cradle of the Christian faith the Palestinian Christians make up 1.5% of the population—150,000 people in total. And with every passing year their number diminishes as their quality of life deteriorates on account of economic hardship and increasing hostility, the best and brightest among them taking up residence in the West.
Despite their minority status Palestinian Christians play a vital intermediary role. As Palestinians, they share the culture of their Muslim and Jewish neighbors; As Christians, they have common ground with the West. They are advocates for peace and reconciliation amid the clamor of voices calling for retribution, and an outlet through which those seeking peace can gain access to the region. As bleak as prospects for peace now seem, one has to ask how much bleaker these prospects would become if the Palestinian Christian population were squeezed out, the 2000 year old flame expunged. Who would be left to proclaim love for one's enemy amid the frenzied voices demanding an eye for an eye?