On the last day of our pilgrimage, we spent the day in solidarity with some of the local Christians in the Holy Land – specifically in Jordan. Pilgrimages are not just a matter of seeing the holy places accompanied by prayer. Pilgrimages are unique opportunities to build up the Body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12). Part of what that means is to meet, pray with, and learn about the lives of local Christians.
Today, we celebrated Mass at a Jordanian church, St. Jean Baptist – in the spirit of John Baptiste de la Salle. (Click here for today’s photos.) Our spiritual director concelebrated the Mass with the parish priest, who also stayed to speak with us about the Holy Father’s recent Synod on the Church in the Middle East and about the situation of Jordanian Christians. “Abuna” (Arabic for “Father”) gladly told us that Jordan is a model for peaceful cohabitation and cooperation in the Middle East between Muslims and Christians. Although Christians are only 3% of the population here, 9 out of 80 positions in the lower house of Parliament are reserved for Christians. All Christians are free to practice their religion.
After eating a local dish called shawarma, we headed off to the home village of our parish contact, Bassima, who had graciously arranged for us to witness the Jordanian voting process. Today is voting day, a holiday in Jordan, and we squeezed between cars and people who crowded the streets around the voting site. Inside, Bassima went through the voting process, demonstrating that it is free, open and public for Jordanians to exercise their right to vote. We also met a local candidate for Parliament, who happened to be a woman, a Christian, and the youngest running: Mona Makhamreh. After she spoke with us, we presented her with a gift on behalf of the Pilgrim Center of Hope and ENDOW, “Letter to Women” by John Paul II.
The day was a once-in-a-lifetime experience; we ate, worshipped, sang, and laughed with our Jordanian brothers and sisters, and we learned about their life here. Not only that, but we feel what they feel. We come to know their joy and their struggle. This is the meaning of solidarity.
Before this pilgrimage, when I prayed for people around the world, for Christians who are persecuted for their faith, for peace, for the bishops around the world, I prayed with sincerity. But now, as I go back home and prepare to pray those same prayers again, I know that I will see the faces of those for whom I am praying. I will see their smiles and the wrinkles on their faces. I will see the little children running through the narrow streets of Jerusalem. I will see the limp of the beggar in Bethlehem. I will feel the guns of Israeli soldiers grip my heart. I will hear the thick accent of Bishop Shomali.
Thanks be to God for this experience. I have experienced what it means to be a member of the Body of Christ.