by Paul Vance, Assistant Pilgrimage Group Leader
(submitted from Jerusalem)
The act of listening is at the heart of pilgrimage. Like Mary, we listen to the Word spoken to us. A human-divine interaction results when the Word of the Lord presents itself to us, and, again like Mary, we ponder it. When we love God, the Word spoken must rest in our heart until we rest in it. To love our neighbor as ourselves is the next greatest commandment. The fruit derived from that love requires us to listen to our neighbor.
Today, our pilgrims celebrated Christmas for the second time in as many months. In the Church of the Nativity, where our Lord drew his first breath, we listened to the proclaimed Word. In that Word, we learned that the shepherds keeping watch in the nearby hills were the first to listen to the words of good news brought to them by the heavenly host. They left for Bethlehem to see the wondrous thing told to them. Upon entering the stable where the child lay in a manger, they were filled with joy at all they saw.
As shepherds, their station in life was the lowest of the low in the eyes of their own people. In many cases, they were perhaps treated as less than human. When they left the stable, yes, they were filled with joy, but they possessed something else. They had hope. It was a hope derived from the fact that they had encountered the Christ-child. Because they listened, they went and saw and understood that they were more than what others considered them. With Christ, there was hope born within them. They too could be children of God.
Our pilgrims experienced the same kind of hope today. They visited a Palestinian university today and participated in a forum consisting of many young Palestinian women and men. They are working on social projects oriented toward helping the marginalized in their land. Imagine that: a group of marginalized Palestinian Christian and Muslim youths are working toward improving the even more marginalized poor throughout their land. Listening to them, was to experience their hope for the future. It was a hope worth listening to and pondering in the heart. At that moment, the barriers between Christian and Muslim broke down and all that was left were children of God. To hear their dreams and watch their faces light up with the hope of a better, more just, and peaceful world is the best Christmas gift of all.