Praying for the Peace of Jerusalem - Catholic Education of WA

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Resource Sheet 2g
Praying for the Peace of Jerusalem         made his way around the Jenin
                                           refugee camp, in the northern part of
Fr. Guido Gockel’s Ministry to             the West Bank. Home to an estimated
Palestinian Christians                     fourteen thousand Palestinians, the
                                           camp had been completely closed off
By Louise Perrotta                         from the outside world for sixteen
                                           days, while Israeli forces carried out a
                                           military operation that Prime Minister
[Note: this article was written shortly    Ariel Sharon said was needed to root
after the Battle of Jenin. The Battle of   out terrorists.
Jenin took place from April 3 to April              The stench of decomposing
11, 2002 in the Palestinian Authority      flesh hung in the air as Father Guido
administered refugee camp of Jenin, in     entered the camp and surveyed the
the West Bank. The battle was fought       devastation left by the tanks,
between the Israel Defense Forces          helicopter gunship missiles, and
(IDF) and Palestinian militant forces as   armoured bulldozers. A large area
part of Operation Defensive Shield,        filled with rubble marked the camp’s
during the Second Intifada. As part of     centre, where numerous houses had
the operation, which involved              been bulldozed over, some with
incursions into West Bank cities and       inhabitants still inside. Other houses
towns, Israel targeted the refugee         were sheared in half or riddled with
camp of Jenin, after it deemed that the    gaping holes. In homes that were
camp had "served as a launch site for      missing an entire wall the effect was
numerous terrorist attacks against         eerily theatrical: two women serving
both Israeli civilians and Israeli towns   tea in their living room looked as if
and villages in the area".]                they were giving an onstage
                                           performance. Everywhere, traumatised
                                           families were digging, searching for
                                           personal effects and household items.
                                                    One man sat dazed on a piece
                                           of mattress sticking up from the heap
                                           of rocks and cement that had been his
                                           home. As he began speaking with the
                                           man, Father Guido was overcome by
                                           emotion. “What can you say to
                                           someone who has lost everything
                                           except a few scraps of cloth? I couldn’t
                                           answer him in words. I just cried.”

                                                    Invited to Serve. Father Guido
                                           has been moved to tears more than
                                           once since 1966, when he joined the
                                           staff of the Pontifical Mission for
                                           Palestine, the Jerusalem-based
                                           branch of the Catholic Near East
                                           Welfare Association (CNEWA). His
        FATHER GUIDO GOCKEL IS             appointment to this Vatican agency
AN UPBEAT, GREGARIOUS MILL                 was both an answer to prayer and a
HILL MISSIONARY who can function           call to suffering, he explains.
in a dozen or so languages and isn’t                “My work in Sarawak,
usually at a loss for words. But both      Malaysia, had ended, and I had just
words and natural optimism failed this     made a thirty-day-retreat seeking
Dutch priest on April 25 as he stepped     God’s direction. A few days later,
off a humanitarian convoy truck and        some members of my family
                                           discovered that I had never been to
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the Holy Land and invited me on a                    Being There. The town of Beit
pilgrimage led by Monsignor Robert          Sahour, just five miles south of
Stern, the Secretary General of             Jerusalem’s centre, is the traditional
CNEWA. It was stirring to visit the holy    site of the “Shepherds’ Fields” where
sites and meet Arab Christians, but         angels once sang, “Glory to God in the
shocking to learn about the suffering of    highest! Peace to his people on earth!”
the Palestinian people. My heart went       But residents of this largely Christian
out to them, and I felt called to           area near Bethlehem have known
respond.”                                   precious little peace for the past two
         Within six months, with his        years. Last December, Father Guido
superior’s blessing, father Guido was       visited a home there whose Christmas
working for CNEWA. As its Regional          decorations said it all.
Director for Palestine, Israel, and                  “It was a large, majestic house,
Cyprus, he seeks to “help churches,         and the children had set up a big
schools, and other institutions with        Christmas tree right in the middle of it.
development projects that provide           But the tree was decorated with bullets
employment while benefiting the whole       and shells, and the house was burned
community.” Those projects are mostly       and gutted – completely demolished
on hold now, displaced by relief efforts    by Israeli tank fire.”
that have taken different forms as the               In the past two years, Father
Israeli-Palestinian conflict intensifies.   Guido has personally delivered
Most recently, Father Guido has             emergency funds to residents of more
focused on organising convoys of            than three hundred Palestinian homes
food, water, and medical supplies for       similarly destroyed by shootings and
Jenin, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and             rockets. “Of course, people appreciate
other Palestinian areas that were           any financial help we can give from
blockaded and besieged beginning in         our small budget,” he says. But as one
March this year.                            father in a shelled village told the
         People who know Father Guido       priest, “It’s not the money that makes
comment on his joyful faith in God and      me most thankful. It’s the fact that you
his ability to communicate hope. That       came to be with us in this disaster.”
hope is in evidence as the priest                    Hanging on the wall of Father
makes plans for the day when                Guido’s office in Jerusalem’s Old City
hostilities will cease and his office can   is a large, intricately worked
focus on rebuilding homes and               Palestinian embroidery. One of his
facilities, lives and dreams. “It’s going   most cherished possessions, it comes
to take grace,” he says. “The worst         from Ayoub Rabah, the Arab Christian
destruction has been within. As people      mayor of Ramallah, the city where
in the Jenin camp told us, ‘What you        Yasser Arafat has his West Bank
see here is nothing compared with           headquarters. Mayor Rabah made the
what has been destroyed in our              arduous journey through checkpoints
hearts.’”                                   and back roads last December to
                                            deliver the gift to Father Guido in
                                            person. “Thank you for the moral
                                            support you have given us,” reads a
                                            phrase on the accompanying plaque.
                                                     Expressions of solidarity are
                                            important to the Palestinians, who feel
                                            largely overlooked by the world
                                            community, says Father Guido.
                                            Palestinian Christians in particular
                                            wonder why so few Christians in other
                                            countries have any awareness of their
                                            existence, let alone the challenges
                                            facing the church in the Holy Land.
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         “My greatest hope,” says            he has found, a “crash course” with
Father Guido, “is that God will help us      two possible outcomes: “You come out
to support people here in the midst of       of this either an angel or a devil!”
the darkness and of their own
shattered-ness. Ultimately, this goes        How does he deal with anger? “I
beyond meeting needs for food and            pray and talk to God a lot. I listen to
shelter and psychological counselling        the news twice a day, but I don’t own a
and other terribly important things. For     TV. That way, I avoid overstimulating
me as a missionary, it means giving          my mind with images that feed
faith in God, who alone can heal deep        frustration. I focus on positive things
wounds and enable us to forgive and          that I can do. I notice and appreciate
love our enemies.”                           signs of hope – things like a Jewish
                                             friend’s recent phone call to say, ‘We
                                             are with you! We support your work.’
                                             Or like the kindness we saw in some
                                             Jenin refugee camp residents, who
                                             were showing traditional Arab
                                             hospitality despite their destitution. A
                                             journalist I spoke to there pointed out
                                             the half-destroyed house where he
                                             had been staying with a Muslim family
                                             for a few days and told me, ‘These
                                             people are receiving me with so much
                                             love. They are giving me the last
                                             things they have.’”
                                                       But anger and pain are
                                             inescapable if you’re going to be the
Conflict Resolution, God’s Way. It’s         kind of missionary who identifies with
not easy to be a missionary of pardon        the people he serves, Father Guido
and peace in this volatile land where,       points out. “You become so much a
just driving to the office, you are          part of them that it’s impossible not to
assailed by countless distressing            feel their hurt and frustration. That in
sights and sounds.                           itself is not bad: Christ himself
         “Everywhere, there are Israeli      experienced our sufferings when he
soldiers in combat gear, carrying            became one of us. But he did not sin!
machine guns. Settlers walk down the         Now he calls us to imitate him by rising
street with rifles slung over their          above our own anger and sin so that
shoulders. You hear church bells and         we can be bridges of God’s love to
Muslim call to prayer, but also              others.”
constant loud, aggressive noises –                     As Father Guido greeted one
sirens, the honking of armoured jeeps,       of the nuns at the Easter morning
police on loudspeakers pulling               liturgy this year, it struck him that the
Palestinian transit vans over to do          scene was a visible enactment of this
security checks on all the passengers.”      calling to reconciliation.
         Every day brings its                          “She comes from a partially
challenges. Another suicide bombing,         Jewish background, has always
some unpleasantness at a military            worked with Jewish people, and
checkpoint, inflammatory statements          identifies with their pain. I feel
from political leaders, anxiety about        incarnated in the Palestinian people.
friends caught in the fighting, a visit to   But as we wished one another happy
a terrified child or a distraught            Easter, we felt the loving presence of
breadwinner who hasn’t found work in         Christ, who transforms our suffering
over a year. “And almost every day I         and makes it a bridge rather than a
get angry!” Father Guido admits. But         barrier.”
the situation is a learning opportunity,
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         Two people united in love and          our emotional reactions and urging us to
joy in the light of Christ’s resurrection –     do the things we hate.
a sign of hope for two peoples locked                    Whenever we experience wrongs,
in conflict, and for all who pray “for the      the easiest response is to let hatred reign in
peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6).              our hearts. If the injustice is blatantly
                                                obvious, it’s even possible to feel righteous
        Founded by Pope Pius XI in              about this response. The more difficult and
1926, the Catholic Near East Welfare
                                                courageous reaction, however, is to remain
Association (CNEWA) is a special
                                                peaceful and not allow anger the victory.
agency of the Vatican that provides
help to the churches and peoples of             This was Jesus’ response when he stood
the Middle East, Northeast Africa,              before Pilate.
India, Pakistan, and Eastern Europe.                     “Not be might, nor by power, but
Its Jerusalem-based branch, the                 by my Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6). These words
Pontifical Mission for Palestine,               of the prophet come to mind as we
supports a variety of development               consider the current conflict in the Holy
projects, offers emergency aid, and             Land. And aren’t they also applicable to
sponsors reconciliation programs                the war against terrorism? Human power
involving Palestinians and Israelis.            and military force as the way to establish
        For more information about              peace – this is perennial temptation. “Lead
CNEWA visit
                                                us not into temptation,” we ask in the
                                                Lord’s Prayer, “but deliver us from evil.”
                                                Isn’t Jesus teaching us to ask God himself
                                                to intervene by the power of his Spirit?
                                                         In the midst of suffering, it is our
                                                task as Christians to cry out for justice and
                                                peace, but also to live the message by
                                                opening ourselves to the power of God’s
                                                love, “poured into our hearts through the
                                                Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). And in our
                                                prayer for peace in the Holy Land and in
                                                the world, Christ invites us to begin by
                                                examining ourselves.
                                                         Do I allow Christ’s peace to reign
Mill Hill Missionary Fr. Guido Gockel &         in me? Do I resist his gift of peace? Is there
Ms Geraldine Shawa, founder of Atfaluna         peace in my relationships? Am I winning
     Society for deaf children, Gaza            the battle to keep peace in my own heart?
                                                Unless I have peace, I will not be able to
                                                build peace around me.
                                                         While the battle for peace is
        By Fr. Guido Gockel, M.H.M.             outwardly intense for us who live in the
                                                Holy Land, it is fundamentally the same
         THE QUEST FOR PEACE IN THE             battle that rages in every heart. Our
HOLY LAND is not a matter of black and          greatest task as human beings is to fight
white, of Israelis against Palestinians. Yes,   and win this battle, by God’s grace. Pursue
there is right and wrong. But the spiralling    this goal in the everyday circumstances of
cycle of revenge reveals that the basic fight   your life, and you will be contributing in a
is not against flesh-and-blood realities but    great way to peace in the world. 
against much greater “spiritual hosts of
wickedness” (Ephesians 6:12) – powers and
structures that terrorize us, capitalising on

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