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Will There Be Any Christians in the Holy Land? View Comments
By John Feister

A young Palestinian carries palms for a Holy Week procession while Israeli soldiers look on. Their presence is highly controversial.


YOU LIKE IT? Well, you bought it.” We are standing on an overlook at Bethlehem University. I am admiring a sweeping highway bridge across an expansive valley. My Palestinian guide, Sami El-Yousef, explains that the distant highway, essentially a road to allow Israelis to bypass the checkpoints of the Palestinian territory, where Bethlehem is, was paid for by U.S. dollars.

For the first time, on my first-ever trip to Israel, I understand that, as a U.S. taxpayer, I really influence what happens here, the place where “Middle East peace” isn’t happening. The lives of real people, many of whom are Christian, are in the balance. Sami is one of them.

Meeting Sami El-Yousef might challenge most Americans’ notions of Palestinians. We hear of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, dressed in garb foreign to us, throwing rocks, speaking the language of another place. Sami is a 50-year-old educator, graduated from UMass-Amherst and University of Pittsburgh as an industrial engineer. He later spent some years in California.

He is Orthodox Christian, from the “other lung of the Church,” as Pope John Paul II called it. As we walk together through the streets of Old City Jerusalem, his home, he is dressed in “business casual” (short-sleeved shirt and tie). He speaks English.

At this point in life, Sami, whose family goes back generations in Jerusalem, has moved from academia to the front lines in developing his country. He left his 24-year career as teacher, dean, then vice president for finances and planning at Bethlehem University to work for the Pontifical Mission Society. Known here as Catholic Near East Welfare Association, the society provides financial support for Catholic projects in the Middle East, northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe.
Sami serves as regional director for Palestine and Israel. The Jerusalem office is basically next door to his childhood home.

Late last year, in preparation for Pope Benedict’s Special Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, he served as a guide for a group of journalists from American Catholic publications, including St. Anthony Messenger.

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John Feister is general editor of periodicals at St. Anthony Messenger Press. In September he traveled to Israel with Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988.</p> American Catholic Blog God is great. God is good. And God, in his fatherly love, has a plan for our lives that will work out for our benefit and salvation. All we have to do is trust and obey.

Spiritual Resilience

 
CATHOLIC GREETINGS
Blessed Junipero Serra
This Franciscan friar was instrumental in founding many of California’s mission churches.

Happy Birthday
May this birthday mark the beginning of new and exciting adventures!

Sts. Peter and Paul
Honored both separately and together, these apostles were probably martyred during the reign of the emperor Nero.

Wedding
Help the bride and groom see their love as a mirror of God’s love.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help
God gave Mary to us as a help in our quest for holiness.


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