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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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Nativity of St. John the Baptist: Jesus called John the greatest of all those who had preceded him: “I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John....” But John would have agreed completely with what Jesus added: “[Y]et the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28). 
<p>John spent his time in the desert, an ascetic. He began to announce the coming of the Kingdom, and to call everyone to a fundamental reformation of life. </p><p>His purpose was to prepare the way for Jesus. His Baptism, he said, was for repentance. But One would come who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. John is not worthy even to carry his sandals. His attitude toward Jesus was: “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30). </p><p>John was humbled to find among the crowd of sinners who came to be baptized the one whom he already knew to be the Messiah. “I need to be baptized by you” (Matthew 3:14b). But Jesus insisted, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15b). Jesus, true and humble human as well as eternal God, was eager to do what was required of any good Jew. John thus publicly entered the community of those awaiting the Messiah. But making himself part of that community, he made it truly messianic. </p><p>The greatness of John, his pivotal place in the history of salvation, is seen in the great emphasis Luke gives to the announcement of his birth and the event itself—both made prominently parallel to the same occurrences in the life of Jesus. John attracted countless people (“all Judea”) to the banks of the Jordan, and it occurred to some people that he might be the Messiah. But he constantly deferred to Jesus, even to sending away some of his followers to become the first disciples of Jesus. </p><p>Perhaps John’s idea of the coming of the Kingdom of God was not being perfectly fulfilled in the public ministry of Jesus. For whatever reason, he sent his disciples (when he was in prison) to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah. Jesus’ answer showed that the Messiah was to be a figure like that of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah (chapters 49 through 53). John himself would share in the pattern of messianic suffering, losing his life to the revenge of Herodias.</p> American Catholic Blog Let us pray to Our Lady, that she may protect us. In times of spiritual upset, the safest place is within the folds of her garments.

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