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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.

Thank you for your comments. Editors will review all posts before they are visible on the website.

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John Paul II: “Open wide the doors to Christ,” urged John Paul II during the homily at the Mass when he was installed as pope in 1978. <br /><br />Born in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla had lost his mother, father and older brother before his 21st birthday. Karol’s promising academic career at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. While working in a quarry and a chemical factory, he enrolled in an “underground” seminary in Kraków. Ordained in 1946, he was immediately sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology. <br /><br />Back in Poland, a short assignment as assistant pastor in a rural parish preceded his very fruitful chaplaincy for university students. Soon he earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching that subject at Poland’s University of Lublin. <br /><br />Communist officials allowed him to be appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958, considering him a relatively harmless intellectual. They could not have been more wrong! <br /><br />He attended all four sessions of Vatican II and contributed especially to its <em>Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World</em>. Appointed as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, he was named a cardinal three years later. <br /><br />Elected pope in October 1978, he took the name of his short-lived, immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. In time, he made pastoral visits to 124 countries, including several with small Christian populations. <br /><br />He promoted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, especially the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi. He visited Rome’s Main Synagogue and the Western Wall in Jerusalem; he also established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. He improved Catholic-Muslim relations and in 2001 visited a mosque in Damascus, Syria. <br /><br />The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a key event in John Paul’s ministry, was marked by special celebrations in Rome and elsewhere for Catholics and other Christians. Relations with the Orthodox Churches improved considerably during his ministry as pope. <br /><br />“Christ is the center of the universe and of human history” was the opening line of his 1979 encyclical, <em>Redeemer of the Human Race</em>. In 1995, he described himself to the United Nations General Assembly as “a witness to hope.” <br /><br />His 1979 visit to Poland encouraged the growth of the Solidarity movement there and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe 10 years later. He began World Youth Day and traveled to several countries for those celebrations. He very much wanted to visit China and the Soviet Union but the governments in those countries prevented that. <br /><br />One of the most well-remembered photos of his pontificate was his one-on-one conversation in 1983 with Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier. <br /><br />In his 27 years of papal ministry, John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people. <br /><br />In the last years of his life, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was forced to cut back on some of his activities. <br /><br />Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II in 2011, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014. American Catholic Blog Lord, may I have balance and measure in everything—except in Love. —St. Josemaría Escrivá

 
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