I begin by congratulating those who have joined The Order at this splendid Investiture today, and congratulate those who have gained well-merited promotions. It is a real blessing and delight to see such developments in this great and important Lieutenancy of The Order.
Your esteemed Lieutenant has graciously asked me to say a few words this evening. I thought that you often hear of what the Order of the Holy Sepulchre does in The Holy Land. I could list for you the various projects in which we are involved there - and it would be an impressive list. You can get this on a website, however, so there is little to be gained by this.
I thought there would be some value in addressing the question –
“Why are we involved in The Holy Land?” - Not WHAT are we doing, but WHY are we doing it?
It is not a question which is commonly addressed. I shall not take up a great amount of time, but you may wish to reflect on the question, Why is the Catholic Church involved in The Holy Land at all?...
The answer is “To tear down the walls of division and separation.”
I don’t mean just the physical walls..... Although they too need to be removed. It cannot be right to have a wall of over 800 kms (from Zurich to Rome!) dividing and separating neighbours and communities in The Holy Land.
There are 3 reasons why we are involved in the Holy Land; these are
out of Hope ;out of Justice; and out of Love.
My friends, we should not accept with such ease and popular acclaim from those who are prepared to act and even kill merely for political gain, the old lie, that the enemy are the people behind the walls....
The real enemies are Despair, Injustice and Hatred.
Let me just explain this -
We are involved in The Holy Land to bring people Hope
This is more than optimism. Indeed I would say that in the Holy Land at present there is little cause for optimism but we cannot lose hope.
We need to appreciate the inhumanity of the young men aged 23 years who told me that if they could leave Bethlehem they would love to see the sea. What acts of inhumanity prevent young men moving 25 minutes to see the Mediterranean Sea? We all should visit this part of the world and see the tear-filled eyes and the sad voices of young people who daily endure the indignity of checkpoints and who struggle to maintain hope.
About six months ago The Holy Land Commission held a meeting of the Principals of The Patriarchate Schools of Palestine, and I asked these Principals, “What are the greatest challenges facing them?” I confess to having been astonished at the reply... “We need a new Christianity!” When I explored this they were saying that there needs to be recognition of the pain of the present situation in Palestine integrated with the joy of The Resurrection. In short, this is the mission of the Order.
The Principals hear only the voices of Islam and leadership of Moslem politics. The Christians feel a forgotten people in the spiritual wilderness of Islam.
My passion is education- Not an education based on examinations and qualifications, but rather to know what glorious treasures you store in the lives of children and their families. This is not a scientific view, and it is not a view which is prevalent in our world of measured outcomes and of accountability. It is a view from the heart, and for the soul. We need to educate
- to encourage and feed dreams
- to express our care for Christians and their children
- to rid society of the pain of the fearful heart
We must also be involved in a world of Justice.
I say this because we would all wish to see peace. Without Justice there will never be peace. So we must work towards a world in which Justice is at the heart. One might also recognise of course that peace is a gift from God. But with Justice we can work on at a human level.
We must do this with a deep sense of Love.
- To the fearful heart everything is threat
- To the greedy eye everything is possession
- To the loving person everything is possible
This implies going beyond just respect for other people. There is a special group that I wish to mention. These are the babies in “Baby Warehouses” in Tel Aviv. These “Baby warehouses” of Tel Aviv are the product of the migration of people from Eritrea and other areas of north Africa and other parts of the world which are “exporting people” coming to Israel and finding themselves in a number of social difficulties because they are illegal entrants to Israel. The fathers are in prison and the mothers are left with their children. They try to find some employment and this is usually of a “low level,” menial work in the city of Tel Aviv.
This situation is recognised by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, under the direction of Father David Neuhaus SJ, who has taking a particular interest in ensuring that the social, physical and spiritual needs of these migrants have been addressed. The children are literally stacked in darkened rooms, up to 60 at a time... no stimulation, no light, limited food, etc... Horrific conditions that are hostile to life, and living it to the full.
Father David Neuhaus SJ has established a system whereby the children who were formerly in the warehouses are being re-housed in day care centres. This Lieutenancy is showing a great interest in saving these lives...
So, my dear friends, the Order is working because we believe we can create a world of hope, of justice, and of love. Surely there can be no greater good? And your contributions are much appreciated and absolutely necessary if we are to continue to see a better society in The Holy Land.
When I speak of contributions of course it is easy to speak of this as if it was only finance. We also need to make our contributions by the skills, talents and gifts that exists within the Order – and that clearly exist within this Swiss lieutenancy. We also have to make a contribution in prayer. It is easy to think that the Order is only concerned with the social and material aspects of life. Yet at the heart of the Order is spirituality and this is the most important aspect of the work we do individually and collectively.
Ladies and Gentlemen, My purpose is to affirm why as an Order we are working in The Holy Land and praying at home for our Christian friends.
It has been such a privilege to be with you in these days and I am grateful to your Lieutenant and your Chancellor, and all who contribute so much to this lieutenancy; but also contribute to the life and times of those Christians who daily struggle with the pain of the Christian community in The Holy Land.
On behalf of those you serve I take this opportunity to thank you for all you have done for The Christian communities of The Holy Land, and indeed for babies whom you or I will never see or know, and all you will do for them. They are why we do what we do. I would like to think that our Order moves some way along the road towards this goal. It's a goal well worth fighting for.
So, in spite of all the troubles in The Holy Land let us recognise our common humanity, an unashamed acknowledgement that people are good by nature. If I can indulge you in a few lines from a Scottish poet, Robert Burns, that captures the spirit. In "Why should we idly waste our prime," he writes:
"The golden age, we'll then revive, each man will be a brother,
In harmony we all shall live, and share the earth together,
In virtue trained, enlightened youth will love each fellow creature,
And time shall surely prove the truth that Man is good by nature.
Then let us toast with three times three, the reign of Peace and Liberty!"
Prof Bart McGettrick
Professor Bart McGettrick is an honorary member of The Grand Magisterium and a member of The Holy Land Commission of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of The Vatican Foundation of St John The Baptist. He is Chairman of The International Board of Regents of Bethlehem University.