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Pope Francis in the Holy Land, what his visit means to me
Maria C. Khoury, Ed. D.
The Visit of Pope Francis to Israel/Palestine brought more excitement than ever because anyone and everyone in news media came to Taybeh to interview the local Christians. I am so very disappointed, however, that one might spend five hours with a news team and it is not sure they will use the two minutes they are planning since the producers always have the final word. Either way, since the village is known for having people who are “Taybeen,” meaning “good” or “pleasant,” we continue to welcome visitors and news media with open arms. Although, on the ground we feel our situation will stay the same no matter who visits.
Furthermore, when follow-up emails begin with such a sentence: “…my apologies for the delay in responding to your email. Indeed, I am deeply thankful for your time, consideration and gracious hospitality. Our trip to Taybeh was as eye-opening as it was heart-breaking…Your struggle is real and I applaud you for your courage…” most likely they are not using the footage and they are not bringing the Holy Father to visit you. So sad! But at least His Excellency the Consul General of France expressed his solidarity and support and had a great tour of Taybeh this last week.
It was a remarkable moment that Palestinians can say Pope Francis came directly to Bethlehem when he finished his schedule in Jordan. This was a very symbolic message since Israel controls everything and one day Palestine wishes to have its own airport, seaport and its own internationally recognized boarders. What was even more extraordinary is that His Holiness stopped to pray at the wall that circles Bethlehem completely in a huge prison. For me it was a way to validate that everything we experience because of the wall was recognized by a world leader since it has affected 80% of the Palestinian people in our daily life. Although, again, the visit by Pope Francis will not change anything unless he asks Israel to end the occupation.
The Pope’s visit will surely touch the lives of many. Especially the thirty young people from the Latin Church Choir who participated in the mass in Bethlehem. Although very tiered and a few days affair, it was an amazing experience. Sister Leonie, the choir director who accompanied the group said the visit of the Holy Father was “very important to the Christians of the Holy Land. It inspired Christians to maintain their faith and promote harmony among the denominations. Pope Francis reminded all Christians that they are one in Christ. The visit inspires love, peace and co-existence among Christians, Muslims and Jews.” Abu Johnny, the music teacher, also recognized that Pope Francis simply had a “peace sign” on his face and his visit was very important in supporting Christianity in the Holy Land. Many students said that the Pope’s visit was a great comfort to the Christians in this region and his message of peace was critical.
I am so very grateful that Pope Francis helped me believe in miracles since he invited both the Israeli and Palestinian president to come to the Vatican. In my thinking he should have possibly invited them to pray on the moon since our resolution seriously needs an out of the box solution. And I wish he can invite some female leaders from both sides to join the prayer session since I am thinking women can contribute creative solutions. But again, I wish the Holy Father asked Israel to allow all people to enter Jerusalem freely if in fact they support religious freedom.
My husband David Khoury, former mayor of Taybeh and co-founder of the Taybeh Brewing Company said that “the visit of Pope Francis expressed great solidarity with the people of Palestine and very symbolic of the shepherd looking over his flock. His visit means Christians are not forgotten and since he is a man of peace it will hopefully bring peace to the Holy Land. Although his visit was announced as a spiritual pilgrimage only, it was important that he called for a just peace.” However, on a personal level, I wish I heard Pope Francis or Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew ask Israel to end the occupation right now today because it has been one day too many already. I wish they visited me in Taybeh so I would have mentioned it personally after explaining that every week water is turned off 5 days per week and in September I did not have running water for 17 days / last July no running water for 21 days while the settlements all around get water 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. May we keep our hope for a better future so such Apostolic visits allow us to see a light at the end of the tunnel. It is the True Light of Christ that I will keep seeing no matter who visits me.
(Dr. Maria Khoury is a Christian Palestinian based in Taybeh, Palestine in the Israeli Occupied West Bank. She is an author and writer and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.saintgeorgetaybeh.org.)
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Palestine Christian Writer, Blogger at St. George Greek Orthodox Church
Maria (Kouremenou) Khoury is the author of Orthodox Christian children's books including Christina Goes to the Holy Land, walking the footsteps of Christ. She is a graduate of Hellenic College (1982), Harvard University (1985) and Boston University (1992) with a doctor of education degree. Born in Tripoli, Greece, she was raised in Denver, Colorado. On Dec 31, 2009 she was included on the top 4 Human Rights Champions list by DC Human Rights Examiner including the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Hilary Clinton.
Maria is the author of Witness in the Holy Land (distributed by www.HolyCrossBookstore.com), a publication reflecting personal experiences living under military occupation with her husband the former Mayor of Taybeh, David Canaan Khoury and three children Elena, Canaan, and Constantine. Her articles have been published world-wide in numerous newspapers and magazines and have been translated to various languages bringing awareness of the Christian presence in the Holy Land.
Maria Khoury has been the Taybeh Oktoberfest organizer since 2005.She divides her time between her homes in Boston and Taybeh, travels throughout the world promoting the Christina Books and making presentations about the dwindling Christian community in Palestine.She encourages people to stay at the new Taybeh Golden Hotel and experience rural life in Palestine.
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