Rome Diaries - Week 47

From 2006 to 2011 Paulist Father Tom Holahan served as vice rector of the Paulist church in Rome. During that time he had the opportunity to spend time exploring the historic sites of Rome as well as the hidden ones. The blog features excerpts from this travel diary. A new selection appears each week.

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February 20, 2008

Israel – This morning, in the town of Beit Sahour (“Shepherds’ Fields”), a Palestinian’s cell phone rings – it is, distinctly, the sound of sheep bleating. The people of the town have painted murals on the anti-terrorist wall built by the Israelis. One depicts a large peace dove wearing a flak jacket; another, a “first prize” blue ribbon with the motto “Nothing Lasts Forever” and then a scrawl: “love and cisses”; a third has a roundish cartoon man calmly pressing a finger into the wall where myriad cracks are appear. The mural showing has a gun-totting soldier in front of an enormous U.S. dollar bill has us puzzled. Later a Catholic Palestinian explains it is not necessarily anti-American. The soldier and dollar bill stands in for the futility of trusting in politics and economics, which have disappointed the Palestinians time and time again. A religious leader’s recent speech asked that people try trusting in God instead. These are poignant messages with a twist of sarcasm. What else could be expected at the spot where shepherds heard angels declare, “Peace on Earth”?


February 21, 2008

Israel -- Due to threat of a storm tomorrow, we ascend Mt. Tabor today. By the time we arrive at the stopping point for our bus, cold wind, hail, and roiling clouds have transformed the mountain into something that might have occurred at the Transfiguration itself. We line up to take a breathlessly fast taxi ride to the top, which is shrouded in fog. As we approach the Basilica of the Transfiguration, the clouds part and the sun appears briefly. By nightfall, our bus is waiting in line at the checkpoint to enter Beit Sahour again. We will be celebrating Mass with the Catholic Palestinians of Our Lady of Fatima Parish. By chance, the readings are about the rich man and the beggar called Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). In the gospel account, the rich man has “had his reward” while Lazarus is finally rewarded in heaven.


There’s no question we are in the rich man’s shoes tonight. During the gospel, the lights flicker and go out. We are told it is a common occurrence in this zone. At our symbolic exchange of gifts, our group is given a crucifix laminated in mother-of-pearl, a popular tourist item manufactured by some parishioners. During our dinner with the community, some are invited to visit nearby homes. Mira, a 15-year-old Palestinian plays an original composition on her family’s piano. She talks about her dream of studying music in Vienna. (They call her “Mira Mozart” at school.) The former pastor gives a short, pointed talk during dessert. He mentions the murals we have noticed and wondered about: “Maybe you have seen the picture of the dollar bill we have painted on the wall built by the Israelis. It is there to remind us what our bishops have told us -- we are not to trust in the God of the dollar bill. Nothing has come from that kind of solution. We now can only trust in the God of heaven.”


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