Archbishop Eamon Martin will lead a pilgrimage of solidarity to the Holy Land in September. In this article Archbishop Eamon shares some thoughts on his 2015 pilgrimage to the Holy Land and why our solidarity and support are needed now more than ever:
“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” I love that old Negro spiritual and I’m reminded of it every year during Holy Week. This year as I sing it I will be thinking of the beleaguered Christian communities in the Holy Land.
The verses in the hymn ask: Were you there when they crucified my Lord; when they nailed him to the tree; when they laid him in the tomb? The hymn invites us to reflect on what it must have been like for Jesus, for Mary, for his friends that day on the lonely road to Calvary.
During Holy Week we get a chance to meditate on the story of Christ’s passion as the passion narrative is read on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. Pope Francis once asked if we had been around at the time of the Passion – who would we have been like? Would we have been one of his faithful followers, or joined with the crowd in shouts of “crucify him”. Would we, like Simon, have helped Jesus to carry his cross? Would we have been like Pilate washing his hands, or Judas who betrayed Jesus? Would we have been like Peter or the disciples, running away from trouble, or like Mary and the other faithful women, or the beloved disciple John, weeping at the foot of the cross?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Sometimes it causes me to tremble… Last September I had the opportunity to walk the streets of Jerusalem and to pause at the places where they scourged him, mocked him, nailed him “to the tree”.
I prayed at the place where they crucified my Lord. I couldn’t help thinking that even today, almost 2,000 years later, Jesus is still mocked, betrayed, crucified and none more so than in the sufferings of the people of the Holy Land.
They call themselves the ‘living stones’ of the Holy Land – unlike the crumbling buildings and ruins which many of us see when we go on pilgrimage there. Many of them feel isolated, alone and discouraged.
Last September with other bishops from around Europe I was able to visit the Christian communities in Nazareth, Mil’ya (a town near the Israeli-Lebanese border) and Bethlehem, to hear first-hand the experiences, joys and sufferings of Christian families living there.
We were deeply moved by our encounters with Christians in both Israel and Palestine and we undertook to bring back home the heartfelt wishes of Christians in the Holy Land to live in peace with a sustained hope for safety and a realistic long-term future for their families and children.
We came as pilgrims to some of the most sacred places for Christianity. We wanted to express our closeness and concern for the communities who live there and to pray with them and for them.
We were met by Christian communities who have a deep love and attachment to the homes and towns in which they and their ancestors have been living for many centuries. The Christian qualities of charity, hospitality, faith and hope shone out on the faces of the people, young and old. They still yearn for peace and the stability of knowing that their property and livelihoods will be protected.
In Nazareth and Mil’ya we were overwhelmed by the youthful dynamism of their faith which was evident in their prayers and singing. In Beit-Jala, at the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation, which specialises in care for disabled people, we witnessed first-hand the healing outreach of Christian people who seek to build bridges through health and education.
However at times we also sensed the isolation that Christian communities are experiencing – their fear of being neglected or even forgotten by their brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. We heard accounts of so many families who have already left because of fear or lack of confidence in a prosperous future for their children and grandchildren.
This Holy Week I will be thinking of them in a special way. As I sing “Were you there when they crucified my Lord” I will be praying that we in Ireland can become more aware and supportive of our brothers and sisters who live with such fear and uncertainty. I will pray that those in positions of leadership will redouble their efforts to find a solution to the problems in the region that fully respects the right of all its peoples, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, to live together in peace.
The Holy Land is a special place and on Good Friday parish communities throughout Ireland will take up a collection to support the Holy Places and the Christian people who still live there. I am honoured to be leading a pilgrimage of solidarity to the Holy Land this September and I encourage Irish people to think about making such a pilgrimage in the coming years to the place where they crucified our Lord.
Our presence with God’s people there is much appreciated. It reminds them that they are not forgotten and it brings to the gloom of their suffering a glimpse of Easter hope and joy.
+ Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland. For more information on the pilgrimage, contact MAP Travel on (01) 878 3111 or check www.maptravel.ie
This article appears courtesy of The Irish Catholic newspaper.