Near the end of a recent two-week tour of the Holy Land, we 29 Canadian pilgrims from British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan spent quality time in the eternal city of Jerusalem. Sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, we had constant reminders that this place is the spiritual heart of more than half of humanity. History has created a place here that is strangely conflicted yet peaceful.
After spending time at the troubled Temple Mount and Wailing Wall, we stopped for an hour at tranquil yet cheerful St. Anne’s Church. It was a Crusader house of worship and is a splendid example of Romanesque stone architecture-presumably not far from Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus is recorded to have healed a paralyzed man (John 5:1-15). During a time of Islamic ascendancy, the original facility became a centre for Koranic study. The building has stood in its present form for 800 years and is maintained as a place of Christian worship by the Franciscans.
Struck by the acoustic resonance of the facility, and encouraged by the notice that visitors were permitted to sing any religious song they might choose, our group did not need much prompting to break forth into hymns like Dona Nobis Pacem and a rendition of Hallelujah, aided by our Jewish tour hostess, Ahuva.
We waited to see and hear who would be following our impromptu presentation. Within minutes, we were treated by a group of Christians from Northern Nigeria whose dominantly male choral offering was Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine, with a gusto I have seldom, if ever, heard. Soon thereafter a mixed-gender group of Koreans sang, in their vernacular, a piece that many of us knew, even if we could not understand the words. Many other parties circulated and sang during the remaining time we spent in this remarkable gathering place. Indeed, as I told the priest standing near me, “The global church is passing by in front of our eyes. What a privilege to be here.” This was a trip highlight for many.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam co-exist in tragic competition as well as blended co-operation in the Holy Land. Sometimes their behaviour leaves a lot to be desired. Occasionally, intentional life together is truly inspirational.
Earlier in the tour we found ourselves following online the current election results from Canada at the same time that fellow-Canadians were hearing the news. Whether in Jerusalem or near the Sea of Galilee, it became strikingly apparent that modern Christians participate in a global faith family, an interfaith reality and an international political “village” like never before in human history.
That is, as they say, bad news and good news. The bad news is that we sometimes needed to tune in to the BBC or The New York Times online to pick up stories of tragic Holy Land terror actually happening around us. The good news is that we can enjoy the human family in its marvellous variety and nobility like never before.