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Timothy Michael DolanApril 23, 2024
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, center, holds his crozier during Mass at the Our Lady of Peace chapel in the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center on April 13, 2024. (OSV News photo/Sinan Abu Mayzer, Reuters)Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, center, holds his crozier during Mass at the Our Lady of Peace chapel in the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center on April 13, 2024. (OSV News photo/Sinan Abu Mayzer, Reuters)

Everybody able to visit the Holy Land observes how the prayers of the Bible come alive when spoken there. During my recent visit, I often halted at Psalm 34, “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

“Here we speak not from our mouths, but in tears and trembling hearts,” as one woman told me.

One of the Franciscans with whom I chatted was worried about a “low-grade depression” haunting those who bravely minister in the Holy Land. “I’m not talking about clinical depression, although I guess there’s some of that,” he went on to explain. “I mean more the daily drudgery of frustrations, as we learn never to say, ‘Well, at least it can’t get worse,’ because it sure will.”

Those of us familiar with the hallowed narrative of salvation realize this has ever been the case in those acres chosen by the God of Abraham as his special arena of revelation. Yet even the longtime experts and observers admit it seems especially dismal now.

Because I went over to mark the 75th anniversary of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine,a major initiative of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, much of my visit was with the tiny and beleaguered community of Christians, here since ancient times. Yet because of my love for and cooperation with the Jewish community here in New York, I could hardly pass up the chance of spending time with Israelis as well.

Both groups seem “broken-hearted” and “crushed in spirit.” Our Palestinian brothers and sisters especially mourn the devastation in Gaza, and they fear that their already precarious situation in the West Bank will become worse. And our Jewish ancestors in the faith all have horror stories of the vicious Oct. 7 massacre and the constant attacks on Israel.

Then came the attack from Iran. We American visitors were jolted awake at 1 a.m. by air raid sirens, something even those of us from New York are not used to, and experienced a sobering stay in a bomb shelter. As one of my Jewish friends commented the next day, “So much for a secure homeland.”

And yet.... As our little group huddled the next morning outside the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center,we stopped to hear the Sunday morning church bells and watched the buses pass, filled with folks off to work, worship or family visits.

It was almost as if they were used to it! The fear, the frustration, the unpredictability of the situation has prompted shrugs and yawns. Life goes on!

Perhaps this compounds the desperation, as evil and injustice can become banal and prosaic. But it also shows the grit and resilience of a people to whom the prophets preached and for whom Jesus wept.

So continue the radiant works of education, child care, housing, health care, prayer, worship, community and advocacy, all carried on by genuine confessors of the faith, only a step from martyrdom—those religious sisters, priests and devoted lay apostles who labor at the centers we visited, supported by the Pontifical Mission.

At the Crèche, a refuge for abandoned children in Bethlehem, one of the Daughters of Charity said while rocking a baby: “In this town we are daily aware of the birth of Jesus. Yet every time we receive an abandoned infant, it’s Christmas again!”

To be sure, there is plenty of heartbreak and crushed spirits to go around. Likewise, there are a lot of “experts” suggesting how the tense situation should be healed. I’m not one of them. However, three steps seem essential:

  • the immediate return of the hostages held by Hamas;
  • an immediate cease-fire;
  • a turning away from the extremes on both sides—that is, both the cutthroat Hamas who dance and cheer as they behead Israelis and others, vowing to exterminate all Jews; and the unbending Israelis, a minority indeed, who autograph missiles headed for Gaza and want to reduce that land to a parking lot.

I remember two grandmas. One came in the group of Jewish survivors of Oct. 7 with whom we visited. She is now in residence at a hotel because her home was destroyed by Hamas fanatics, her granddaughters spared from rape and beheading while hidden in the “safe room,” her son-in-law murdered. “I’m sure thankful for the care I’ve gotten and the nice hotel room where I’m staying,” she said, “but...I just want to go home!” Will she ever be able to? When?

Then a second grandma at the Palestinian refugee camp I visited near the ominous wall separating Israelis and Palestinians in Bethlehem. She wore around her neck the actual key to the house in Jerusalem from which she had to flee in 1948. Seventy-six years ago and she still had the key! “I just want to go home!” Will she ever be able to? When?

The dream of those two grandmas, one Israeli, one Palestinian, in a land of nightmares.

The daily rocking of babies by those sisters in Bethlehem.

The hidden prayers from the cloistered contemplative nuns on the Mount of Olives.

Good medicine for broken hearts and crushed spirits.

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