Photo: Bishop Murphy and the other bishops visited with parishioners of St. Justin’s Latin Church in Nablus. The Christian population in Nablus is small, but parish priest Fr. Johnny Abu Khalil calls it a “community of hope” and prays for a peaceful resolution to conflict. Photo by Jennifer Hardy/Catholic Relief Services.
Our pilgrimage of prayer for peace is completed and in the best way possible. This morning we went by bus to Nazareth to say Mass in St. Joseph Chapel at the Basilica of the Nativity. Principal celebrant of our liturgy was a Rockville Centre priest, Bishop Robert Coyle, Auxiliary to the Archbishop for Military Services. He is a fine priest and an exemplary bishop, another example of the priests of our Diocese.
After Mass we visited the tomb of St. Jerome buried there in the cave near the stable of Bethlehem, where he lived for 37 years as he translated the Bible from the original languages into the Latin text we call the Vulgate.
We took a walk through the old city where Christians are leaving and where the Christian presence has been reduced tremendously. As I walked through Manger Square I could help but think of that day in 2000 when I stood by St. John Paul II when he offered Mass there and looked out at the faithful telling them that they might be the descendants of the shepherds who heard the angels sing and went with joy to worship the new born king, the Prince of Peace.
Shortly we entered Marie Doty Park, a beautiful park for children of Bethlehem, the gift of two New Yorkers, George Doty and his wife, Marie, whose generosity to the Church in Bethlehem and Jerusalem make them two of the greatest supporters of the Church in the Middle East ever.
There we had an interfaith prayer and reflection service with local Christian and Muslim clergy, the Mayor of Jerusalem and several local Bethlehemites. The prayer was touching, the friendship palpable and the desire for peace in the Middle East most sincere.
At that point I left my brother bishops to join the head of the Pontifical Mission, Mr. Sami El Youssef. The Pontifical Mission is the local name of the CNEWA, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association whose Board Chair is Cardinal Dolan. Last year the Cardinal asked me to join that Board which I was happy to do. Over a sandwich, Sami filled me in on the extraordinary projects they have in Palestine, Jordan and the Middle East. I promised I would try to find some gifts to help pay for their projects for kids, schools, the elderly and the displaced in the Middle East.
Now I am back at the hotel, almost all packed and ready to fly home. I hope to be home Friday morning and even make Msgr. Vlaun’s Everyday Faith Live program if the flight gets in on time.