It is easy, after more than two decades of reporting from the Middle East, to become a cynic. It is easy to look at peace and coexistence initiatives with a condescending smile and think, “Oh yeah, these are a dime a dozen around here.” It is easy when writing yet another article about the separation barrier or a violent attack to feel like you’ve “been there, done that.”
Though many assignments as a reporter for the Catholic media involve prayer services and invocations of faith, you can’t help but wonder how all this can help in the face of continuing, and mounting, murk of Middle East political violence.
But every once awhile, in the midst of the stories of the bombings and the refugees and the missile attacks and land confiscations, there are stories like the article I just wrote about the “Amen — House of Prayer” that recharge your batteries. It reminds you that there are people who have not given up hope, and so you can’t give up either, even if you get to see the conflict up close and personal so often that you can’t just put it aside and forget it after a day at work.
Interviewing three of the religious leaders behind the initiative — a Muslim, Catholic and Jew — who spoke with such conviction, clarity and honesty about their hopes and beliefs of tolerance and working toward peace one tiny step at a time, reminded me that these are the true peacemakers, ready to accept one other in their own faiths, with their own traditions and even accepting the right of a secular society to exist in the Holy Land.
But they are also very realistic about what they can accomplish.
“We are not expecting a revolution,” Father Rafic told me, and there was a beauty in that realistic and simple sentence that touched me.
These are people of faith who are working within the realm of reality. Though their medium of unification may be prayer and ancient faith traditions, they also realize that the true unification comes from the human connection between people, not in the symbols of their faith.
They come humbly, together, and with their simple and pure hope in their hearts of creating one space for one moment where people of all faiths (and of little faith) can come to meet and learn about one another. In so doing, perhaps they are taking one more step toward an acceptance of the other who shares a love for this place, an understanding that to be here does not have to be a mutually exclusive right of one faith over another.
For one week in early September, this group of Jews, Christians and Muslims will prove that it is possible to see the other and venerate together the sacredness of the city, to pray in the same space without losing their own identity or relinquishing their own faith’s claim to the sanctity of Jerusalem.
Alongside the responsibility of prayer, Rabbi Tamar Elad-Appelbaum told me, people of faith also have the responsibility of believing in that which seems impossible.
Sometimes we journalists reach a point where we, too, lose our faith in our work when faced with a never-ending cycle of violence, hatred and intolerance. But these interviews reminded me that maybe we have the responsibility of believing in that which seems impossible. Maybe we have the responsibility of not only telling the heart-wrenching stories and the frustrating stories of the back-and-forth accusations and blame, but also of telling the small stories of hope that, in turn, give hope to others.
Those stories, which as Sheik Ihab Balaha told me, insist that, “We can do something else; there is a possibility for something else.”
Judith Sudilovsky writes from Jerusalem.