In a relatively peaceful country which is Britain, it can still be too easy to feel a sense of hopelessness and helplessness in relation to our fractured world. Every newspaper, every news bulletin blares out details of unrest and violence, now in Africa, now in the Middle East, sometimes now closer to home. One could be tempted to bury one’s face in the sand like the ostrich. With daily reports of injustices, cruelty and violence taking place globally, good news seems in very short supply.
Untold Stories, a day led by Pat Gaffney, General Secretary of Pax Christi UK, at the Niland Conference Centre on the 29th September was a pure antidote to all feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
This was not a day of glossing over the harsh reality for people living in the very divided holy land. From her many visits to the Holy Land Pat has a keen grasp of the situation. She painted for us a vivid picture of the daily struggles and hardships of the many thousands of people affected by the mushrooming informal Jewish settlements and dividing walls. Hearing all this could have just added to our sense of helplessness. But no. Like sparks shining in the rubble were the stories of heroic individuals and families living positively and creatively in the harsh reality which is their daily life. We heard the moving story of the Palestinian woman whose home has been invaded by ever growing surrounding dividing walls just yards from her windows. She has refused to be intimidated by these bullying tactics designed to drive her from the home of her forefathers; she has painted images of beauty on these walls looking into her kitchen, into her children’s bedrooms. She has set up a shop in her home. Peace and courage shone in the photo of her smiling face, and the faces of her children. Her spirit of hope challenged us. The spirit of hope and courage in the many stories we heard challenged us. As one participant said “If these families can live surrounded by the walls and their homes overlooked and still keep faith – then I must do the same”. Faith and hope, inextricably linked.
It was wonderful to hear of the many practical and spiritual links of support and solidarity created by Pax Christi and other organizations between the UK and the peoples of the Holy Land. In the afternoon Pat introduced a panel of speakers who further sparked our hope. Mike Barnes told us of Friends of Salfeet twinning project and Zatoun products from Palestine. Among other initiatives they sell products for the people of Salfeet. I’m looking forward to sampling the Olive Oil I bought when our Supermarket bottle is finished.
Laurie Clarke, from North London Justice and Peace Network, spoke movingly of her ‘non-tourist’ visit to the Holy Land and the powerful impact it has had on her spiritual and apostolic life. We were able to buy crafts from Bethlehem from the Pax Christi stall.
Through Michael Mitzam we heard the incredible story of Neve Shalom – What-al-Salam. This is a village of peace, the brainchild of Dominican Bruno Hussar. In the 1970’s Fr. Bruno succeeded in creating a non-denominational village. Jewish, Muslim and Christian families living side buy side. Children go to the same school, which is a school for the education of peace, there is one building for worship, used by all faiths. Neve Shalom mean Oasis of Peace, a name inspired by the quotation from Isaiah 32:18 “My people shall dwell in an Oasis of Peace”. A daily living we take for granted, a pure diamond of witness in divided Holy Land.
In her words of appreciation Sr Alphonsus said that the day’s event had given us a sense of hope and that the small things we do can make a difference.
Sr. Regina McGarry OP