“Jerusalem is a shared gift for humanity”.


By Ramzi Sidawi**

*Excerpted from Saliba Sarsar, ed. What Jerusalem Means to Us: Christian Perspectives and Reflections. North Bethesda, MD: Holy Land Books/Noble Book Publishing Incorporated, 2018.

**Fr. Ramzi Sidawi, OFM, is a Franciscan of the Holy Land. He was born in Jerusalem into a Catholic family in 1972. After graduating from high school, he joined the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. In 2002, he was ordained a priest and then went to Rome where he obtained his doctorate in Dogmatic Theology from the Pontifical University Antoniaum. He was the parish priest of Jaffa and director of the Terra Santa Boys School in Jerusalem.

It is not easy to write about the City of Jerusalem. You may say a lot of things about it from many viewpoints and many perspectives: religious (Christian, Jewish, and Muslim), political (Palestinian, Israeli, and Arab), historical, and archeological. But as a Christian who was born in Jerusalem, as a Franciscan friar who lives and works in it, as a priest and as a theologian, the most important aspect for me is that Jerusalem is there to witness the love of God for us. Within its boundaries, God accomplished the mystery of our Salvation and completed His revelation to mankind. In it, the Love of God went beyond any expectations, and he gave Himself for us. Thus, he reconciled mankind definitively with Him and reopened the doors of Heaven.

Along the centuries, Jerusalem lived the most crucial moments of the history of Salvation. It was especially during the period of the Kingdom of David, one thousand years B.C., that God chose to live in Jerusalem, in the Temple, and be present among His people. In this way, the city became at the center of the story of God with his people. When the Son of God incarnated, He reserved a special place for Jerusalem in his preaching and He came to the city to fulfill God’s will. He was crucified and resurrected and ascended to the Heavens from this city. In this way, Jerusalem remained at the center of the story of God with His people, and conserves within its monuments the memory of these events.

Going around the city, many places talk to us and tell us the story of what happened there. Descending the Mount of Olives, we can find the Church of Dominus Flevit, the place where Jesus wept over the future fate of the city. Further down, Gethsemane comes into view. It is where Jesus passed his agony, where he was arrested and led to be judged. Entering the Old City through St. Stephen’s Gate, we see the Monastery of the Flagellation where Jesus was imprisoned, flagellated, and condemned to death. We then pass through the Via Dolorosa where Jesus carried the cross to Calvary. At the center of the Old City, we have the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest place for Christianity. It is here where Jesus was crucified and died, and the Holy Tomb where he was buried and resurrected from the dead after three days. In the Old City, we also find the Cenacle, also known as the “Upper Room,” where Jesus had his last supper with the Disciples and where the Holy Spirit descended upon the Disciples and the Virgin Mary on Pentecost. Going back to the Mount of Olives, we find the Chapel of Ascension, the sacred site from which Jesus ascended to Heaven 40 days after resurrection. In it we also have the place where Jesus healed a man born blind and a paralytic. In Jerusalem, Jesus had many discussions with the Pharisees about the Kingdom of God. In other words, every single stone or street in it reminds us and talks to us about what happened.

But the monuments that are conserving the places of these key events are not simple stones that conserve a moment of history. They conserve the mysteries that happened there, the events of our salvation. These mysteries continue to be alive, and they are perpetuated in all places and in all times through the faith and the work of the Church. These mysteries do not belong to the past, they belong to the present and the roots where they took place are conserved within the stones of Jerusalem. Thus, the city conserves and is a witness of all that happened and of what God did for the reconciliation of mankind with him.

This reconciliation is the one that gives the real peace to mankind. With the resurrection of the Lord, the new creation is finished, and mankind has the real hope of entering to Heaven. With the light of the Risen Lord, mankind can see his reality and accept it, and thus, finally have true peace in his heart. In fact, without the good relationship with God, mankind will continue to struggle with himself and with his brothers and sisters searching for peace of heart and mind. Without the resurrection of Jesus, mankind was as if he was searching in complete darkness for a way to escape from prison and the light of the Risen Lord gave him not only the possibility to see, but also showed him that the gates of his prison are opened. This grace can only come from God and from the mystery of our redemption that occurred in Jerusalem.

In the future, no matter what will happen, Jerusalem will continue to conserve and witness all these events as it did in the past. And the reason is that the events that happened in it are so fundamental for the history of all mankind that no power will be able to cancel them. And the city will be there always to witness these events and tell the story of what God did for all of us.

Jerusalem will always witness that God loves all of us, that God started a story with mankind, that He revealed himself when He became flesh, suffered, died, was buried, and resurrected, and ascended to Heaven. The reason: His love for us and His will that all mankind can know and receive this love. This message has no time limits and no boundaries; it will remain forever.

Nevertheless, Jerusalem still lives big contradictions. On one side, it is the city of peace, the city of the complete reconciliation between God and mankind, the city of the Love of God for us. On the other, it remains the cause and at the center of conflict between people. Looking at the situation from a lay perspective, a natural question is how come the city of peace and the city that is supposed to give peace be the reason of many problems and conflicts, even wars. Somebody who does not know the city from inside or who does not belong to one of the three monotheistic faiths will find it difficult to understand how Jerusalem can be the city of peace and at the same time the center of conflicts.

Jerusalem, being so important for religions and people, attracts everybody. The contradictions and conflicts are a sign that others, even though they belong to different faith traditions and ethnic groups, did not yet achieve the full reconciliation and still need to continue the laborious work to achieve peace. Furthermore, they are not able to accept the idea of sharing the city and the fact that there is a place for everybody in it.

Many people from all over the world dream to visit Jerusalem for religious or historical reasons. Some even wish to live there. Many of them remain fascinated by the city that they revisit it countless times. They feel as if something keeps on attracting them and calling them back. They cannot stop the desire to experience living within its stones and walls.

From a Christian viewpoint, every faithful needs to come at least once in a lifetime to visit the Holy Land, especially Jerusalem. Such a visit is important as it is the return to the roots of one’s own faith. Visiting the sites enables the faithful to understand the Gospel, thus living it in a different and more positive way. It will open new dimensions and make possible the deepening of faith.

We look forward with hope and joy. We know that God will give us His peace according to his will. Jerusalem, which lived the most important events of the love of God for us, will be there to witness this love and sustain our hope in a future full of goodness and peace.

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