Monday, May 26, 2014

Today was an amazing and historic day for the people of Palestine, as it was for me, both personally and professionally. I'd love to write at length about each person I met today, about the city of Bethlehem, about the many unresolved Palestinian issues, about the Popes surprise invitation to Presidents Peres of Israel and Abbas of Palestine to come pray for peace in my home in the Vatican, about so many things on my mind and in my heart. However, my day started at 5 am and it is now almost midnight, and I'm afraid that fatigue would affect my writing and it would not be up to par.

I hope to find time tomorrow morning to write a bit and also try to follow the Pope's jam-packed day of events, including praying at the Western Wall or Wailing Wall in Jerusalem with Rabbi Skorka, his close friend from Argentina, meting the Grand Mufti and Chief Rabbis of Israel, a visit to the Yad Vashem holocaust memorial and a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres, to name but a few events.

However, I did post 11 videos today on Youtube (so you will be right by my side throughout the morning) and a lot of photos on Twitter. More tomorrow a promise!

For now, good night, shalom, peace!


I am in the media center in Bethlehem. It is 9:05am and we have been here almost three hours! Is a beautiful day and i have already circulated in Manger square for videos, photos and interviews. I spent the night at Bethlehem university and walked to the square where busses brought the media to Manger Square after security checks.

I was literally the first person to enter city hall where the media center is after a guy unlocked the front door! Reserved a place at a table in the center, went out for coffee and to see EWTN colleagues and just walked around.

I have taken and posted videos but am having a problem updating. Facebook on my iPad....might have to update you only upon return to jerusalem.

We are living history. The day is beautiful, hopes are high and the joy is palpable.

More later fro. Joan's Bethlehem!


On trips such as the one I'm on now, in the Holy Land for Pope Francis visit to Jordan, the State of Palestine and Israel, I never know where to start as there's always so much to say. I consider myself a storyteller and a storyteller loves all the details: you want to talk about the people you meet, about the culture of the country, its history, the restaurants, the food, transportation, monuments, unique features, what's different, what's unusual, and so on.

It is hard to know where to begin so perhaps I'll just start talking about this, my very special first full day in Jerusalem. I was up at 5:30 because a Mass was going to be offered at 7:30 this morning in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a Catholic Mass as the church has shared authority with other Christian groups and Catholics are allowed to say Mass on Friday mornings. Some day I will delve into the difficult question of the status quo to better explain this issue.

I went to the hotel front desk to change money and get Israeli shekels for the taxi ride and the man at the front desk, Shaheen, floored me when he said, Do you know I see you all the time on EWTN!! I really was astonished, even though I know EWTN English is all over the Middle East. We had a lovely chat. He's a Catholic and intends to see Pope Francis either in person or on TV.

I actually got to the Holy Sepulchre a half hour before Mass so I was able to sit in relative silence near the tomb of Jesus: the actual small area that houses the tomb was not yet open for the faithful (only three people can go in at a time, in any case). I got to the church so early that the men employed there were still filling the lamps with oil - and there are hundreds! I walked around the church in golden silence and it was wonderful. Even though I have been there before, it is always an astonishing place to be: Jesus, our Jesus, hung here on the cross, was crucified here, his body was taken down and anointed by the women and then he was buried in a tomb. We all know the story but now I am living it! Two thousand years later!

Very few people are in the church at that hour so it's a wonderful time to go. It is not far from the Jaffa gate, about a 10-minute walk through the twisted, convoluted, serpentine streets of the Old City, divided into four quarters. Interestingly enough, as I was walking from the taxi to the church, I stopped a man to ask directions. He turned out to be an Arab Muslim and he said he and Muslims are very happy the Pope is coming. He said Pope Francis is a man of peace. We do not see him for what he has but what he is in his heart, and in his heart he has peace and goodwill.

So that was a wonderful start to a very beautiful day Collesagues ftom EWTN and CAN were all at Mass and several of us Paul Badde and his wife Ellen for a very Arab breakfast, after which Paul, Ellen and I boarded a public bus for Bethlehem. It was much easier to get into Palestine this trip than in previous tripsll although two Israeli policemen boarded the bus to check passports and identity cards. I did post videos of that bus ride so go to my YouTube page, joansrome.

The EWTN crew for News Nightly dedicated the day to filming sites, scenes and people in and around Bethlehem. I had to make a lot of phone calls, answer emails, post my videos and look over my interview with the mayor of Bethlehem so I spent a bit of time in Starbucks very unusual because I dont do Starbucks in the US. I went because they had wi-fi! I preferred tea and it was fantastic, as was the freshly squeezed orange juice.

At noon we all had an appointment with Bethlehems first woman mayor, Vera Baboun, 50, the mother of five and just a month ago she became a grandmother, a little boy named Johnny, her late husbands name. She was elected against all odds in the fall of 2012, She is a Christian as the mayor of Bethlehem must, by law, be a Christian. She studied at and has taught at Bethlehem University. News Nightly interviewed her, as did I for Vatican Insider you can hear her story when that airs.

Her message was one of hope, of peace. She knows the Pope will say important words about peace, about justice, about no more injustice in the world but she hopes more than anything that there will be people who listen to the Holy Father and have the courage to act on his words. He is the Pope of the poor the marginalized, those who suffer injustice.

I asked her what comes from her heart as mayor, a mother, a Palestinian - what does she want to say to Pope Francis? She said her words will be the gift that Bethlehem will give the Pope - a chandelier made of pieces of red stone of Bethlehem. To hear the rest of her explanation, youll have to wait for my interview.

It's been fascinating in the past 30 hours to talk to so many people and hear what they think of the papal visit. Though not singling them out, I happen to have spoken mostly to Muslims and Christians. In restaurants, on busses, in taxis, I have mostly come across Muslims and Christians. Most of the Jewish people I know are from the media center and the GPO, Government Press Office.

Muslims and Christians are very anxious for the papal visit and they are happy about it, hoping to hear words that address their particular situations. Israelis are happy the Pope is coming but have reservations on a number of issues. I have heard they wish Francis had started his trip in Israel but should know that his current itinerary was chosen in an attempt to replicate the famous three-day meeting 50 years ago.

Israeli and Vatican flags and banners and Welcome, Holy Father are up all over the city. I know the Israelis would like to have more time with Pope Francis but as he himself has said, the main focus of this trip is religious and is to mark the 50th anniversary of the meeting 50 years ago between his predecessor, Pope Paul and Patriarch Athenagoras. The theme is Christian unity. Tat is on the mind of the Holy Father but when he speaks or gives a homily, he obviously will be talking about the situation in the Holy Land, the situation in the Middle East, the many conflicts and so many differences that exist inh this part of the world

Well, again it is late. However, I wanted to write a bit on these pages about what Ive experienced and learned and seen, much of which I said on EWTN radio earlier this afternoon. I will keep you posted, as Ive said, with videos on YouTube and photos and short pieces of news on Facebook.

Keep up the prayers!

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