"Are you one of the Episcopal women?"
"No, my denomination has been ordaining women about 100 years now," I bragged.
The Pope's visit to the Holy Land reminded me of those incidents. The public believes that the Palestinians are Muslims and not Christians. Pope John Paul II's pilgrimage has made visible the presence of indigenous Christians in the Holy Land.
"When did your family convert to Christianity?"
"My ancestors are from Jerusalem, where Christianity began 2,000 years ago," they brag.
The Pope's visit was important to all Christians. Like those Episcopal women, his presence raised awareness—awareness of the Christians in the Holy Land. That was more important than whether he was pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian. "It is a visit to say that we are here, and that we have an identity," Rafleh Ghanadreh, a Palestinian Greek Orthodox, told The New York Times.
Christians in the Holy Land have had a significant role, well beyond their numbers. But they also struggle, along with their Muslim sisters and brothers, with the Israeli oppression. There are Jerusalem-born Christian (as well as Muslim) women who have had their Jerusalem IDs (and health insurance and pensions) taken away when they married men from Bethlehem. The practice has stopped, but the IDs and their rights have not been given back.
Christians fled in 1948 and 1967 and they are still leaving because, under Israeli restrictions, they lack educational and employment opportunities. West Bank Christians are not allowed to worship at churches in Jerusalem. Even during the Pope's visit, West Bank Palestinian Christians were denied permits to attend religious events in Jerusalem.
The Pope went on a pilgrimage to the places and the people of the Holy Land. When we travel there, we need to include connections with the living Christian communities in the Holy Land. We need to sit down and talk and work with them and hear their stories just as we work on Jewish/Christian and Muslim/Christian relations here in the United States.
The Rev. Betty Jane Bailey is co-author of "Living Stones Pilgrimage with the Christians of the Holy Land" and a former missionary in Jerusalem and Bethlehem