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Pope Francis Plans Second Visit to Jerusalem

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At the book store, a longtime resource for visitors, we would have found books to study that were not confined to religious tomes, like Paul's letter to the Corinthians. We might have found books that offered ways to connect Paul's letters to the Corinthians to a military occupation.

I speak here of books which force a reader to break free of the confinement of the institutional religious ghetto in which we religious types are easily tempted to hide.

I wrote about my own first 1973 trip to Jerusalem for Link magazine. That 2000 essay, "On the Jericho Road," may be found on Link's website.

In anticipation of the Pope's May visit, the Vatican recalls that Father Bergoglio visited the "church-filled neighborhood of Ein Kerem," which in 1973 had been converted into a Jewish colony for artists. Did Father Bergoglio wonder what had happened to the Christians who built those churches?

Ain Karem is described on an Israeli tourist web site as "one of Jerusalem's most picturesque neighborhoods in a peaceful valley between mountains and hills, surrounded by the beauty of natural groves."

The site description of Ain Karem continues:

"Like an island in a sea of green forest in southwest Jerusalem, Ein Kerem has charming stone houses adorned with arches, churches whose bells chime in the clear air and lovely paths paved with stone.

"Ein Kerem is a pilgrimage site for many Christian visitors, who come here year after year. According to Christian tradition, this is where Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, miraculously became pregnant. This is also where he was born. Tradition teaches that during her pregnancy, Elizabeth was visited by a family relative -- Mary, who was also pregnant with Jesus."

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It is only natural that a young Catholic priest would make two stops before being confined to his hotel for the rest of his 1973 visit -- Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, and Ain Karem, where Mary met Elizabeth.  

On that visit Father Bergoglio would not have been told of the Nakba which changed Ain Karem from a Christian village to a Jewish "neighborhood" of Jerusalem.  In May, on his second visit, will he want to return to Ain Karem? He would find that the churches are still there, but few parishioners remain. 

I missed encountering Father Bergoglio by just a few weeks in the autumn of 1973. Had we been there together, we might have discussed earlier guests, visitors who come to the American Colony. Those visitors included significant figures like T.E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia") and Lowell Thomas, the American journalist who helped make Lawrence famous.

Over the years I stayed in that hotel many times. I met a series of interesting visitors, like negotiators preparing for the Oslo talks. But, alas, I met no future popes.

I would have liked to have included Father Bergoglio on the trip with my Mennonite colleague in the Jordan River. The three of us would have just fit in Leroy Frison's modest-sized vehicle. It is not a long ride to Birzeit and Nablus and back to Jerusalem. Israel's checkpoint madness had not yet begun. Manufactured paranoia had not yet made travel in the West Bank so dangerous and oppressive.

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The only security barrier in the Jordan Valley in 1973 was a dirt road that ran beside the paved highway. That road was swept clean by the IDF soldiers each morning. We were told the soldiers were looking watching for footprints made by unwelcome visitors from across the Jordan River.

That was then and this is now. Pope Francis, no longer Father Bergoglio, will return soon to Jerusalem after a 41-year absence. He returns in a different status, bringing with him the enormous prestige and power of the Papacy...

I seriously doubt that the Israeli authorities will put him up at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem. Perhaps he will suggest a stop there, just for old times sake.

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James Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Many sources have influenced Jim's writings over (more...)

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