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St. Stephen's Basilica

Palestinian Christian congregants

In Jerusalem, I am surrounded by visibly religious people every day, frequently visit some of the more important religious sites for three religions, and speak with people about how they or their schools teach about religion.

Perhaps surprisingly, however, yesterday evening was the first religious service I’ve attended since I’ve arrived. Sabeel, an ecumenical liberation theology center working for justice, peace and reconciliation in Palestine – Israel, held a prayer service at the incredibly beautiful St. Stephen’s Monastery on Nablus Road. The service was co-celebrated by about seven priests and ministers of different Christian sects – Anglican (Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek) Catholic (Patriarch Michael Sabbah and another), definitely Greek Orthodox, and several others as well. Much of the congregation was older women. It turns out, parenthetically, that Palestinian Christian older women dress almost exactly like older women in Greece, Italy, France, etc. – there must be a secret rulebook out there. “Christian? Female? Over 60? Live near the Mediterranean? Here’s the uniform.” In attendance were also also some young international activist types and a few older British or American couples, along with several French speaking Catholic nuns. The service, including a fairly long sermon, was in Arabic of course. I wish I could have understood the sermon, by Patriarch Sabbah, because I heard “Fatah” “Hamas” and “Palestinian” and “Israeli” a lot. Reading some about the Patriarch’s views, I suspect I get the overall thrust of his message (two-state solution, etc.) but I’d like to have heard the specifics.