My mission in the Holy Land was going to start in September, but, life is amazing, so I ended up in Jerusalem in July for a short week!
It was Sunday, in the afternoon before going to Mass, and I was cleaning up my emails and organizing my contacts when I found an email from Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate in Jordan replying to an email thread where I was copied, last year… when he was Monsignor of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Last year, his name wasn’t familiar to me, but this year, I’ve seen him in almost every important celebration in Jordan and have met him briefly once, so I was intrigued and checked the email. It was about his involvement with the Interfaith Conference of Forgiveness to be held in Jerusalem!
I was in the email thread because of a phone conversation I had last year with Father Kelly, the Vice Chargé of the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem. He had suggested that I participate in the organization and to attend the conference since he knew of my profound interest in the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to him, education on forgiveness regarding such a deep conflict was necessary to heal so many decades of grievances on both sides. At that time, I was busy with lots of projects at work and although I got acquainted with the details of the conference, I couldn’t do much. Also, I wasn’t sure I could take time off from work to attend.
On that Sunday, after seeing the Bishop’s email, I contacted Fr. Kelly and Dr. Enright, the founder of the International Forgiveness Institute in Wisconsin, and asked them if they needed volunteers for the conference, to which they said yes, very enthusiastically. After the evening Mass, during a farewell reception to the Vice Nunzio of Jordan at the Italian Embassy, guess who was there…? Bishop Shomali!
When I mentioned to him about the story of the email, he said “Oh, you should go, I’ll be presenting on a topic. Ask the sisters to host you at their house in Jerusalem, it’s around the corner from Notre Dame!” I asked the Superior of the house where I live if I could take that week off to go to the conference, and she said I had to text the Director of the Middle East Province, who was in Rome, for authorization. The Director said she had no objection if there was a room available for me at their house in Jerusalem. Next morning, while I was attending a conference about refugees in Jordan, I got the confirmation for the room, and in the afternoon, I was traveling to Jerusalem!
The Jerusalem Conference on Forgiveness was held at the Pontifical Institute of Notre Dame in the Jerusalem Center for two days, on Wednesday and Thursday. On Tuesday, the day before the conference, I spent almost my entire day at Notre Dame helping to finalize the press release, getting the final design for the volunteers’ t-shirts and getting them ordered, and receiving the instructions for our tasks during the days of the conference.
At the end of Day 1 of the conference, we joined Fr. Kelly for dinner, who so generously hosted us for meals during the volunteering days. I was introduced to Fr. Kelly in 2013 by email and it was great to finally meet him in person! He is very smart, profound in his reflections, and has an extraordinary sense of humor! He is from Ireland as well as Edel (my volunteer friend), and, once again, I can confirm that Irish people are so wonderful and fun to be around!
Volunteering at such an important conference and with the responsibility to handle the technical aspect of the presentations for over 300 people helped me get out of my comfort zone. It was also a great opportunity to listen to religious leaders of the main three Abrahamic religions agreeing that God is a God of mercy and forgiveness. God always forgives us, it is us who are not ready to be forgiven by Him, at times.
You can watch the conference and hear everyone’s perspectives on forgiveness and what is being done globally by clicking on this link: https://internationalforgiveness.com/jerusalem-conference.htm.
Jerusalem, unexpectedly, also put me in touch with the Filipino community! On Tuesday, I decided to go to 6:30 pm Mass at Notre Dame thinking Fr. Kelly was going to be the celebrant, but, instead, the Mass was celebrated at the auditorium by Cardinal Tagle!
About 450 people attended Mass, the majority were Filipinos living in Israel. Filipinos, mostly women, usually emigrate to other countries to work as caregivers, leaving their kids behind to be raised by their fathers and grandparents, while the mothers take care of other women’s children. Cardinal Tagle delivered a very warm message to all these women.
I wouldn’t have liked to end this post on a sad note after participating in such a wonderful conference on forgiveness, but, the day after the conference, on Friday, there was an attack on Temple Mount where 3 Palestinians killed 2 Israeli soldiers, and the Palestinians were eventually found and killed. The sisters’ house is a few blocks away from the Old City and we could hear the helicopters and police after Mass was over at 7:30 am and they told us to avoid the Old City area…
May God bring peace to the Middle East and grant us peace in our hearts!
-Natalia Liviero, VIDES missioner