Religious Holy Site Visits – Nablus, Samaria

ELCJHL Congregations Begin 2019-20 Tours

Jacob’s Well, Nablus. Photo by Ben Gray/ELCJHL

Jerusalem – The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) congregations visited Nablus, the first trip of the second year in a three-year series of religious holy site visits, on Friday 13 September 2019.

Made possible with financial assistance from The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway (CoN), the ELCJHL planned a series of holy site visits for its West Bank and Jerusalem churches.

The initiative began when The ELCJHL Rev. Saliba Rishmawi realized that the new generation of Christians had not visited the holy sites, or as Rev. Rishmawi calls them, “The Fifth Gospel.”

With the blessings of The ELCJHL Bishop Sani Ibrahim Azar, Rev. Rishmawi developed a series of holy site tours that will continue for the next two years.

Last year, Rev. Rishmawai said, “What we are doing is more than a trip, it is a spiritual journey.”

On Friday, the ecumenical journey began at the Greek Orthodox Church of Jacob’s Well (John 4:5-6), to The Greek Melkite Catholic Church of Nablus, to The Good Shepherd Episcopal Church – Rafidia, to St. Justin Latin Church- Rafidia, and to The Samaritan Museum on Mount Gerizim, Nablus. The Lutherans were greeted at the crypt of Jacob’s Well by Anglican priest, The Rev. Jamil Khadir and his assistant, who accompanied the group around the city and led worship service with communion at The Good Shepherd Episcopal Church. At each church, clergy welcomed the group of 50 with a presentation about the their church and ministries in Nablus.

The group was provided a traditional Arab lunch of salads and grilled chicken midday of the tour.

During lunch a few of the members talked about the importance of this visit to the neighboring town of Nablus.

“From Beit Sahour [where I live] to Ramallah takes me two hours and another hour to Nablus, because we are not allowed to pass through Jerusalem without permission [from the Israeli government],” said Ms. Widad Isaid of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Beit Sahour.

By gathering with the church it makes the trip less hectic because members can pass through Jerusalem on a tour with the church’s endorsement. A bus began in Beit Sahour, gathered passengers in Beit Jala/Bethlehem passed through Jerusalem picking up one member then to Ramallah before arriving in Nablus.

“It is good for the people of the land to see the land. Nobody knows these places even though they are close and so this is why we need this conference.

Ms. Rema Tannous of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope – Ramallah

For example, Ms. Isaid was surprised to learn that of the 250,000 people living in Nablus only 650 are Christians and of the Christians only 200 are Latin Catholics. There are no Lutherans living in Nablus.

Ms. Noha Awwad of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Beit Sahour said it was fascinating to hear the priest [Rev. Khadir] tell how the Israelis frequently try to occupy the Church of Jacob’s Well and it is the Muslim community that surrounds the church to protect it.

Although the churches are not geographically far away – the farthest within the West Bank is Ramallah approximately 21 km away and the farthest of the seven is in Amman, Jordan – members of the seven churches rarely congregate with each other. This is partly due to the difficulties in navigating checkpoints and border crossings that separate the West Bank communities, but also due to the lack of ELCJHL coordinated events for all of the churches.

Many of the members who attended Friday’s trip talked about loneliness after the loss of a spouse or the inability to visit long-time friends of whom they can no longer see regularly because of travel restrictions.

“I have been to these places before because I live in Jerusalem,” said Ms. Mary Mirziam of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer – Jerusalem. “But I enjoy going to the sites with friends that I grew up with 30 years ago.”

Ms. Miriziam lost her husband 23 years ago.

The Rev. Said Ailabouni of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) who is visiting from Chicago said the trip was well planned and the opportunity to talk directly to the clergy from each site was quite remarkable.

“The lively discussion that happened at the Samaritan Museum between members and the clergy challenged the Samaritan leader who said he welcomed this open dialogue and our people thinking for themselves,” Rev. Ailabouni commented.

The next trips are planned for 11th October when the ELCJHL staff will visit Haifa and 25th October to Jenin.

The first year groups visited Tiberias/Capernaum, St. Peter’s Church, the Sea of Galilee, Jericho, the Qumran Community, the Jordan River, Haifa, Zacchaeus’ Sycamore Tree, the Dead See Scrolls, Stella Maris Monastery and the cave of Elijah.

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