For a week in February, the Parish of Blessed John Henry was host to the Pax Christi Peace Icon, painted in the monastery of St. John in the desert near Jerusalem. The icon was large. (Sadly it proved too large and easily damaged to be safely transported back and forth between the three churches so it remained in St. Theresa’s. (Replicas were made however, and taken by Fr. Pat to Corpus Christi and St. Gregory’s and to both our schools.)
First impression of the icon from a distance was of its great beauty, the intense reds and blues and shining golds illuminated by the candles burning before it. Closer, you began to engage with figures, each telling their story of reconciliation – here were Jacob and Esau running – almost dancing – to embrace, and treading underfoot the sword of their enmity. Here was St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Clare, friends and peacemakers. Here was Sarah with the infant Isaac – early forbearers of Judaism, and Hagar nursing Ishmael - forerunners of Islam. Other less familiar figures from the Orthodox church were present – St. Boris and St. Gleb, who refused as Christians to take up arms, St. Sofia and her daughters. Here was Stephen the first martyr and Mary Magdalene, first to proclaim the Resurrection. Here was the Samaritan woman and here the Syrophoenician woman, both marginalised women, non-Jews, who engaged deeply with Jesus. And, at the base of the icon, was the figure of the risen Jesus teaching his disciples the Our Father.
It is said that with an icon, you don’t so much look at it, as allow it to look at you, and indeed as we stood in silence before it, the love and peace of God surely felt present.
Each day in our three churches we prayed for peace, in our families, our neighbourhoods and our world. As a step towards greater understanding of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, we began our week by inviting Trish Griffin, who has been an Ecumenical Accompanier in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, to tell us of her experiences there. Her eyewitness account was often distressing, but always there was hope. Our conversations went on long after the talk as we tried to grapple with the issues and our own thoughts and feelings.
Sometimes religion is blamed as a root cause of the problems of the Middle East. But we heard from Trish how she worked in Bethlehem, in the shadow of the Separation Wall, alongside Palestinian activists, young Israeli men and women who had refused conscription, and Jewish peace-workers including some Rabbis - Moslems, Jews and of Christians from both the Holy Land and from overseas working together. The lovely prayer we said that evening had been composed by people of the three faiths and we prayed for peace and justice as ‘Followers of the one God, Children of Abraham, brothers and sisters.’
Further information www.paxchristi.org.uk
Friends of Sabeel www.friendsofsabeel.org.uk