“We feel like tourists” and “I have come to Jerusalem many times but never knew about this” were among the feedback we heard during Sabeel’s joint Jerusalem-Nazareth youth trip on May 23rd. It’s ironic how we live in a place so rich with history, diversity, and spirituality, yet we have minimal knowledge about it, or perhaps take it for granted. This educational trip showed that this is unfortunately the case!
We felt it was important to have such a trip within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, the city of ongoing conflict and power struggles between nationalities. Knowing the importance of our city and its importance, we set out on a guided tour with 17 participants coming together from different locations, from Nazareth and Rene to Beit Sahour.
We started off at the Damascus gate, entering the market, and the stories were phenomenal: the chronology of time and civilizations that came and went through this small city. Walking through the narrow roads and tall walls and listening to our well informed guide, Mahmoud Abu-Eid, made us feel related to the stones and neighborhoods. Yet, we also felt so far away– how did we not know so many of these stories?
We had no idea that there were over 50 cuisines (and 50 nationalities) inside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. In the Indian community, its sheikh spoke about this community’s existence and affiliation to Jerusalem. Then, we went up the stairs through the gypsy quarter and the neighborhoods filled with this community’s history, and then to the Afghani and Pakistani corners, as well as Armenian. The African community is in the heart of the city, where there is a youth center. This community is very much aware of the political situation and plays a big role in activities and projects to educate the youth in the Old City.
We were then welcomed at a restaurant owned by a Palestinian Muslim family and ate a traditional Palestinian meal of Maklubeh (rice, cauliflower and chicken).
Next, we continued towards the Assyrian convent and met with the “mukhtar,” who explained how this community came here from Turkey because of the genocide and like many other communities, for pilgrimage. Two of our youth knew the Lord’s Prayer in the Assyrian language and we all prayed it together. It was an ecumenical moment indeed!
On our way to the Rosary sister’s convent in Mamilla, we stopped by the Holy Sepulcher Church to have our personal prayers and visit the church.
At the Rosary sister’s convent, the stories of Palestinian saints, Marie-Alphonsine and Mariam Al-Bawardy, were told to us. We also visited the burial place of Saint Marie- Alphonsineinside the church.
We ended the day spiritually recharged and full of knowledge that made us eager to learn more about our Jerusalem.