Unification News for September 2003
A Trip of Tears to Rome and Jerusalem
by Angelika Selle
Glory and thanks be to God and True Parents for a great victory in Israel! I would like to acknowledge the immense foundation of sacrifice, tears, sweat, and blood of our True Parents that lies at the foundation of this trip!
In addition, substantial conditions of repentance and reconciliation between Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters in our movement were made here in America, in which our leadership participated. Also, brothers and sisters of the Family Federation in Israel made conditions, all of which contributed to the success and gave us ownership. Finally, the many behind-the-scenes prayers and fasting conditions by brothers and sisters in Washington, DC, in Israel and elsewhere helped to open the heavy gate between Christians and Jews a crack wider in a very moving way.
During the entire trip, I felt the presence and spirit of True Father and Jesus with us, following our every step along the way in anxious anticipation of what was going to happen next, praying that we would accomplish our mission. Clearly, this was not a sightseeing trip but a very crucial life-and-death mission.
As our group merged together from different parts of the country at Newark International Airport, great excitement and anticipation was in the air, so that another fellow air traveler, a Christian lady, asked me what this interracial group was up to and where we were going. When I told her that we were about to go to Rome and Israel in order to bury the cross and seek peace and reconciliation with our Jewish brother and sisters, she was in awe and moved to tears. She said, "I wish I could be a part of this." Before we departed, we prayed together for the success of the trip.
After arriving in Rome, "La Citta' Eterna" or the Eternal City, our bus took us onto the paths of Saint Peter on the first day and Saint Paul on the next. Just to be able to stand on the ground where they stood and sense their powerful spirit of serving Christ at the cost of their very lives was deeply moving. We descended into the prison where both of them had baptized other prisoners. We held hands and prayed in tears, with the determination to inherit their kind of spirit and commitment.
In contrast, we then saw the beautiful artwork and architecture of the basilicas that the Roman Catholic Church had built, in which the Catholic Church nowadays is mostly holding masses, often without any spirit. For me as a former Roman Catholic it was painful to see how far the church of today has strayed from that original spirit of sacrifice and love.
While I was standing in the middle of the Sistine Chapel, looking at the frescoes of the Old and New Testament, I began to pray. Suddenly, it seemed as if the history of restoration came alive and the people -- Moses and the saints depicted there on the walls -- wanted to connect with me and say: "Please finish our job!"
Walking along the path of Saints Peter and Paul and the early Christians, even just for two days, moved and touched me deeply. One of the "authentic" sites was the prison into which Peter and Paul had been thrown, where they baptized many people. When praying down there in the dungeon and dipping my hand into the water in a round basin in the stone floor, I could feel their powerful spirit of determination and fire to witness to their beloved Jesus.
As the days went by, our group of 131 became closer and closer, like a family. As I got to know many of the clergy during our walks, mealtimes, and on the bus, each of them had a story to tell as to how they came to be on this trip. One thing they all had in common, though, was a deep desire to reconcile with our Jewish brothers and sisters. I saw many of the lady pastors in constant prayer and also filled with eagerness to look out for others.
In my case, being of German and Roman Catholic background, I never had dreamed of this amazing opportunity to go to Israel for the sake of reconciliation with my Jewish brothers and sisters on their soil!
Every morning after Hoon Dok Hae and in the evening, we were educated in the ways our Jewish brothers and sisters feel, think about, and perceive Christians and Jesus, and we were made aware how not to approach them. Coming to understand about Judaism, especially through the presentations of Dr. Andrew Wilson, who is a Jewish Unificationist professor at UTS, I could see that it would take nothing short of a miracle for Jewish rabbis to consider Jesus as the Messiah. Why?
For the last 2,000 years, Jews have been accused by Christians of having nailed Jesus to the cross and killed him. For that deed, the Jews were persecuted, killed, disowned, and shunned by Christians. Thus, for Jews, the cross truly became a symbol of accusation and hate.
The only possible way for them to open their minds to Jesus, whom they don't even mention or talk about was if we could introduce to them the real Jesus who had come to build the Kingdom and have a family -- if we would focus on his teachings, such as the Sermon on the Mount, rather than his suffering.
It became clear that in order to heal our relationship there needed to be humility, love, mutual repentance, and forgiveness. If we Christians could truly embody the love of Christ so Jews could feel it, there was a chance for change. I did have a lot of hope that that would happen, because our group consisted foremost of African-American pastors representing the black race, which also has gone through tremendous suffering, due to slavery, segregation, and discrimination, thus bringing with them a common base of heart as a foundation for a relationship with Jewish people. In addition, as a substantial gesture of reconciliation, all the clergy who had come on this trip had taken down their crosses, the symbols of horror and division between Jews and Christians.
We had no idea what the reaction of our Jewish brothers and sisters would be and how they would respond in such a short time to a different way of looking at Jesus. But we determined ourselves to love and embrace them, no matter what. And we knew that only the Spirit of God and the spirit of Jesus himself could truly speak to their hearts.
Off we went to the Holy Land. After having gone through extensive scrutiny in the airports in both Rome and Tel Aviv, we finally mounted the buses that would bring us directly to Jerusalem. Our tour guide greeted us with the words: "Welcome home! This is your homeland!" And indeed it felt like coming home, home to the land in which Jesus grew up, preached, taught, walked, and talked. It still seemed unreal that we were actually there. Interestingly enough, we had arrived on May 15, the 55th anniversary of Israel when the Israelis celebrated their Independence Day. What a divine "coincidence"!
Just driving through the rocky but gently rolling hills from the airport to Jerusalem at dusk with the full moon above us gave me the feeling I had gone back in history. The small towns we passed looked just like they were from pictures in the Bible. All of the towns looked the same because, by governmental decree, everyone who builds a house in Israel has to utilize the native limestone, which is available in abundance. The hills reminded me so much also of Korea, the homeland of our True Parents. There was an amazing resemblance!
Our hotel overlooked the city of Jerusalem, which, by the time we arrived looked like it was in full festive attire -- a city on a hill, a sight to behold.
Before retiring, I prayed in tears with two of my sisters on the balcony, stretching out our arms to embrace the city of which Jesus had said lamenting: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!" In this place where Jews, Christians, and Muslims live together under great tension, we had come to plant a seed of true peace. "Here we are, Jesus!" Tears came to our eyes. We wanted so much to be his representatives!
On the first full day, the first site we visited was the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. The purpose was so all could remember what had happened to the Jewish people and that we would never forget. I knew that this would be spiritually and emotionally very difficult for me, being originally from Germany. Yet at the same time, I knew that was one reason God had allowed me to be part of this pilgrimage, to repent and reconcile on behalf of my people for the atrocious past. As I had expected, just seeing the life-sized pictures of the concentration camps, the naked men and women as they got ready to go into the gas chambers, filled me with agony but also rage and tears. "How could any human being do this to another?", I thought. And we were talking about 24 million Jews all throughout Europe who were "exterminated"! I could barely walk through the museum. I knew I had to do something while in Israel to restore this past, even on a small level.
That evening during testimony time, I became filled with emotion and felt moved to go up on stage. I asked my Jewish brother, Dr. Andrew Wilson, to join me there. Then I began to repent on behalf of Germans and Roman Catholics for the horrible things they had done in the name of Jesus to our Jewish brothers and sisters. I noted specific points, such as the burning of their synagogues, treating them as less than human, taking their possessions. It was hard to speak, as I was choked up in tears and fell on my knees. My brother took my hands, asked me to stand, and without letting me finish my long list, said: "I forgive you, I forgive you!"
There was one more thing, however, I felt I had to do. I spontaneously took off my jewelry and gave it to him as an offering -- a symbol of all the beautiful and precious things that Germans and other anti-Semites had taken from the Jewish people. Dr. Wilson received it, and I went back to my seat weeping. Many pastors them came to me to embrace me and express their gratitude.
My spirit felt truly liberated after that. The next day, when I met Dr. Wilson over breakfast, he also expressed gratitude. He told me he had never experienced anything like that and that it had moved him and his ancestors deeply. Then he said he never realized how much pain the Germans must have because of their guilt, and that the Jewish people need to love Germans more and forgive them.
The reason I am sharing this is because of the principle of repentance and forgiveness as an integral part of reconciliation. I know that without the Holy Spirit and my involvement and training in reconciliation over the last five years, I could not have done that in public. Credit must be given to our Racial Reconciliation Group and to Revs. Joe and Debbie Taylor (an African-American couple) and Brenda Miller (a white sister), who showed me how to repent.
Right after the Yad Vashem experience, we were taken to the Mount of Olives, which overlooks most of the city. From there, we could see the Garden of Gethsemane, the Potter's Field, where Judas hanged himself, the place where Saint Peter betrayed Jesus, the house of Caiaphas and many of the other historical sites. Contrary to my previous mental picture, all the places were situated closely together, within walking distance.
Many of us knew and felt that not all of the historical sites were authentic, but rather had been selected more or less arbitrarily for the tourists, though with some exceptions. One such place was the dungeon under Caiaphas' courthouse, where Jesus was incarcerated and investigated. It was there that all of us shed tears, held hands in fervent prayer, and felt the suffering of Jesus. He didn't have to go that route if only he had only been understood.
I felt Jesus' presence so strongly, and the feeling built in me how much he loved his people and wanted to reconcile with them and embrace them. My overwhelming desire and goal became to be able to have Jesus within me as much as possible when we would meet my and his Jewish family.
Our next day trip took us to the Wailing Wall, at the Temple of David, which overlooks the city of Jerusalem. The wall surrounding it had two distinctly different layers of stones, the original foundation, and on top of it the more recently built wall. That place is also Mount Moriah where Isaac was nearly sacrificed and where the covenant was made between God and Abraham. This place is claimed by all three religions as a holy place. As I had seen in movies and on pictures, men and women go to the Wailing Wall in separate areas. There were more men and women there today on the Sabbath than during the week. Our tour guide told us that we could put a note into the cracks of the wall. I wrote: "For peace and reconciliation under God, the Heavenly True Parents of all humankind!"
When I touched the wall among the Jewish women, young and old, I felt overcome by tears, as I came in touch with the "pain" that had lingered in those walls for many centuries. My prayers were deep. I try to connect to the spirits of our spiritual ancestors, Abraham and Isaac, asking them to help bring the sons of Abraham together.
The next day, we drove toward the Sea of Galilee. It must have taken Jesus several days to walk all the way there, even on a donkey. We passed the road to Jerusalem, Jericho, the Mount of Temptation, and came finally to the Jordan River. Our very humorous and down-to-earth tour guide had been enlightening us from the beginning about the reality of some things mentioned in the Bible.
How narrow the river is where Jesus was baptized! After we stopped and went down to the River Jordan, many of the pastors baptized each other. A few even were fully immersed. Around the Sea of Galilee, nothing much has changed for two thousand years, and it is easy to imagine how Jesus must have walked and talked and lived in this area.
We all stepped on a boat that would take us across the sea. "Gal" means, "wave," and wavy it would get on that Sea, which actually is a big lake. But the water can get very rough there, with waves up to six feet high, according to our tour guide. On that day, the sea lay calm and serene, with just a light breeze touching it. But one could very well imagine what it would be like when the waves are high and the winds rough.
While motoring slowly along and enjoying the gentle breeze, ministers from virtually every state in America took turns singing beautiful songs from the heart. Seeing my black brothers and sisters so joyfully singing songs of Jesus, the man from Galilee, I was overcome with deep emotion. A beautiful serene spirit surrounded us. Here we all were on a boat. Images of slave ships came into my heart and mind. Now these people who had suffered so much are the first to come here as Jesus' true family, embraced and bathed in the spirit of Jesus, supping in the spirit of Jesus and sharing his heart. My love for them and Jesus was simply overwhelming.
On the other side of the lake, we visited Capernaum, the house of Peter where Jesus had spent some considerable time when he was in the area. The first healing of Peter's mother-in-law took place here. We passed Magdala, where Mary Magdalene was from and stopped at the Mount of the Beatitudes. Here, I couldn't help but feel the spirit of Jesus teaching the crowds the so-called second Ten Commandments: the Beatitudes. Here, approximately 225,000 people came to listen. Contrary to many of our beliefs, our guide said, Jesus would stand at the bottom of the mountain and speak, with the crowds on the side of the hill in front of him. I couldn't help but weep again, because the message that Jesus gave was for his Jewish family, a message very much in line with what the Torah teaches. If they would only have heard their great rabbi at that time! He was teaching about living in the Kingdom. That was the kind of Jesus the Jewish people could relate to, not the one who was hung on the cross!
The next day was the day we all had been waiting and preparing for -- and being prepared for -- the day our True Parents were paying a price for. The night before, we attended one more lecture on the parallels of human history, delivered by Rev. Michael Jenkins and another on the purpose of Jesus' coming and exchanging the cross for a crown. Simultaneously, Dr. Frank Kaufman and Taj Hamad coached our Jewish brothers and sisters for the "big day" of reconciliation. No one could know what the next day would bring. It felt like going into a major battle during the American Civil War. All we could do was leave the outcome in God's hands.
All night through, our Unificationist brothers and sisters pray. At 5 am, we give all the participants a wakeup call, yet it is made optional for them to come. "Today is the day," I say to one of the pastors, who is just passing by our room as he walks toward the elevator. I am dressed in black and white, as Jewish women are when going to worship. There is a fresh spirit and high expectation in the air, like on an Easter morning.
It is 5:30 am, when the buses will leave to go to the Holy Sepulcher on the other side of the city. Jerusalem is still sleeping. Today, all Christians observe their Sunday; the day before, our Jewish brethren celebrated their Sabbath, and on Friday, it was the Muslim brothers and sisters who had kept their holy day. As we leave the buses to walk up the road, the morning sun reflects from the bright stones of the walls and buildings. There are palm trees near the city wall. The atmosphere is peaceful and holy. All of the pastors, dressed in their Sunday robes, solemnly walk up the hill.
Suddenly, as we reach the top, the sound of sirens comes closer, and in a few seconds several police cars pass us by. One almost hits me. Something must have happened. We found out later that at that time, 6:00 am, a suicide bomber had blown up a bus just two blocks from our hotel! No doubt, this is a battle of life and death.
We need to go down another street, and as I try to catch up with the group, someone in the front starts to sing the song: "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?" The sound travels back to me, and we all join together in this beautiful hymn. Tears come to my eyes when I see my black brothers and sisters who have gone the path of suffering, about to liberate our brother Jesus on behalf of True Parents. What a privilege to be part of this!
The small Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus was entombed is squeezed between other buildings, with a good-sized yard in front of it. It is rather dark on the inside. There is Hebrew singing going on in part of the sanctuary, an early worship service.
We all gather around the place of Jesus' tomb, and Rev. Jesse Edwards opens with a beautiful prayer, saying that we clergy have come here to take down the cross once and for all. We have come to remove the age-old obstacle, the symbol that causes division between Jews and Christians, and we are here to reconcile with our brothers.
Archbishop Stallings, Pastor T.L. Barrett, and other clergy leaders enter the small "sanctuary" and pay their respects to the tomb. Then we all proceed to another altar in the church. It is there where our medium-sized white cross is being laid down symbolically by a woman pastor, and is covered with the Family Federation flag by Dr. Yang. Archbishop Stallings and others lead us in another powerful prayer. History is in the making.
There is one more place to go, one more thing to do before we meet with our Jewish brothers and sisters: To bury the cross in the ground once and for all. We head toward the Potter's Field, or the Field of Blood, a piece of land that was purchased with Judas' blood money, where nearby he hanged himself.
A big wooden cross about 6 feet high is being lifted up by the pastors as we march down a winding road leading to the Potter's Field, which is a long green field with a Greek Monastery on one side. "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" rings through the crowd of ministers again as they approach the final resting place for the cross.
At the site, we find there is a grave already dug by our Family Federation of Israel members, exactly the size of the cross. Several Bible quotes are read before the cross is lifted up one more time and then put down in the ground forever. A Family Federation flag, dated and signed, is placed on top. A rabbi is the first to pray, followed by the Christian representative, then a Muslim, and finally Dr. Yang, representing the Third Israel and True Parents.
I am holding hands with two sisters, crying out, during these stirring moments. It is as if I am standing underneath the cross where Jesus hung as one of the women, and shedding tears, only this time they are tears of joy and liberation. It was as if we witnessed the body of Jesus being lifted off that cross and now being set free. Especially when Dr. Yang prays, I sense the presence of our True Parents who laid the foundation and made this possible. I think of True Father's own incredible unimaginable suffering and how much he helped Jesus. Tears, tears, and more tears.
We all put one shovel of dirt on top of the cross. It is finished! Good bye, cross! Rest in peace forever! Jesus is free now. Hallelujah! Peace will come now! Coming back to the hotel, one of our pastors needed to be taken to the hospital, and two other sisters and I am asked to accompany him. As we rush to the place by taxi, we pass by the very scene where the suicide bomber blew up the bus earlier this morning. Thanks be to God that we were protected!
I know I will miss the opening session with our Jewish brothers and sisters, but God is telling me that here in the hospital are also my Jewish brothers and sisters. We pray for our ill pastor and the people in the hospital as the pastor is brought back on the road to recovery.
We rejoin our conference for lunch at the hotel, where Christian pastors and Jewish rabbis and guests are already sitting around tables engaged in animated conversation. I meet my group from Washington, DC. Great happiness fills my heart just meeting them and embracing them. There had been a powerful beginning of the symposium for reconciliation, especially because of Archbishop Stallings' stirring speech of repentance on behalf of the Christians that moved the hearts of the Jewish rabbis.
More speakers and discussion are scheduled for the afternoon before the signing of the Jerusalem Declaration, the highlight and most important part of the trip.
After lunch, I look for a table to join and find one with three rather young Jewish women, a black pastor, and a state leader from America. As I join them, they tell me that three Jewish leaders had left that table after the morning discussion. The Christian minister is very sad, because his humble heart was ready to learn and inherit from them. Yet it seems that God has provided replacements. These young women are almost ecstatic when they hear the presentation by Dr. Wilson, which, in a very challenging yet loving way, explains to the Jewish audience why they might consider and embrace Jesus as a great rabbi. As other presenters continue, the young lady next to me keeps nudging her friend saying: "It is happening, it is happening! We are going to have real peace!" They stand up and cheer excitedly. Then Archbishop Stallings begins to read the Jerusalem Declaration for the first time. There is a sudden tension in the air. Will Rabbi Brodman sign? The archbishop asks him the question.
Oh, yes, and not only does he want to sign, but he would sign only if his Islamic brother would sign first. Amazing! It is more than we all had asked for. The three brothers of Abraham all sign and then embrace each other. Tears come to my eyes again, tears of joy, gratitude, and relief. Nearly everyone steps toward the front them to also put their signature on the historic document.
We all have a celebration coffee-and-cake break. People embrace each other, take pictures, and exchange information.
I walk outside on the hotel verandah overlooking Jerusalem. With me come a Jewish young woman and Claire Daugherty. I ask them if the three of us could offer a prayer of gratitude for what we just experienced. They agree, and so we all hold hands while looking over the city. Each of us prays in her native language, German, Hebrew, and English. Tears flow down our cheeks, and at the end, our Jewish sister says, "Thank you for your prayer and your presence. I could feel Jesus through you." She then explains to us that it had only been a few weeks ago that she and other friends felt compelled to investigate more about Jesus of Nazareth, who he was and what he was trying to accomplish, and why their Jewish religion has shunned him till now.
Clearly, the spirit world had prepared many people for this time. All of the Jewish participants who had come that evening had to make a decision to go to that hotel, which was two blocks from the site where the bomb had exploded that morning. They were truly committed to reconciliation.
A glorious banquet follows to end the day with singing, sharing, and dancing. After the signing of the document, a spirit of joy and celebration fills the air. We toasted during the evening banquet with real wine, as now Jesus' family was reunited!
Truly, a powerful seed for peace among the three sons of Abraham has been planted there today! It now needs to be watered, cultivated, and nurtured to grow into a beautiful family tree!
For our group, we had one more day of sightseeing, which would include the Dead Sea, the Qumran caves, and the Daemona community of Hebrew Israelites, Africans and African-Americans who had settled in the desert 36 years ago to build the ideal Kingdom. We left my beloved Jerusalem and drove into the desert toward the Dead Sea. It is the lowest point on the globe. Passing by Bedouin settlements, goats, sheep, and dust till we neared a stretch of green where luscious fruit and vegetables are grown.
"The biggest greenhouse built by God," our tour guide, Danny, said. He was full of stories and anecdotes, which he interspersed among all the many facts about his beloved land and people. For example, one joke well illustrates the character of the Israelis:
Three Israeli boys talk together, debating whose father was the most powerful. One says: "Do you know the Eiffel Tower?" "Yes," the other two answer. "Well, my father constructed it." The second one says: "Do you know the Empire State Building?" "Yes," the others answer. "Well, my father paid for it." Then they were wondering about the Israelis question. "Do you know the Dead Sea?" "Yes." "Well, my father killed it." Danny's comment: "Three Israelis, three opinions."
A most wonderful, spirited, warm welcome awaited us at the Daemona community, whose leadership had been in touch with our movement. They all welcomed us "home." It was a good ending to this first historic trip to Israel.
My personal relationship with Jesus, whom I have known since my early childhood, has changed and deepened tremendously, after having seen where he walked and talked, feeling with him at the Sermon Mount, where he was trying to reach all of his Jewish family with a "new" yet ancient truth. I shed many tears during this trip. I felt Jesus' presence with us and with me from the beginning to the end. He was talking to me from his heart. One clear message he gave me: "You must love aggressively, especially your enemies."
Again, all glory and honor go to God and True Parents who have paid for this miracle with tears, sweat, and blood and unending faith and patience. Jesus is now free, once and for all, from at least the one cross that lies buried in the ground at the Potter's Field. He will be freed with every cross that comes down. As the crosses come down, Jesus and True Parents are asking us to carry our own cross and fulfill our personal historical responsibility at this time. One very personal message I received from Jesus was: "If you love me, do as I did, love your enemies aggressively!" By doing so, all religions will come together as one family, and the dream of God and True Parents and our own dream, the substantial Kingdom of Heaven, will become a reality.
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