The Words of the Pople Family

Following the Steps of Heroes of Faith

Joy Pople
April 6, 2004
UPF International

The land of patriarchs, prophets and kings tugs at the souls of Jews, Christians and Muslims. God led Abraham to this place, and from here Abraham's family spread out, carrying the message of one God. For thousands of years, his physical and spiritual heirs have returned as pilgrims to connect with these holy places and rekindle their faith. Following the steps of such heroes of faith, the Universal Peace Federation's World Peace Pilgrimages give people a chance to connect with the roots of the world's great faiths and seek within them the resources for building peace.

Participants in these peace missions and fact-finding tours include people of seasoned faith, young people curious about their heritage, politicians who have dealt with conflict their entire careers, and skeptical journalists. They are old, young and in between. They are black, white, brown, red, yellow and in between. They come from the North, East, South, West, and in between.

Sites with resonance for Jews, Muslims, and Christians are often close together. On each trip, participants visit the key holy sites of the Abrahamic faiths and pray there together. The most striking examples are the Western Wall, a remnant from the ancient Jewish Temple, just below the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque, the third most holy site in Islam. Here Judaism and Islam seem inextricably intertwined yet tragically separated.

It is almost impossible to go very far in Jerusalem without coming across a synagogue, church, or mosque with some historical significance. The Upper Room, with its simple hall with its stone arches, welcomes everyone and draws the focus inward and upward. On a clear day, the vast Judean desert is visible from the Mount of Olives, east of the walls of Old Jerusalem. In this area is the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations, built by Christians from all over the world. Since early Christian times, pilgrims have traced the stone steps of the Via Dolorosa, Jesus' suffering journey to the cross, ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Although Jesus prayed for unity among his followers, six Christian traditions have divided up the space in that shrine. As tour guides describe the sites and their history over the centuries, visitors struggle to digest the information and understand the hearts of people whose historical framework spans thousands of years.

A short bus ride to Bethlehem in the West Bank, a few miles south of Jerusalem, leads to the cave where it is believed that Jesus was born. At the Church of the Nativity, the entrance was made narrow and low in order to deter invaders, so pilgrims bend down in humility to enter it. A silver star with a hole in the middle marks the traditional birth site.

Trips to the Galilee offer insight into Jesus' life and times. From Jerusalem, the road descends east, past the ruins of Jericho, and north along the Jordan River. For many Christians, to be baptized, in the waters of the Jordan River, like Jesus, is the fulfillment of the dream of a lifetime. Boats offer rides in the Sea of Galilee. In the towns where Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of Heaven, people connect to his heart and mission. In Capernaum are the stone foundations and walls of a synagogue dating back nearly two millennia. Nearby sites include Magdala, the home of Mary Magdalene, the Mount of Beatitudes, and a shrine commemorating the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes. The city of Nazareth, Jesus' boyhood home, is the hub of the largest Arab community in Israel, and the Church of the Annunciation commemorates the angel's appearance to Mary. The landscape seems timeless, as shepherds tend their flocks on the hillsides, near vineyards and olive groves.

A visit to Haifa and a Druze village in northwest Israel is another day trip. The Druze trace their heritage to Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, and they have lived alongside Jews, Christians and Muslims for millennia, sometimes serving as mediators when relationships become strained. Sheik Ali Birani exemplifies this tradition and opens his spacious home overlooking the Mediterranean Sea from Mt. Carmel, where Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal, to the peace tours and fact-finding trips. He and his friends share their experiences and their music with international visitors, while members of his extended family graciously serve an abundant meal to 40 or more guests at a time.

The peace missions and fact-finding tours include visits to sites of special interest to Muslims, in particular, Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock. Visits to the Western Wall, David's Tomb and Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum are of special interest to Jews. All participants in the peace missions and fact-finding tours visits such sites together, offering what for many is their first opportunity to experience jointly the spiritual practices of all three Abrahamic religions.

For a map of sites visited, click here.,35.279846andspn=1.631615,1.807251andz=9 

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