By Janice Lane Palko
A little over a year ago, I was in the Holy Land touring its historic and religious sites. After returning home, many were curious about the trip and asked me lots of questions.
I repeatedly emphasized to anyone who inquired that if they ever get the chance to go to Israel, do so. You will be forever changed.
Historically, you can almost trace humanity’s existence over the millennia there.
For those who are Christians, it roots your faith in a tangible setting. Geographically, everything was right where the Bible said it was. Americans tend to believe that we are at the center of the universe, but to see believers from every corner of the world, of various races and ethnicities in all types of garb, all there for the same reason, put into perspective the universality of Christ’s message and God’s presence in the world.
After having been on the tour, I now know what the flowers look like on Mt. Tabor, how rocky the terrain is, how brightly the sun shines there. I can still feel the silky dried salt on my skin from the Dead Sea and the heat of the dessert on my neck at Qum Ran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. I not only looked back to the past there, but I also looked toward the future, as we gazed out over the beautiful Jezreel Valley, where the battle of Armageddon is prophesied to take place at the end of the age.
I told someone that to me Jerusalem is the earth’s belly button. It seems as if the umbilical cord from heaven terminates there on earth and connects us to that which is not of this world.
One of the other questions I was frequently asked was, How safe were you there? And I repeatedly told people that never once did I feel unsafe. In fact, as I was getting on the elevator on our last night in Jerusalem, another group of Americans got on with me, and one of them asked me if I’d been to the Western Wall that day. I said yes. He replied, “You know they shot and killed someone there this morning?” Surprised, I told them we were there in the afternoon. Apparently, some man had come to the Wall and was acting strangely. When security questioned him, he attacked the soldiers patrolling the area with a knife and he was shot. “Wow,” I said. “You never know what’s going to happen.” “Well,” another American said, “Last night was Halloween back home, and in Chicago 14 people were shot. No one pays attention to that.”
Well, since the October 7 attacks on Israel by Hamas, everyone is paying attention now and no one feels safe. After having been to Israel, I feel extremely sad about the violence happening there and wonder how our Catholic tour guide is faring, and all the Israelis we met, as well as the little Palestinian kids who waved to us on our tour bus as they stripped olives from the trees in their back yards. The violence all seems so unreal and unnecessary.
One of the first places we visited on the tour was Bethlehem. And next to the Shepherds’ Field is a church called the Chapel of the Angels. Like many churches there, it was designed by architect Antonio Barluzzi, and it is situated near the remains of a 4th-century church that was originally on the site where the heavenly host brought their “good tidings of great joy” to the shepherd’s minding their flocks.
Inside the church, that was designed to look like a field tent much like the shepherds would use, are murals depicting the scenes of the angels coming to the shepherds to announce the birth of the Savior. Around the dome is the inscription: Gloria Excelsis Deo, et in Terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.
These were the words of the angelic host and translates from the Latin to say: Gloria to God in the Highest and in Earth peace to men of Good Will.
There are some who say that it should be translated as Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.
There is a difference between the two translations. In the first, the peace extended to Earth is only experienced by those with good will in their hearts and the latter extends peace to all.
No matter how you translate it, Israel and the rest of us on earth could really use some peace this Christmas season.