A pilgrim from Palestine on losing hope and being at WYD
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They have grown up in the lands where Jesus grew up. The sites of his birth, his miracles, his passion, his resurrection, have hometown familiarity for them. And yet, says Daoud (David) Kassabry, an Arab Christian and a De La Salle religious brother, “we are all extremely tired. … It is true that we live in the native land of Jesus Christ … yet it is also true that we need events like the WYD to rejuvenate our faith.”
Aleteia’s Konrad Sawicki spoke with Brother Kassabry about his WYD experience:
Sawicki: How is it that a group from Palestine made it to the WYD in Poland? How did you go about it?
Brother Kassabry: When we learned that the World Youth Day would be held in Poland, we decided to gather a group of young people from our schools and chaplaincies, first of all to discover and experience first-hand the faith of Poles. We have come here to strengthen ourselves with your faith.
How big is your group?
Brother Kassabry: As the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, we joined the pilgrimage organised by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. There are 180 of us altogether. We are Palestinian Christians from numerous parishes scattered across the Holy Land.
How long did you prepare for the WYD?
Brother Kassabry: We had a total of eight months of weekly meetings in our schools and chaplaincies. This was a rather intense agenda, then. The logistics of the preparations are pretty simple, yet the spiritual preparations are taxing and time-consuming. We need to bear in mind that our personal conversion and inner transformation, which will allow us to get to know Jesus better, are the overriding objectives of these efforts and of the entire pilgrimage to Poland.
It is true that we live in the native land of Jesus Christ, for instance in Bethlehem, his birthplace, and Jerusalem, the place of His Passion and Resurrection, yet it is also true that we need events like the WYD to rejuvenate our faith.
In other words, you have a purely religious perspective on this visit?
Brother Kassabry: Not only. There is one more reason for our visit to Poland. Due to the complex political situation of the Palestinian Authority and of the Arab Christians who live there, we are all extremely tired. There is no good way out of our problems; we have not been able to find a solution for so many years. We simply do not have hope for a better life. Therefore our stay at the World Youth Day gives us a chance to re-discover hope and the joy of life. Moreover, we want to obtain this from you, Poles.
What is your perception of Poles after the few days you have spent in our country? How have you been received as Arab Christians?
Brother Kassabry: We have been greeted with exceptional hospitality. First, we really like Poland; it is a beautiful country. At the beginning we spent two days in Toruń and the residents of the city welcomed us with open hearts, open homes and last but not least, open kitchens, which was actually a lot to our liking. For us, who are faced with enmity and suspicion literally on a daily basis in our homeland, this was a touching experience. People treat us as if we have been longstanding friends.
What are your first impressions in religious terms?
Brother Kassabry: The first thing that I actually found shocking was the presence of the military in church. We have rather unfavourable associations with troops, but in Toruń we saw them enter the church in uniforms, bear a huge cross and pray in large numbers. It is truly amazing that the army is on friendly terms with the Church. For us this was a great testament to unity in your country. We are missing this in Palestine.
The second thing that surprised me was the large numbers of young people in church. This is really amazing. The third, possibly the most important surprise, was connected with the people of faith. When we talk in Poland about the faith and about Jesus, it turns out that you know and understand a lot, much more than we do, even though we come from the land of Jesus Christ.
From our perspective it is really amazing that you can say: “We come from the land of Jesus.”
Brother Kassabry: This is true. My family has lived there for ages. I will venture to say even that not only do we come from the land of Jesus, but experience there the situation of Jesus. The Holy Family, as we know, experienced many trials and tribulations, were persecuted as we would say today, and then had to flee; Jesus Himself was a refugee out of His homeland.
As Arab Christians in Palestine we have our problems, too. Even if we want to travel between parishes, we need to apply to the State of Israel for passes. The same is true about our trips to Jerusalem. A few members of our community were prevented from coming to Warsaw as they were refused entry passes to Tel Aviv. This is our daily reality. As Jesus suffered, we suffer, too. As Jesus proclaimed a message of peace, we proclaim it too.
How big is your Christian community in Palestine?
Brother Kassabry: It is about 100,000 people strong. But we are scattered across the country and, naturally, we are in the minority. However, there is a village of Taybeh (At-Tajjiba), the only all-Christian one in the entire Palestinian Authority.
Your situation is pretty complicated. You live among Arab Muslims, the prevalent majority in Palestine, and the Jewish citizens of the State of Israel.
Brother Kassabry: It is true. I must say that we do not fully belong to either of the communities. We are Arabs, Palestinians, but also Christians. Until very recently we had not experienced major problems with living peacefully among the Muslims. Unfortunately, the process of radicalisation of Islam has reached Palestine, too. We are not persecuted directly, yet sense something unsettling in the way we are perceived, talked about and treated and in the way others comment on what is going on in the world. For example, TV does not condemn persecutions of Christians in the Middle East or the fact that thousands of Iraqi or Syrian Christians have had to leave their homelands. There are no people around who would show support to suffering Christians. We begin to really fear for our future.
To sum up, we are Palestinians and Arabs yet due to our Christianity, the Palestinians do not really consider us as true Palestinians. We are Christians, so our faith is strongly linked with Judaism, but the Jews are not friendly to us since we are Arabs and Palestinians. This is what it looks like.
We are talking about strained relations with Israel. Does it impact the way you feel in Poland, a country which was in the past a homeland to millions of Jews and which became, not of its own accord, an area where the Jewish nation was exterminated?
Brother Kassabry: I deeply regret what happened to the Jews. No one should ever experience such suffering. However, I would like us and them to draw conclusions from this tragedy. Enough war, enough violence, enough suffering! We need peace. We need to live in peace with our Jewish and Muslim neighbours. After all, God made us brothers and we are all the sons of Abraham. Why do we tend to forget about this?
Lastly, I want to ask you about Pope Francis, whom we will meet in a few days in Kraków. What is the perception of the pope among the Palestinian Christians?
Brother Kassabry: He seems to be the hope of the Church, a new light for the Church and a star that shines for people. We are all favourably touched by his simplicity of conduct. Francis is a man capable of a clear and direct handling of the essence of any problem; he can also set a given problem within a context. We are very much in need of such testimony and teaching today.
I believe that the vision of the Church he represents is precisely the one Jesus wanted. We breathe with the real Church with him. This is the Church we crave for. The pope conveys a truly evangelical message with his life, simplicity and openness to others, as well as with his care of the poor and the afflicted.
Do you have any personal expectations of the meeting with the pope in Kraków, Brother?
Brother Kassabry: I do. First of all I expect a conversion. This is my first and foremost personal aim. I want to learn Francis’ simplicity, a life in simplicity. Besides, I would like to experience a sense of unity, of being part of a single human family based on love, irrespective of the differences between us.
What will you bring back to Palestine from Poland, Brother?
Brother Kassabry: Apart from the above spiritual matters, I want to take with me two seeds of projects which will hopefully bear fruit in the future. One of them is the intention to enter into a permanent partnership with a Polish Catholic school. The other project is an idea to regularly organise periodic, 10-day trips to Poland for our teachers, students and alumni. This is because I have seen a living faith here.
Brother Daoud (David) Kassabry is a member of the Catholic Brothers of the Christian Schools (Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, the Lasallian Brothers), who run four schools and a Christian university in the Holy Land.