On November 21, 2019, Sister Julie Hurtado boarded a plane in Los Angeles, Calif., to begin her journey to Bethlehem, Palestine. She was responding to a call from congregational leadership to ministry at the Presentation mission in Bethlehem. In Our Way of Life (constitutions) it states: “Our participation in the congregational community nurtures a global consciousness and a spirit of solidarity. It alerts us to the Gospel call to mobility for mission (C54).” Julie is there on a visitor’s visa for three months as she continues discernment in further exploring her felt call to this ministry before seeking residency. Her Christmas letter is below.
December 24, 2019
I grew up singing songs at “The Posadas” the 9 days before Christmas reenacting Joseph and Mary’s Journey to find shelter in Bethlehem. It’s a beautiful tradition and never did I think I would be so blessed to be able to sing Campanas de Belén /Bethlehem Bells here.
Belén, campanas de Belén,
Que los ángeles tocan ¿Qué nueva me traéis?
(Bethlehem, bells of Bethlehem that the angels ring.
What news do you bring me?)
other verses…in between….
Campana sobre campana, Y sobre campana, dos,
Asómate a esa ventana, Porque está naciendo Dios.
(Bell after bell, and after bell, two!
Lean out that window, God is being born.)
Here in the midst of many faiths, peace/conflict and the long dark and cold nights, we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, Light of the world, Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Emmanuel – God is with us.
There are some Christmas decorations and the Muslim Call to Prayer five times a day (beginning at 4:30am) that can be heard all throughout the city. In some stores there are English Christmas carols and in others you see men stop and put a mat down kneel and pray, you see Catholics holding their rosary beads and Muslims holding their prayer beads as well. It might seem like a paradox but I have seen the deep faith of the people who struggle in this open prison.
The four of us: Anna from Zimbabwe, Africa, Silvia and Shobha, both from the South India province, and me, a Mexican American, are forming an international community together. One day during our evening prayer Anna placed pita bread (the main bread here) in the center and read a scripture passage of Jesus breaking bread and sharing stories with his friends. Each of us then shared our stories. We concluded our evening prayer with breaking and eating the pita bread with hummus sitting around our electric heater to keep us warm. By our conversations each of us has become more aware of the pain and suffering in each others’ countries and people, yet we feel for some reason God has us here at this time.
The last few weeks have been an amazing experience. There are so many hills, I am slowly getting used to walking up and down. It’s like the hills in San Bruno and San Francisco. Lots of walking! Some times we take the bus or a shared taxi, but mostly we walk. I have met people and, even though we do not speak each other’s language, we make an effort with smiles and hand gestures and no words but we still communicate. Some times when I hear people’s stories and the daily difficulties, it makes me wish there was something more we can do to bring about Christ’s peace, hope and unity. I have seen the three sisters doing that in their ministries to Christians (Catholic and Orthodox), Muslims, elderly, young women, disabled children/their parents, asylum seekers and migrants.
I am slowly learning Arabic. Sometimes it’s difficult because I greet people in Arabic and “good morning and how are you?” Then they start speaking quickly and saying words I do not understand, I wave my hand to stop and say please poquito and in Arabic, šwayy, šwayy—slowly, slowly, I’m just learning. There are some people who speak English but also many who do not. It is so important in order to communicate with others.
Only once a year (Dec. 24) the gate (in the 26 ft. concrete wall separating Palestine and Israel) is opened. It begins the procession of the Latin Patriarch of Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus and there is a parade with many bands all headed to Manger’s Square then on to St Catherine’s (the Catholic Church beside the Church of the Nativity-Greek Orthodox) for a prayer service to begin the masses and celebrations of the birth of Jesus.
Be assured of my prayers for each of you here in Belėn / Bethlehem this night when we celebrate the birth of our Savior. May the Light, Peace and Joy of Christ be yours now and always.
Eid Milad Saeid
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!
Lots of Love and Blessings,