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Case #1021

God Lives Between Two Front Lines


 The Benedictine Abbey of Hagia Maria Sion stands on the line dividing East from West Jerusalem. It is home to the prayers and labors of the Middle East's smallest peace movement.

"Seek peace and pursue it," Saint Benedict wrote in his rules for monastic life. In Israel, his followers seek and pursue peace under somewhat disadvantageous circumstances. Hagia Maria Sion Abbey, where Abbot Benedikt and his 16 monks devote their lives to the glory of God, is nestled under the Jerusalem city walls. Here, on the dividing line, Palestine and Israel grate against each other like tectonic plates. When the tension is released, the earth shakes.

A clash of civilizations – and in between, the Benedictines. They wish only to work and pray. For 100 years they have been residents of Mount Zion. How do you find inner peace when outside suicide bombers and army bulldozers are spreading anxiety and fear? How is devout contemplation in times of escalation supposed to work?


(1) The actions in Important Point (1) below. 

(2) The Al-Nadwa Center in Bethlehem trains Palestinian craftsmen, schools journalists, and advises artists on how to market their works. The abbot contributes advice, contacts, and subsidies. This is to help the idea that the (Palestinian) country can offerpeople a living and food on the table. Whoever is earning money isn't throwing stones – or worse – or at least that's the hope.

 (3) In the halting machinery of the peace movement, the Benedictines' work represents at most a small cog. But their aura of weakness has allowed them some achievements, says Abbot Benedikt. "As the smallest religious community, we arouse no suspicions in the general power struggle. Both sides accept us as a conversational partner." 

(4) The abbey has established a foundation that grants the biannual Mount Zion Award to deserving peace activists on both sides. 

(5) "Jerusalem is regarded by three world religions as a spiritual center. That makes it a good place to build spiritual bridges," asserts Abbot Benedikt. He meets regularly with a rabbi and a mullah. The three sit down on the floor and meditate together. Each speaks in his own language with the one God for whom mankind has found so many names.

(6) The abbey is working on plans to create a Peace Academy within the secure walls of their building. It would be structured with conversation as antidote, in an hour of lead when anyone who communicates with the other side is not in danger of denunciation as a traitor. A site for the construction of the peace academy stands ready. The search for sponsors is underway.

(7) Additionally, the abbey is bringing together two young activist men - an Israeli and a Palestinian – for talking peace with small groups.  (They are fascinated by the abbey's strategic location between West and East Jerusalem.) The first meeting is to take place after the end of Ramadan, behind friendly walls, in a safe place with reliable hosts. "In a hundred years, we'll still be here," says the abbot.

IMPORTANT POINTS: Faithful to their motto "ora et labora" – pray and work! – the monks get involved in helping find solutions to their neighbors' bloody conflict. They tend not to worry about politics, focusing instead on those whom politics ought to be helping. Every summer they invite handicapped children to their facility on the Sea of Galilee. In the salty thermal baths, little Israelis and Palestinians can splash together in harmony. The monks regularly collect foodstuffs, clothing, and medicine and distribute them in the occupied territories to villages that the ceaseless border closings have cut off from normal deliveries. And they support peace activists on both sides, not only with spiritual assent, but also with cash.
Location: Jerusalem
Action: Building, Education/P.R., Political
Setting: Developed World, Third World, Urban
Extent of Action: Local
Issues: Human Rights, Peace/Conflict Resolution
Outcome in progress
Source: Peace-Counts Website (www.aja-online.org/en/peace-counts)


Peace-Counts Website (www.aja-online.org/en/peace-counts)
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