Memories of 1948 took to the streets of Montreal on Sunday the 14th and Monday the 15th of May. What happened in 1948? The joyous birth of the State of Israel... and the deplorable deportation of Palestinians. Four hundred eighty villages were razed to the ground, and 750,000 people were deported. In Arabic, the word Nakba is used to refer to this catastrophe. Aside from the comparison with the Great Upheaval of 1755 in Acadia, there are many associations linking our people with those of Palestine and Israel.  

Politically speaking, the United Nations – Canada included - have adopted a two-state solution. The State of Israel is well established, whereas in many respects the Palestinian Authority is unstable. As settlements persist in their erosion of territory originally designated for the State of Palestine, there continues a voluminous ebb and flow of citizens of these countries, what with migration, pilgrimages and long sojourns abroad. 

The Church has a two-thousand-year relationship with this part of the world that we call “The Holy Land," and with its inhabitants as well. This is, after all, where Jesus was born, and where He lived, died and rose again! The Church has been a presence here since its birth. Today, whether Orthodox, Eastern or Latin rite Catholic, Reformed or Evangelical, Christians can trace their long and complex history, in all its darkness and splendour, to this place! Pope Francis, along with so many others, made a pilgrimage here from May 24 to 26 in 2014. Last week, he received a visit from the director of the UNRWA, a United Nations agency working in a state capacity in matters of health and education on behalf of Palestinian refugees, and endowed with very limited means. 

Many cultures have learned to live side by side here in Montreal... and some of them have even been surprised to experience a thaw in their relations, as well! Here, for example, Jewish and Palestinian families can encounter each other on common ground: at school, for instance, or in their local neighbourhoods. 

PAJU (Palestinian and Jewish Unity) was the brainchild of two teachers, Bruce Katz and the late Rezeq Faraj. With a supportive group, PAJU for many years held weekly vigils downtown demanding justice for Palestinians. Lorraine Guay and Michel Chartrand, both since deceased, mobilized the community and union sectors. There is widespread goodwill towards Palestine in those circles, as well as in the Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine and the Solidarity Center, among other groups. 

The Franciscans, who are well established in Montreal, are still responsible for the Custody of the Holy Land. A Franciscan who studied in Montreal, David Grenier, is a member and has been living in the Holy Land for many years. Blessed Frederic Janssoone (1838-1916), known as Good Father Frederic, initiated the fundraising campaigns in Canada for the holy sites. The commissariats in each country collect funds every year during the Good Friday collection, as well as throughout the rest of the year: 

Churches of the Orthodox and Eastern rites, today well established in Montreal, are also present in the Holy Land: Melkites, Armenians, Maronite, etc. 

The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land invites the Coordination of Episcopal Conferences to a pilgrimage each January. In 2016, Canadian bishops took part and issued a statement: "You are not forgotten."

Several churches, along with PAJU, are involved in the BDS movement: boycott, divest, sanction, seeking to apply pressure to the State of Israel. The Catholic Church is not involved because its members on the ground would undoubtedly suffer consequences. The BDS movement is active in Quebec and recently challenged the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec regarding one of its investments. 

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem has a strong presence in Montreal. This association of Catholic faithful, recognized by the Holy See, works to support the Christian community in the Holy Land, now Israeli territory, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus. 

The Church of Montreal has two delegates to the Christian Jewish Dialogue of Montreal. This organization arranges several meetings each year in the spirit of respect, mutual listening and sharing knowledge. 

Aid to the Church in Need is active in the Holy Land, as the Church there is confronted with "adversities," in the words of Church heads in Jerusalem, that affect the lives of the faithful in these tumultuous times. 

A recently deceased priest from our diocese, Robert Assaly, worked in the Holy Land with his family. He was active with the Canadian Friends of Sabeel. This organization has chosen active non-violence as the approach towards lasting peace.  

CNEWA provides resources and relief. The Caritas network, to which Development and Peace belongs, is also present, and it works on behalf of everyone, without regard to the individual’s religion. 

Lastly, the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem, located on the Plateau Mont-Royal, maintain a spiritual link with Jerusalem. The following is an excerpt from one of their founding documents, with which everyone can identify: 

"Be vigilant to keep in your heart a true concern for communion with all the sons of Abraham, Jews and Muslims, who are like you worshippers of the one God and for whom Jerusalem is equally a holy City. Do not be afraid to pray all through your life that there may one day be only one flock and one shepherd. And may the great passion of Christ be also the passion of your monastic life! For you He consecrates himself so that you too may be consecrated in truth. Only the union of the children of God will tell the world of the Mystery of the true God. 

“Jerusalem—built as a city 

  that is bound firmly together. 

To it the tribes go up, 

    the tribes of the Lord” (Ps 122) 

Believers are never so united as when, in their hearts, they are worshippers of the same God; when they recognize themselves as brothers because they see themselves as children of the same Father. Keep constantly in your heart the cry of Jesus' last prayer in the middle of the Holy City: "Let all be one" (The Jerusalem Community Rule of Life, § 174). 

Human brotherhood, and that of the family of Abraham, is an inspiring horizon for humanity, whether we are here or in Palestine or in Israel! 


Louise Royer