Bethlehem: prayer at the wall

By EA Diarmuid

If you are driving to Jerusalem from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem’s Manger square, you must pass through Checkpoint 300. This is a military checkpoint, on the separation barrier that divides Israel from the West Bank. If you are passing through at around 18:00 on a Friday, and if you have time while queuing, take a quick glance to your right. There, along the Palestinian side of the wall, you will notice a group of people walking slowly up and down. The group varies in size but every Friday since the eight-metre separation barrier was completed it has met for half-an hour to pray for peace.

prayer wall 1

Palestinians Christians and others walking the wall prayer. Photo: EAPPI/Diarmuid

Nonviolent sign

Eight-five per cent of the wall is on Palestinian land; in 2014 its route was deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice. The wall prayer is an act of hope that someday peace will prevail between two peoples who once lived peacefully together.

The ritual was begun by an Italian priest during Lent 2004. Sister Lucia of the Franciscan Elizabethan Sisters of Padua was present from the beginning. “The idea of the wall prayer came from an Italian priest. He said, well, it can be really nice instead of praying the rosary in your own home you can go out – this would be a sign, a nonviolent sign, that the Virgin Mary will help us and support us – and overcome injustice”.

The despair of the situation is brought home when Sister Lucia explains that “The Palestinians were building the wall to keep food on the table. But what must they think when they go home? They were building the wall in their own country.”

prayer wall 5

Internationals join Palestinian Christians on the wall prayer. EAPPI/EA Diarmuid

Act of peace and solidarity

So the wall prayer began as an act of peace and solidarity with what the sisters saw in front of them each day. This attracted much publicity and interest from the international press. At first, the soldiers viewed the gathering as another civic protest. But Sister Lucia explains that the aim is not to protest or even to meditate on the rosary. It is to “pray to our Mother for peace in our hearts and in the world – and that one day the wall will go away”. The wall prayer is a peace prayer, with “no other aim than that – it does not have to make much publicity”.

The wall prayer finishes with the group standing below an icon of the Virgin Mary, painted on the wall in gold. Below it is a painting of the Mount of Olives. These are Christian symbols of suffering.

prayer wall 2The icon of the Virgin Mary on the separation barrier. Photo: EAPPI/Diarmuid

Special prayer

There is a special prayer, written under the icon, which was composed in 2012 by an Italian priest. This prayer, known in Italy as ‘Preghiera a Nostra Signora che fa crollare i muri’ (a Prayer to our Lady who brings down the walls), is recited at the wall on special occasions.

Sister Lucia concluded by saying that the weekly wall prayer “reminds us of our mission … We will continue to pray by the wall every Friday until peace has come to the divided land of Israel and Palestine”.

Take action box 2

Send this blog to your local church leader, or other faith leader, and ask them to read it. You can find out more about Checkpoint 300 here.