photo 11 - A Harsh and Beautiful Land

Alice in the Holy Land: A harsh and beautiful land


From January 17 until January 27, U.S. Catholic and Catholic Theological Union are cosponsoring a Holy Land pilgrimage that is led by CTU’s eminent scripture scholar and Jerusalem expert, Franciscan Father Leslie Hoppe. U.S. Catholic’s popular scripture columnist Alice Camille is also accompanying the group and leading prayers, reflections, and discussions. She is filing blog posts from the trip. Here is her post from the home of Joachim and Anna:

Pilgrimage is a puzzle, or perhaps a mosaic. You put it together piece by tiny piece, and each fragment may not look like much or reveal anything to the eye. Yet when you step back a bit, you see it: the face, the message, the meaning. This mosaic of a woman’s face from Sepphoris, traditional home of Joachim and Anna, is a haunting reminder of the ghost that is the world of the past. She’s considered one of the most amazing mosaics in a land full of amazing mosaics. But she, like so many ruins of antiquity we’ve seen, is far from whole, ravaged by time and wear.

And the search for wholeness continues in a world where the fragments don’t always add up, don’t seem to make a lovely picture at all. Modern Israel is a case in point for this. In a Jerusalem taxi cab, we were making light banter with the Arab driver. “Such a rich diversity of cultures to share here!” one passenger said enthusiastically.

“If only you could figure out how to share it,” I muttered softly from the back seat. The driver heard me and laughed, holding up a finger.

“Ah yes,” he said, “How to share it.” In this country, you often see great tenderness exchanged between strangers. And also terrible hatred demonstrated between neighbors. Gracious speech and deference abounds here, like so many alms of hospitality offered to us pilgrims. You really do want to hug your bus driver sometimes, because the manner of courtesy here is so charming compared with our businesslike American way. But out of the corner of your eye you can alway see the chipped and broken fragments of our humanity not far off: the soldiers, the guns, the razor wire, the wall of separation, the angry ideologies. No gracious welcome in a shopkeeper’s doorway can obscure this reality.

So we keep learning, listening, seeking answers.

To read more of Alice’s blog posts from the Holy Land, click here.

Images: Photos by Alice Camille

About the author

Alice Camille

Alice Camille is the author of Working Toward Sainthood (Twenty-Third Publications) and other titles available at