War and the pity of war
This was Benjamin Britten’s analysis of his iconic War Requiem. A day after my return from the Holy Land, it was fitting to witness an emotionally- charged performance of this great work at London’s Royal Festival Hall. As the final chords of Let Us Sleep Now turned from discord to sublime harmony, I felt that it somehow mirrored my week in Palestine and Israel, which had started with the threat of rockets from Gaza, followed by a heavy response from the Israelis. My Catholic parish pilgrimage, augmented by three delightful ladies from Singapore and a contingent from the Emerald Isle had set off on Monday morning minus five pilgrims who had been pressurised by their families not to go. I took the final decision that the pilgrimage could go ahead, and so 36 of us set off by air. The Israeli air traffic controllers directed our airbus through a narrow corridor to avoid one of the Persian-made long range rockets, so the pilot told us. But we landed safely and there followed a memorable week, in Bethlehem, Jerusalem and the Galilee. Thank you for coming said the Palestinian and Israeli Arab Christians we met. Even the blonde Israeli female security officer who questioned me about our group when we were departing thanked us for coming, and asked me how I was so polite when most Israelis were not!! Our Catholic guide, Louis, from Bethlehem even served some of our Masses, the most memorable of which was an open- air Mass in the Garden of Gethsemane. Nothing in the Holy Land is black and white, and local Christians are threatened as much by Islamist aggression as by Israeli pigheadedness over confiscating Palestinian tax revenues. So the threat of war and the pity of war still hovers over the region like the Sword of Damocles. But we have to show resolve and keep visiting and praying that we can avert Armageddon.