The open-ended ceasefire in Gaza and Israel provides an opportunity to negotiate an end to the violence, including the blockade of Gaza. The situation was looking very bleak. Civilians in Gaza have been bearing the brunt of it. News from the West Bank is indicating that the situation there is also deteriorating. Most of us probably wouldn’t want to go there.
But Allegany Franciscan Sr. Kathie Uhler is doing just that. She is getting ready to leave for the West Bank in early September to establish a House of Prayer for All People (Cf. Is. 56:7) in Jericho. She wants to create a space for people to come and pray in a non-ideological atmosphere and to build bridges by offering hospitality. “The House of Prayer is not a church or a mosque or synagogue: it is a place made holy by the people who come there,” according to the mission statement.
I asked Kathie why she is going, why she is doing this. Her answer was direct, certain: “I feel called in the deepest part of my being.”
The seeds of the call were planted during 2002-2008 while she served on a Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) in Hebron. The team lived in the Old City near the tomb of Abraham, and Kathie was keenly aware of the conflict surrounding the tomb and also the lack of a Christian presence there. During those years, Kathie visited the monastery of the Sisters of Bethlehem of France near Beit Jamal to refresh and recharge herself. There she discovered a room dedicated to “the three religions of the book”: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. She calls the room “symbolic and prophetic” of the sisters’ ministry of prayer.
The call became a dream. Along the way, others began asking Kathie what she was going to do about her dream. Step-by-step she turned the dream into reality. She consulted others, formed an executive committee and an advisory board, visited the West Bank and began recruiting core group members who will form the community at the House of Prayer. A generous woman has provided the house. Kathie will be the first to go, and core group member Paul Rehm, who was also on the Hebron CPT, will be joining her in a month or two. They will get acquainted with their neighbors and create a safe, peaceful space for anyone to come to pray for peace and reconciliation.
Kathie firmly believes that religion has to be brought into the peacemaking equation. “Why can’t we meet together where God is?” she asks.
When asked where she finds hope in the current situation, Kathie responds “in prayer and in the indigenous peace groups” comprised of Palestinians and Israelis across the West Bank and in Israel. It is through these that peace will eventually come, she believes.
The significance of the location of the House of Prayer for All People in Jericho is not lost on her. Kathie hopes . . . and prays . . . that “the walls of fear and discord will come tumbling down.”
[Jan Cebula, OSF, is U.S. liaison for Global Sisters Report, based in Kansas City, Mo.]
Editor’s note: Global Sisters Report will provide periodic updates from the House of Prayer for All People.