Independent Catholic News are carrying the story "Turkish government allows Christian worship in birthplace of St Paul" by Dan Bergin. The old haunts of St Paul are one journey/pilgrimage I am yet to make, but perhaps one day. This story got me to thinking about the places in the world which mean so much to people who want to be able to pray and worship and yet are denied. Sometimes, perhaps, we take for granted the places where we can celebrate the liturgy together.
For my 'first' Mass I was very blessed to be able to celebrate with friends in the chapel at Oscott. This meant an awful lot to me. Countless holy men and women have graced that chapel and countless prayers and celebrations of the Mass have sanctified the place. Truly, to sit in the chapel, one just knows that it is a holy place. Yes, of course when the blessed Sacrament is reserved it is clearly a holy place, yes it has been consecrated as a chapel but beyond this there is the trace of the supernatural there. In it's literal sense of something beyond the natural world is present here. There is, if you like, a trace of all that has gone before, and with the Grace of God all that is yet to come. In this space there is the making of the saints and you can feel it rub against your skin as you sit and wonder at the place.
When I think of where St Paul was born, it is no wonder that people should want to worship there. There, too, is the place involved in the making of a saint. Last summer, in the Holy Land, I was lucky to visit the acknowledged site of the ascension of Our Lord. It is a tiny rock within a tiny shrine next to a mosque and owned and run by Muslims, as I recall. We were able to visit and yet I never, for a moment, thought how privileged I was to go there. It has nothing of the majesty of Holy Sepulchre or Church of the Nativity or countless other holy sites. It could so easily just be closed down and not open to access for anyone to offer up a prayer.
Maybe, this weekend, as I go up to Newcastle for an ordination, I will think how lucky I am to be able to freely go and celebrate with my friends. Perhaps I will give thanks to God that through his grace and abundance he has given us the example of both the guys to be ordained and the places where we are able to gather and celebrate. Most surely, I will give thanks for those who have gone before us and marked the way that we may follow.
Perhaps we can all take a moment and pray for those outstanding examples of Christians within Muslim countries who relentlessly pray for the simple pleasures which we take for granted and maybe in our prayer we will ask God to intervene in the mess which humanity has created in the holy land. Lord, in your mercy...