Last week, Palestinian boy scouts clad in khaki uniforms, red neckerchiefs and red-and-white shoulder tassels traced Jesus' footsteps from nearly two millennia ago on the Sunday before his crucifixion.
The minority Arab Christian group was taking part in an annual Palm Sunday procession down the Mount of Olives and into the Old City through the Lion's Gate. Thousands of fellow Christians joinined in, including Chadwick, the BYU professor, and roughly 80 of his students studying in Jerusalem.
For Chadwick, the event was a big deal because it illustrates the continued interest Christians from all over the world have in the Holy Land. Indeed, large groups from Canada, Korea, the Philippines and Mexico all participated.
While some rites like the Palm Sunday tradition won't die as long as there are Christians in the Holy Land, the political stability of the Middle East is another matter entirely. Change is most definitely in the air: an autocratic Egyptian president of nearly 20 years recently resigned under heavy pressure from a tidal wave of persistent protests, a Libyan dictator in power for over 40 years is under attack by American-aided rebels, Iran's development of nuclear weapons marches forward, and Syria and Bahrain are mired in political turmoil.
What does a geopolitical sea change signify for Christians in the Holy Land? As long as lethal violence doesn't permeate Israeli borders, it doesn't mean much. Israel's political stability — and, by extension, a religiously tolerant Holy Land — could vanish tomorrow. But today, the Middle East's only functioning democracy and the region's most powerful army stabilize and sustain Israel.
So for now, the status quo in Israel continues and three major religions find ways to coexist despite inescapable differences and the accompanying palpable tensions.
"The great secret over here," Chadwick mused, "is that every day eight million people get up and manage to make it through the day with each other, mostly cooperating and not harming each other. That's the story that never does seem to get told in the media."
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