Jerusalem, Holy Land   27 August 2015


“We want to protect our enclosure”: Aid to the Church in Need helps Carmelite nuns on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem   By Oliver Maksan

“Welcome to our new reception room,” Sister Agathe offers a warm greeting. The nun is the economist of the convent of the Carmelite Cloistered Sisters on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Just recently, renovations were done on the once haphazardly arranged entrance area to the convent. Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) helped the sisters realise this project. A new reception room was also added, as was a covered access area. Everything is clean and bright. “The renovations help us to receive guests better while at the same time protecting our enclosure,” the young French woman said. “After all, we usually do not leave the convent. However, many people come to us. We are deeply grateful to the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need that we are now able to receive them better. We can thank them best through our prayers.”

The Carmelite convent, which was erected on the Mount of Olives in the 19th century, is the oldest in the Holy Land. The convent is located on the premises of the Church of the Pater Noster. Numerous pilgrims visit the sanctuary every day to worship at the site where Jesus is thought to have taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer. The walls are covered with elaborate panels featuring the text of the prayer in numerous languages. “Our Lord Jesus Christ prayed here on the Mount of Olives. This carries our prayers,” Sister Agathe explains. “We live according to the spirituality of the great St. Teresa.She valued contemplation of the Most Holy Humanity of Christ. Here in the Holy Land, but especially here in Jerusalem, it is easy to imagine it. Christ was happy here, but also suffered and ultimately died on the cross.”

The convent is situated in the Arab and predominantly Muslim eastern part of Jerusalem. “Time and again, it moves me deeply to think about just how sacred Jerusalem is to the beliefs of so many. We can hear the muezzin’s call to prayer here, but also the sounds of the bar mitzvah celebrations of the Jews. How dearly we wish that justice and peace would reign.” The nuns get along well with the Muslims in the neighbourhood. “In France, we nuns are looked at strangely when we go out into the streets in our habits. It is different here. We are respected. When a fellow nun from Lebanon died, Muslim neighbours even brought flowers,” Sister Agathe reports. However, despite the high walls surrounding the convent, the reality of the Holy Land, which is often defined by violence and hatred, has also left its mark on the nuns. “Time after time, tensions soar between the Israelis and Palestinians here in this area. Then, the stones start flying directly in front of our door.This of course affects us deeply. After all, we love Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Through our prayers, we want to serve peace in the Holy Land.”

However, the nuns not only pray for the Holy Land. “We are here at the very heart of the church. Therefore, we pray for the major concernsof the church and the pope.” The concerns of the pilgrims, however, are also not short-changed. “Visitors from all over the world leave small notes with their intentions in the grotto in which Christ prayed together with the apostles. We make note of these. Then, once a month, a priest celebrates a Mass for them,” Sister Agathe says.

Contemplation dictates the life of the nuns. “Our day is strictly regimented. Times of shared prayer alternate with times in which each nun carries out her responsibilities.” This includes receiving guests, but alsoornamental embroidery, the artistic drying of flowers, making marmalades and other delicacies, but also the work that must be done in the household. Sixteen nuns from all over the world live in the convent. “That is a good number. We primarily attract international candidates. However, we would like to have more nuns from the region,” the nun says. “We hope that the canonisation of our fellow nun Mariam Baouardy from Palestine, which took place in May, will draw renewed attention to us in the Holy Land.”

Oliver Maksan.