Last night, I went into Antwerp with John and one of the interns, Cammaria. We were to check out a youth hostel for the upcoming Moslem-Christian exchange. Ironically, the hostel is next to a synagogue in the heart of Antwerp’s large Jewish neighbourhood. John approached an Orthodox man on the street and asked if our group might meet with someone from the synagogue (one day in Antwerp is dedicated to a “faith safari;” the city has an extensive religious history). John first mentioned the youth were coming from Israel; however, when he clarified that the youth are from Jaffa and East Jerusalem, the man looked a bit incredulous. He said he would contact us though; hopefully there is an opening for discussion and some civility in the midst of all that’s going on currently in and around Israel. Unfortunately, conflict is a sticky thing that clings to the feet of those who travel. No matter how far one tries to walk away, there seems to always be some vestige of it left. In 1981, in peaceful Antwerp, the Synagogue was hit by a car bomb; I’m sure the wound of that is not forgotten or completely healed. I wonder how the Jewish people living there will react to a group of Palestinians coming into their midst; I wonder what will go through the minds of the Palestinians as they walk through the middle of the Jewish town, surrounded by Orthodox Jews and billboards in Hebrew, to get to our meeting location.
Antwerp is a place where, in the heat of European wars between Catholics and Protestants, icons and people alike were burned for what they stood for. Massive churches and cathedrals stand beside each other in peace now; the conflicts of long ago remembered now only in pub names and the engravings on grey statues. Can we somehow look forward to such a future after our current conflicts? Last night, outside the church pictured above, a man juggled knives. That seems to be the history of God in the hands of man; it’s an impressive feat to put all those blades in the air, but make one slip and the wound can be fatal.