When I was going to Hebrew University in the West Bank, my fellow priests and sisters of the Pontifical Biblical Institute would take the bus, scared to death.
They frequently returned with shards of glass in their hair and on their clothes, while I, meanwhile, calmly walked to school and back like I always did as a kid in Minnesota. Here are some streets of my route there which you can google in google maps: I would go along Othman Ben Afan Street, cut across Ibn Tulun Street, go up El-Muqdasi Street, and then climb up to Binyamin Mazar Street.
On the way back, I would climb through a window of the classroom, jump over the wall, head precipitously down Zurim Valley National Park, cutting across to the North-East corner of the Old City, making my way back through the winding streets any way I could.
These were all the neighborhoods they were desperately trying to avoid, and were precisely the neighborhoods in which I felt most at home. While that might seem odd for someone who is Jewish to say, it is nevertheless true. But don’t draw further conclusions without further premises!
Of course, everyone thought I was a total idiot, and perhaps I was, but with a purpose. The dialogue of a smile and a wave, although a greeting which is most basic, is very far reaching. It makes things possible. It makes peace a possibility. Sometimes one might like to kill someone just for being such a total idiot, as it is annoying, not within the normal categories of hatred, but it is disarming. And while I know that some might think this is just a bit too cute (I’ll have plenty of academic stuff for them in the future), it is, I repeat, absolutely necessary because disarming. Two examples (leaving a much more serious, nearly deadly third example for another time):
(1) While walking up the steep El-Muqdasi Street, a small stone skidded past me, then another, and a third, just small pebbles. I turned around, a smile on my face, waving in greeting at the terribly sad scene I saw. There were two small boys, perhaps six and eight years old, teaching their little sister, perhaps only four, to throw stones at the likes of myself. I think she even waved back at me. I turned and continued up the hill, only to be hit in the back with the tiniest pebble ever, so light that it hit my shirt and slid off, without it even bringing my loose fitting shirt to touch my back. I turned around and waved in a most friendly manner again, befuddling them altogether. That was the end of that, but I think my friendliness made a lasting impression. Yes, that is also dialogue. Being available for dialogue is important. It you treat people like terrorists (Let’s take the bus and be safe!), then terrorists is what you will get. Treat people with kindness, and that is what you will get.
(2) While walking up from Silwan below the Temple Mount, steeply walking up Wadi Hilwah Street (which provides no escape), a teen aged boy suddenly appeared up on the cliff of the turn with rocks in hand, with his arm back, menacingly ready to stone me. I was a sitting duck, and would surely end up even severely injured if not worse. What did I do? I waved at him with a big smile and then put my hands to my side, palms to the front, showing that I had no rocks, no guns, no bad intentions. I took two steps forward. He raised his arm again, rock at the ready. I waved again with a big smile and showed my empty hands again, and took another two steps forward. This little dance went on for a little while and he eventually let me pass with no injury. So, what was the result of that, you ask? It was, for him, surely, an intense lesson in discernment, in making distinctions, in choosing to do the right thing when one would be a hero for doing the wrong thing, unforgettable and a lesson to be remembered for the rest of his life, that is, if it lasted longer than a couple of hours (My terrorist convert friend (suicide) or just another few years (The Terrorist: Couldn’t I have done more?).
THE UPSHOT: I must say that, to my surprise, I was greeted throughout the environs of the old city of Jerusalem by name. And I was from the Pontifical Biblical Institute. They knew that. Is that not important? I think it is. In both of these examples of “dialogue”, there was no mention of the doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity. But I don’t think that that was a lack. I think that a step by step approach is a good thing. Even such young people at the ready to be violent can realize that they can use reason and analogy and conscience, and recognize that there is such a thing as the natural law and justice and just plain goodness and kindness. That’s quite a bit, all in one short lesson. Is that a terribly evil lesson because of the lack of mention of the Most Holy Trinity? Many seem to think so. Pope Francis is doing the world a favor in starting out slowly. But, as my two examples demonstrate, much ground, very much, can be covered in this way. This is the way of respect, of love, of mercy. See: Pope Francis verses insincere interreligious dialogue.