by Fr Patrick McInerney
As I walked the cobblestone streets of old Jerusalem where Jesus once walked, the shopkeepers called out to me, “Where do you come from?”
When I answered, “Australia”, they urged me to buy their wares. I learned to deflect their enticements by asking in turn, “Where do you come from?” Most answered, “From here”, “From
Jerusalem?”, “Yes!” or “Mabruk!” (“You are blessed!”)
In the Muslim quarter the answer was often, “From Palestine”. This proud national sentiment was also a political statement, leading to conversations about land, identity and occupation.
One day when I asked, “Where do you come from?”, a shopkeeper replied, “From my mother!” I laughed. This reply was so startling that I started using it too, to the puzzlement and amusement of others also, leading to different conversations about identity, nationality and politics.
As I reflected on this seemingly humorous answer, I realised it is profound. Each one of us is born of our mother. There is no exception, not even Jesus! If we recognised our common humanity first, rather than our national, ethnic or religious identity, then we would know that the other is our brother and sister and mother; then we would truly realise that we are all children of the one Father in heaven and would celebrate our national, ethnic and religious
differences — not as dividing us from one another, but as enriching our shared humanity.
Among all the wonderful goods and souvenirs for sale in the Jerusalem markets, thronged by Jews, Christians and Muslims and tourists and pilgrims of every nation, this realisation was
the most precious gift of all, and it costs nothing other than letting go of the narrow stereotypes that limit our appreciation and opening of ourselves to the riches that we are to each other.
Perhaps the new question then becomes, “Where are you going?”
Fr Patrick McInerney of Australia is the director of the Columban Mission Institute and has other senior Columban roles.