[ by Charles Cameron — and the two Muslim families who guard the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christianity ]
As President Trump visits France for Bastille Day, a Foreign Policy headline reads Bastille Day Is a Military Holiday Out of Donald Trump’s Fantasies — and the sub-head “France and America are seeking rapprochement at an annual pageant that’s always been less about liberty, equality, and solidarity than tanks, drones, and guns.”
The key to an earthly hell:
A fitting symbol of Franco-American amity on Bastille Day, July 14 (Quatorze Juillet) then, would be the key to the Bastille (upper panel above), presented by the Marquis de Lafayette to George Washington in 1790, and now at Mount Vernon.
Think on it:
The so-called civilized world today is horrified by scenes of heads lopped off by angry Muslims, forgetting the savagery of its own blood-soaked forbears. France’s messy and incomplete march toward Liberty, Equality and Fraternity also needed heads — that of King Louis XVI to start, and then of anonymous thousands collected in baskets like so many fallen apples, the fruit of modern, mechanized decapitation. The picture of France desecrating churches, massacring priests and monarchist sympathizers, producing civil war, terror, chaos and confusion were indelible events stamped for decades into Europe’s collective memory, incubated in a devil’s broth of war, fear, hunger, hatred, sabotage, fantastic hopes and wild idealism.
John Kiser, Commander of the Faithful
The Keys to the Kingdom:
By way of contrast with the physical keys of the Bastille, I have set the spiritual “Keys of the Kingdom” (lower panel, above), which Christ passed to Peter and the Church:
And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
These keys, commanding heaven — unlike the key to the Bastille — are nowadays being turned to peaceable ends. This is from Pope Francis‘ message for the 50th World Day of Peace, December 2016, titled Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace:
At the beginning of this New Year, I offer heartfelt wishes of peace to the world’s peoples and nations, to heads of state and government, and to religious, civic and community leaders. I wish peace to every man, woman and child, and I pray that the image and likeness of God in each person will enable us to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity. Especially in situations of conflict, let us respect this, our “deepest dignity”, and make active nonviolence our way of life.
This is the fiftieth Message for the World Day of Peace. In the first, Blessed Pope Paul VI addressed all peoples, not simply Catholics, with utter clarity. “Peace is the only true direction of human progress – and not the tensions caused by ambitious nationalisms, nor conquests by violence, nor repressions which serve as mainstay for a false civil order”. He warned of “the danger of believing that international controversies cannot be resolved by the ways of reason, that is, by negotiations founded on law, justice, and equity, but only by means of deterrent and murderous forces.” Instead, citing the encyclical Pacem in Terris of his predecessor Saint John XXIII, he extolled “the sense and love of peace founded upon truth, justice, freedom and love”. In the intervening fifty years, these words have lost none of their significance or urgency.
On this occasion, I would like to reflect on nonviolence as a style of politics for peace. I ask God to help all of us to cultivate nonviolence in our most personal thoughts and values. May charity and nonviolence govern how we treat each other as individuals, within society and in international life. When victims of violence are able to resist the temptation to retaliate, they become the most credible promotors of nonviolent peacemaking. In the most local and ordinary situations and in the international order, may nonviolence become the hallmark of our decisions, our relationships and our actions, and indeed of political life in all its forms.
I note here that the eminently public figure of Francis, successor of Peter as Bishop of Rome focuses first on the most private and intimate form of peace — the peace-making mind of the human individual:
I ask God to help all of us to cultivate nonviolence in our most personal thoughts and values.
The key to the Holy Sepulchre:
In the spirit of peace, it is notable that two Muslim families have for centuries been the custodians of the keys to Christianity’s greatest shrine, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre:
Two Muslim families entrusted with care of holy Christian site for centuries
Adeeb Joudeh holds the keys to Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
This task fell to Joudeh’s ancestors as a way of maintaining a neutral guardian of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, since the church is split between multiple Christian denominations, including Armenian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Franciscans, and more. He learned the obligations and responsibilities of guarding the key from his father, just as he will pass it on to his son.
“What we pass to the next generations is not only the key, but also the way you respect other religions.”
This agreement between Joudeh’s Muslim ancestors and the Christians has helped build cooperation between the religions, Joudeh says.
“For me, the source of coexistence for Islamic and Christian religions is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and that was when Umar ibn Khattab took the keys of Jerusalem from Patriarch Sophronius and gave security and safety to Christians in the region. We coexist and pass peace and love, which is the real Islamic religion.” He references history from 1,400 years ago, when Umar ibn Khattab, a Muslim, made an agreement with Sophronius, a Christian, to grant the Christians right of free worship in Jerusalem. To Joudeh, this history is still alive today, and it is his obligation to carry it on.Joudeh does not carry this obligation alone. Although he is in charge of protecting and holding the key, another Muslim family is in charge of opening the door and allowing the faithful to enter the church. That responsibility now falls to Wajeeh Nuseibeh.
When Nuseibeh arrives at the church early in the morning, he takes the key from Joudeh, and climbs a small wooden ladder to unlock the top lock. Then he steps off the ladder to unlock the lower lock. He swings the church doors ajar, and the church is open to visitors. The entire process is repeated each evening, when the church is locked.
The two Muslim families have shared this responsibility for centuries, protecting the holy site and keeping it open to the Christian faithful. It is a model of coexistence in a city filled with tension, leading the way in interfaith cooperation, as it has been for hundreds of years.
And How Muslims Hold the Key to Christ:
If doors are emblems of ownership, keys are symbols of custodianship. “Since 1187 till today, we hold the keys,” Joudeh says. “My whole family stands with me at this door. This is home, my second home.” [ .. ]
The two Muslim families got to keep the keys and the door because of quarrels within the Church. “Like brothers, we sometimes fight,” confesses the Very Reverend Father Samuel Aghoyan, Armenian Superior of the Holy Sepulchre. “The Churches wouldn’t go along with each other, so the key was taken away from the dominant Church and entrusted to a neutral monotheistic faith that embraces the Christ as a prophet – Islam.”
This is Christianity’s most sacred site, where Jesus was believed to have been resurrected – for many pilgrims, their most important destination. The belief is that the Church was erected on the Golgotha, the place of the crucifixion, and on the grotto where he was interred.
Happy Bastille Day!