The day after Bertrand returned from Cotonou with the girls, the monks from the monastery where Bertrand attends services called to remind us that we were baptizing Grace on Pentecost.
We hadn’t yet found godparents, we hadn’t made any plans for a reception. Hell, we didn’t even have a dress for Grace to wear. The brothers, however, were firm. Grace would be baptized on Pentecost, and the monastery would host a small reception afterwards for our family and their parishioners.
Friends were supposed to fly into town that weekend, I was supposed to be dropping them off in Amman the day of the baptism, and dear Lord, how was it that we didn’t know any Catholics in Jerusalem who could serve as godparents?
Somehow, everything managed to work out. Our friends (sadly, but thankfully) canceled. Bertrand’s cousin, Fleur, flew in from France to be Grace’s godmother. George, a former coworker, agreed to be Grace’s godfather. And the reception was absolutely beautiful.
After meeting at our house, we caravanned to the monastery with Fleur, George, George’s girlfriend Fadia, and the girls. When we arrived, the monks ushered us to their receiving room, where George gave Grace a beautiful bracelet.
Grace didn’t care about the bracelet, but she thought the box was great!
As the hour of the service approached, we made our way outside, so that the baptism could begin.
The mass and baptism were absolutely beautiful. When it was time to actually baptize Grace, we made our way down into the monastery’s crypt. For centuries, pilgrims and the church thought that this underground spring was Erasmus—where Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus. Other locations are now more in favor; however, baptizing our daughter using water from a two-thousand-year-old spring was just … amazing.
In the picture above, you can see the pitchers and basin that held the water for Grace’s baptism. Grace was bitterly disappointed about having cold water poured over her head.
Bertrand and I desperately tried to calm her down afterwards, to little avail. Finally, we whispered to her, “Bravo, Grace, bravo. You are so brave! Bravo!” There’s nothing Grace likes better than a “Bravo” and a chance to clap her hands and applaud herself. The priest smiled, and he too said, “Brave, Grace!” And the entire congregation burst into applause, I think both with joy for her baptism, and also in community with the difficulties of managing an unhappy 18-month-old. It was an incredibly sweet moment.
After the ceremony itself, we all filed upstairs to finish the service and take communion. Thank goodness that Fadia was with us to help with Jasmine, as I tried to navigate the steep stairs, hold onto Grace’s baptismal candle, and not drop anything (including the child). There were a million small details that Fadia jumped in to help with, and I was so grateful that George brought her with us!
Then we all filed outside for a few moments of community before continuing onto the reception.
We were surprised and gratified at how many members of the francophone parish community came to celebrate Grace’s welcome into the kingdom of God.
The monastery is absolutely stunning outside, and late spring is a perfect time for an outdoor reception in Jerusalem.
We ate fantastic food and drank delicious French and Israeli wines al fresco. The joke of the reception was that we were American-Beninese parents baptizing our Catholic daughter in a French monastery dating from the Crusades in an Arab village in Israel. There were Christians, Jews, and Muslims in attendance, and that too was a reminder of why I continue to be hopeful for this part of the world. Quite a story for Grace to tell her grandchildren, I think.
But even more than the incredible coincidences that, I think, are more common that you’d expect in my line of work, was the fact that Grace’s baptism was one of the first times either of us have felt really part of a community here in Jerusalem. It was quite a shock to be reminded of the fellowship and peace that can be found in communal worship, something quite separate from anyone’s actual religious beliefs.
Welcome to the kingdom of God indeed, Grace!