Just like every year, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem was filled with adults. But that day, the children from the Kingdom of Peace allowed them to come close to the ancient relics for which so many of their grown-up ancestors had senselessly spilled blood.
The rules are strict. We come in barefoot, like the participants in the Children’s Crusade in the 13th century, who under the leadership of the inspired young prophet Nicholas of Cologne, reached Jerusalem, and – changing the course of the history of the Near East – founded the Kingdom of Peace there. In addition to our shoes, we must also discard all attributes of adulthood: suits, ties, jackets, chains of pearls, fox stoles, document folders. No make-up; no mobile phones.
We hold hands. We hold hands like the children did when waiting for ships near Marseilles, in Brindisi and Ancona, in the ports of Sicily and on Sardinia. The dumbfounded warriors didn’t dare to touch them. Barefoot, ragged children, holding hands. Without weapons, without armour. The Saracens could have murdered all of them, but they didn’t. They couldn’t. And then came a sandstorm that no army would have survived, and through which the little ones, their hands linked, passed without a scratch. Maybe it’s a legend, but repeating this gesture is to be for us, contemporary adults, a symbol of faith in human brotherhood.
Entering the mentality of a child turns out to be difficult for many of us. So we use tricks that are meant to help us. If we raise our voice, it’s only from joy. We’re not allowed to look down on anybody. The money we earned as grown-ups, we spend according to the example of children. We stuff our pockets with toys, pendants, sweets. We stand in chaotic lines to buy cotton candy. We put on temporary tattoos. We don fancy hats, and release balloons into the air. Some people breathe in helium and sing joyful songs with high, cartoonish voices; recite counting rhymes from schoolyard playtime. Finally, at the foot of the Mount, we join together in a concert. Tin drums, penny whistles, cymbals and triangles ring out. We make sounds without rhyme or reason. Joy and madness. Despite appearances, this wasn’t easy for every adult. Some of us had big problems with this freedom and lack of care.
At the end of the day, we left the Kingdom, and once again it belonged only to the children.
Who are they?
They come from all over the world. There are so many interested in visiting that places are assigned by lottery. Each child spends a week there in the company of other children from all parts of the world. Instead of smartphones, they look at the starry night sky, like ages ago. Each child comes only once. Then they return to their home countries and share their contemplations with others. The world reacts in different ways. There’s no lack of those who believe that the lottery is rigged, and that “all children are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
And only the historians – often seen by the children themselves as sad and boring – still write long screeds describing gloomy visions of a world where the Children’s Crusade failed. According to such accounts, the Pope at the time, Innocent III, and his successor would continue the bloody path of evangelism and domination without seeking a compromise. The devotees of various religions would fight for Jerusalem and other ‘holy cities’ for centuries. Blood would flow in rivers. And children would be treated like smaller, insignificant, worse people. Nobody would believe in their accusations against adults – parents, clergy or teachers – abusing their authority. Sometimes some child would gain fame writing letters to world leaders in defence of clean air or dying tigers. But more often children would be workers, soldiers, prostitutes.
“How good that the Children’s Crusade managed to reach the Near East. And how lucky it ran into that sandstorm,” wrote 19th-century historian Hans Christian Andersen. It’s hard to disagree!
Translated by Nathaniel Espino