Holy Land 2017
Day 11, May 11, 2017
Our day began at 5:30 when we walked together into old Jerusalem to follow the Way of the Cross. Remember, yesterday, we walked the route of Palm Sunday and left off at the dungeon where Jesus was arrested, imprisoned, and scourged. The first station is the place where Jesus was then brought before the Roman governor and accused of rebelling against the government. From there we made our way through each station taking turns carrying the cross (Pic 1). This picture is Julius carrying the cross. When I took my turn, I felt the weight of the cross and the burdens of the world on my shoulder. The last five stations are all within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. (Pic 2) Once inside, we knelt and touched the rock of Calvary where Jesus hung on the cross (Pic 3).
After breakfast, we headed to Emmaus about 18 kilometers from Jerusalem. It was on the road to Emmaus that some of the disciples ran into Jesus. Cleopas, who was with them, invited Jesus to dine at his home. Sometimes the places where we honor the memory of Jesus are approximate estimates of where the event may have happened. But when the site is located under or near a Byzantine church from the period three to four hundred years after the time of Christ, the likelihood of this being the actual location is far greater. So it is with this site depicted by this icon of Jesus dining there (Pic 4). We celebrated Mass here with Julius presiding (Pic 5). `Neither of us will ever again here this Gospel reading and feel the same way about it. According to the Gospel reading, once those who saw Jesus in Emmaus had experienced the risen Christ, they felt some urgency to go back to Jerusalem and share the good news. That is how I’m feeling as I prepare to return home: wanting to share this experience with everyone back home.
Nearby the remains of this church were first-century tombs. The Jewish custom at that time was to carve out a few niches to bury the bodies (Pic 6) and then roll a stone over the outer opening (Pic 7). After a couple of years when the body has decayed, the bones are removed and placed in a box for burial. Then the tombs are reused.
As we bid farewell to our pilgrim community and prepared to leave St. Georges, Julius led me to read the sign at the entrance to one of the chapel’s inside the cathedral here:
“Pray not for Arab or Jew, for Palestinian or Israeli. Pray rather for ourselves that we might not divide them in our prayers but keep them both together in our hearts.” (Based on a prayer of a Palestinian Christian)”
How fitting to leave with this prayer as we bring an end to our Journey through the Holy Land. Know that our cause to bring renewed life to the Catholic Church and our remembrance of all our loved ones have been carried with us throughout each step along the way.
Day10, May 10, 2017
Today we are in Jerusalem walking the route of the Palm Sunday procession. Across the street from the Jewish cemetery is the Church of Gethsemane (Pic 1) which means olive branch. This church is built at the base of the Mount of Olives where Jesus spent his final days on earth. Mass was being said while we visited the Church (Pic 2) and the altar is built on (or near) the rock where Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Pic 3). Our guide reminded us that it was Peter, James, and John who were with Jesus at the time of his transfiguration when they saw him in his divine state. Now these same three are with him at Gethsemane and see him in his human state. Jesus is in agony as he faces what is in store for him and saddened further by these three closest to him unable to stay awake and pray even one hour with him.
We next visited the Church of Beth-Phage, which means house (Pic 4) and is where Jesus set off for Palm Sunday. Riding on a donkey, he is greeted with Palms by a celebratory crowd. Here is Jerusalem, Palm Sunday is celebrated in a big way.
We followed this as we arrived at the church of Dominus Flevit, which means the Lord wept (Pic 5). It was from here that Jesus looked out over Jerusalem and predicted the destruction of the city and the destruction of the temple, symbolizing, of course, his own destruction (Pic 6).
Finally, the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, which refers to the cock crowing (Pic 7), is a three-story church with the top floor being the contemporary church. The story below dates back to the Byzantine era (4th century when Queen Helena, Constantine’s mother, built so many churches). On this middle floor, the side wall shows Jesus predicting that Peter will deny him three times before the cock crows. Icons above the altar depict St Peter’s denial, his repentant weeping, and his reconciliation with his Master on the shore of the Sea of Galilee after the Resurrection. From this floor, there is a glass visual through the floor where we could look down to see the dungeon below where Jesus was imprisoned (Pic 8). It is highly likely that this is the exact prison (Pic 9) because of it being found below a 4th century Church and its proximity to the palace of Caiaphas. It is also likely that this was the same dungeon that Peter and John were held and scourged for preaching about Jesus in the temple. This lowest story, the dungeon or sacred pit (Pic 10) is where our group read the Gospel and prayed (Pic 11). Outside the church, there are the sacred steps (Pic 12) that Jesus would have taken to come up and go down from this area.
In the afternoon, Julius and I walked on our own to a Lutheran church in Jerusalem. Quietly in a corner of the church, we lit candles and renewed our wedding vows to each other (Pic 13).
Day 9, May 9, 2017
Some of us arose and headed to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at 5:30 so we could beat the crowds. We entered by the anointing table, stopped to pray, and have many items blessed (Pic 1). I placed my wedding ring on the table to have it blessed. From there we went to the place where Jesus was buried (Pic 2).
A Mass was being celebrated inside the tomb area (kind of like the vestibule area). This area was barricaded off for a small private party. I managed to slip through and discreetly join the group. It was a Roman Catholic Mass so I fit right in and joined in the responses. It was exhilarating to celebrate Mass and receive communion in the area just outside the tomb (Pic 3) and then to bend down and climb into the tomb (Pic 4). I prayed there in the place where Jesus was buried and ultimately rose again (Pic 5) for our movement to bring new life to our church and to open the minds and hearts of those resistant to change. I prayed for family and friends and for all who are struggling with conflicts throughout the world. As we’ve had the opportunity to explore various first-century underground caves/homes, we learned that when we hear about the stone of Jesus’ tomb being rolled back, it wasn’t large. Two people could easily roll it back. This is exemplified by a stone we saw under the covenant back in Nazareth (Pic 6).
After breakfast, our first stop of the day in Bethlehem was Shepherds’ field, the place where the angel appeared to the shepherds and guided them to follow the star to the place where the newborn king lay (Pic 7). With no crowds around, our guide directed us down to some underground caves (Pic 8) to help us understand what the “manger” and the “stable” were really like. In first-century homes, the people lived in part of the cave-like house and the animals in another part of the house. The animal portion was the stable. There wasn’t an “inn” as we visualize it. Joseph, who had first lived in Bethlehem, before going to Nazareth most likely to find work, had some familiarity with the town. He found Mary the most suitable place available to give birth to Jesus. The crib was most likely a watering trough for feeding the animals much like we saw back under the convent in Nazareth (Pic 9). We all gathered in the cave where Julius was asked to say a prayer. As the light shown down on him, it felt like a Pentecostal moment.
On the way to the Church of the Nativity, built over the actual place (or close to it) where Jesus was born, we stopped at the separation wall (Pic 11). This is the wall that Israelis have built to protect themselves from Palestinians (Pic 12). One place on the wall says: “built by the U.S.” I wonder if we’d be giving all this money if we could see the “fruit” of our contribution.
The wall is about 3 to 4 stories tall with barbed wire on top and completely imprisons Palestinians inside the wall (Pic 13). In order to go about their daily lives, Palestinians have to go through checkpoints just to live in their own country. I can’t imagine living this way. The media has not given us a real picture of the situation that exists in this country. A one-state solution, a two-state solution? Personally, I don’t see any solution in light of what I see happening here. But in spite of this, we read from Ephesians 2: 11 – 22. “For Christ is our peace, he who has made the two peoples one, destroying in his own flesh the wall – the hatred – which separated us.”
Day 8, May 8, 2017
Driving through the West Bank, we arrived at St. George’s Church in Burgin, one of the oldest churches in the world (Pic 1). It is where the ten lepers were cured and only one came back to say thank you according to Luke: 17:11- 19. The oldest part of the church dates back to the 4th century and was built to include the cisterns where lepers were housed and later where Christians hid during the time of the persecution (Pic 2).
We arrived in Nablus, the site of Jacob’s well. Our group gathered around the well and read the Gospel reading of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well John: 4:1-26 (pic 3). The building of this Greek Orthodox church was begun in 1980 and overseen by Fr. Justin, a man of very short stature with a long white beard typical of the Greek orthodox priests. (Pic 4) He endured 16 stabbings from a Jewish fanatic (every religion has their own extremists) during the years of building the church. It was finally completed in 1995 (Pic 5).
We stopped for a delicious lunch in Taybeh, a town that Jesus passed through on his way to Jerusalem. We also visited the Taybeh Brewery owned and operated by an American Palestinian family. What they have to go through to survive here! As Palestinians, they are not allowed to leave the country from Tel Aviv. They have to go to Jordan – a huge inconvenience. They get 20% of the water of what Israelis are allowed, which makes it extremely challenging for their brewery business. If their trucks take beer into Israel, as Palestinians, they have to go through multiple check points whereas Israelis coming into Palestine are able to come through freely. In Nazareth, Jews and Palestinians live reasonably well together. But Jerusalem has its own set of problems. Even if the sacred sites in Jerusalem were made an independent district, much like Washington, D.C., with a two-state solution, so many people would be uprooted since many Israelis live in Palestine and many Palestinians live in Israel. And a one-state solution will never work unless every citizen – Palestinians and Israelis – is given equal rights. The Israelis have all the power and I have never seen a group with power willingly give it up. (This is the same problem we’re having with getting the laity to have a voice in the Church. The hierarchical bishops and cardinals don’t want to give up their power.) There will continue to be trouble in this part of the world as long as illegal occupation of the West Bank by the Jewish people continues. After hearing so many stories here, as much of a mediator as I consider myself to be, I see no resolution. Prayers may be the only answer.
Day 7, May 7, 2017
We began today with Sunday Mass at Christ Church in Nazareth. We are living between the Roman Catholic Church, about a block to the north of us, and the Episcopal Church, about a half a block to the south. How symbolic as I live my church life with one foot in each camp. The more I join Julius in the Episcopal liturgies, the more I pray that one day, Roman Catholicism can be where they are. The Episcopal Church isn’t perfect but it is a long way ahead of the Roman Catholic Church overall: all are welcomed to the Eucharist; everyone, clergy and laity, has a decisive voice in the governance of the church; women can be ordained to ministry; gays are openly welcomed (at least in the U.S.). This morning, I had yet a new experience in the Episcopal liturgy. The regular congregation is Arabic. With 29 of us Americans added to the congregation, the priest combined languages. So we prayed and sang in two languages simultaneously – Arabic and English. To an outsider, it may have sounded like we were speaking in tongues. It didn’t sound like babble though. The sounds were congruent and brought me to an even greater realization that, as we recited the Nicene Creed or the Our Father, we are all One Body in Christ. (Pic 1)
This afternoon, we headed out to explore the rather recent excavations going on at Zippori National Park. (Pic 2). What is being uncovered are beautiful 4th-century mosaics (Pic 3). While this area is never mentioned in the bible, it is assumed that Jesus must have come here and, before his public life began, had the opportunity to learn other languages here in the larger city of Sepphoris. The temple is construction going back to the 1st century evidenced by Roman stone making up the foundation (Pic 4)
I had a provocative conversation with one of the other pilgrims this morning. He is an engineer and likes to be told, as he put it, “the nuts and bolts of things.” He’d like to know this is the exact spot where Jesus hung on the cross or that is the very tomb where Jesus was buried. And that is not what we’re receiving on this journey. I’ve had time to reflect on this and realize that, as a pilgrim, I have different expectations than I would as a tourist. There is historical fact, oral tradition, and historical speculation. I mentioned that we are staying in a convent here in Nazareth. This evening we were given a special, very private tour of what is underneath the convent. No tourist would ever be taken here. As we crawled through the ancient rock setting, what I witnessed with my own eyes was a first century home evidenced by the type of stones and confirmed by archeologists (Pic 5). Historical fact is that about 200 to 300 people lived in Nazareth at the time of Christ.
Oral tradition has identified Mary’s home as a young girl growing up about a block to the south of the convent – the Basilica of the Annunciation that I mentioned earlier (Pic 6). Speculation is that, with only a couple of hundred people living in this town at the time of Christ, everyone knew everyone and visited one another. This home in which we stood underneath the convent could well have been the home of the Holy Family. Or if not their home, a home visited by them. It is also historical fact that family members were buried not far from their home. We saw two tombs close by the house (Pic 7) We speculated: might Joseph have been buried there? Bodies were left in a tomb, history reports, for a time. Then the bones removed and another body buried in the same place. I can’t even begin to describe the awesome feeling to be standing there – not surrounded by crowds of people – just a handful of us.