Account of My Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

 

Monday

 

We arrived at Ben Gurion airport at about 5:00 p.m. in wind and rain, very tired.  We traveled by bus to Jaffa/Joppa and had our first Holy Mass of the pilgrimage at the Church of St. Peter.  Here the Apostle received the vision by which the Lord declared all foods clean, and he was sent to Caesarea to baptize Cornelius.  We could hear the wind whipping in from the Mediterranean.

 

 

Tuesday

 

We arose to wind and rain coming in from the sea.  At 9:30 we arrived at Ceasarea Maritima, stunned by how cold and windy it was at the water’s edge.

 

Our Palestinian (ethnically ‘Aramaic’, he said) Catholic guide Raouf led us on a walking tour of the reconstructed theater, originally built by Herod the Great, and the ruins of the palace he built for himself by the sea.  This may be the location where St. Paul was held for two years, pending his transfer to Rome to stand trial as a Roman citizen.

 

In the ruins of the Crusader fortress

 

After a quick visit to Herod’s aqueduct, a little further up the seashore, the bus headed north.  We stopped for falafel sandwiches, then rode to Haifa and Mt. Carmel.  The church would not re-open from mid-day closure for a while, so we visited the Bahai Garden, which offers a splendid panorama of beautiful seaside Haifa.

At the Bahai Garden in Haifa
At the Bahai Garden in Haifa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At. 3:00 we entered the church of Stella Maris for Holy Mass in the choir.  After Mass, we visited the beautiful main church, in which the sanctuary sits above the cave of Elijah.  From Haifa, we backtracked to the “Muhraqa,” site of Elijah’s sacrifice, after which he slew the prophets of Baal in the Qishon Brook down in the Jezreel Valley below.  We listened to 1 Kings 18 with great spiritual unction.  From here we drove across the valley in the setting sun to Tiberias.  Upon arriving at the hotel, one of my brother priests and I further whetted our pagan-slaying spirit by sampling Maccabee beer at the lobby bar.

 

Wednesday

 

Those of us with rooms facing east, upon rising and opening our curtains, discovered with delight that we were looking out at the Sea of Galilee.  Its waters shimmered under an overcast sky.  We boarded the bus at 8:00 a.m.

 

Church of the Miracle at Cana
Church of the Miracle at Cana

We snaked through and out of Tiberias, heading southwest.  Our first stop was the Palestinian hamlet of Cana.  We alighted the bus and walked up a picturesque street, past the church of St. Nathanael, site of the fig tree under which he sat.  (The church was locked.)  We arrived at the church of the Lord’s miracle.  The sun had come out, and the church’s façade was a beautiful Italianate sight.  Excavations below the church (built in the twentieth c.) have discovered an ancient Byzantine foundation and a first-century synagogue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basilica of the Incarnation
Basilica of the Incarnation

Then we drove south to Nazareth, which though a tiny hamlet in the time of Christ, is now a big, bustling, dinghy city.  We strode through countless market stalls, and before we knew it we were inside the Franciscan custody, in the courtyard of the Basilica of the Annunciation, admiring the pontifical doors.  Inside, the lower basilica is dark and oppressively modern, though the grotto chapel (built into a ruined Byzantine apse) and the grotto itself (the floor reads:  Verbum caro hic factus est) are beautiful.

 

 

 

We concelebrated Mass in the grotto chapel.  After Mass, we ascended to the upper church—gaudy, ugly.  We walked 75 yards outside to the Basilica of St. Joseph and visited the cave where our Lord and His foster father worked together.  This little 1917 basilica is splendidly beautiful.

 

Then we traveled by bus to a very expensive kibbutz luncheonette.  Outside the air smelled like a pig farm.  Then we drove to the national archaeological park of Beth Shean.  For a very boring 90 minutes we wandered through the ruins of ancient Scythopolis.  At least it was a beautiful 60-degree sunny afternoon, and the view of the hills in Jordan across the river was wonderful.

 

From there we drove to a Jordan River tourist site, just south of the Sea of Galilee.  The river here is narrow, like a large creek.  We renewed our baptismal vows, and a few of us filled bottles with Jordan River water to take home.

At the Jordan River, just south of the Sea of Galilee
At the Jordan River, just south of the Sea of Galilee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday

 

We arose to see the sun rise over the Sea and departed at 7:45 to travel north by bus to Banyas.  The snow-capped peaks of Mt. Hermon were visible through the clear morning air as we headed up the road.  We passed the sites of our visits of this afternoon as we ascended from lower to upper Galilee along the s-curved road.

 

Raouf lectured us about the Hula Lake (north of the Sea of Galilee), which the Israeli government drained to make farmland.  We were in the northernmost part of Israel now, east of Lebanon.  After driving an hour, we turned east at Kiryat Shemone (“Settlement of the Eight”), and suddenly we were at the ruined site of the city of Caesarea-Philippi.  The headwaters of the Jordan River are here, where the melted snow of Mt. Hermon springs out of a cave long ago dedicated to Pan by the Greeks who came to this place with Alexander the Great.

 

Rushing water, the remnant of pagan shrines, and fauna are in abundance here, but there is no church to commemorate St. Peter’s immortal words:  “You are the Christ.”  We read Matthew 16 together, but the pilgrims’ mood was on the light side.  We got back in the bus and retraced our steps back to Galilee, arriving at the church of St. Peter’s Primacy on the sea (site of John 21) for our 11:00 Holy Mass.  The church encloses the stone near the seashore called the Mensa Christi, where our Lord cooked fish for the Apostles.

 

In the synagogue in Capernaum
In the synagogue in Capernaum

After Mass and a little time for reflection and pictures at the water’s edge, we got back in the bus for the very short ride to Capernaum, the Lord Jesus’ “own city.”  The area under the control of the Franciscans is surrounded by a recent 12-foot stone wall; it is an area much smaller than the first-century city.  An excavation which reveals an octagonal Byzantine church surrounding one room of a first-century house—very likely the room used by our Lord in St. Peter’s family home—is covered by an elevated church with a glass floor, in which one can conveniently say some prayers.  Very nearby are the ruins of a fourth-century synagogue which was built on the foundations of the first-century synagogue frequently by our Lord.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Sea of Galilee with Raouf
On the Sea of Galilee with Raouf

Then we zipped back down the hill to a kibbutz dock, where we boarded a boat for a quick tour of the sea.  The crew played the Star Spangled Banner in our honor and flew the Stars and Stripes.  From the water, we could easily see the places we had visited earlier—Peter’s Primacy, Capernaum, Beatitudes.  After the highly enjoyable and spiritual boatride, we briefly visited a museum at the pier which holds a 2,000-year-old boat, recently pulled out of the mud.

 

 

 

 

 

Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves
Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves

Then we took a quick busride to the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves, arriving moments before the 5:00 closing time.  The church is exquisitely beautiful with a simple Romanesque style.  The altar sits atop the stone on which the Lord set the five loaves as He blessed them.  The surrounding floor is covered with beautiful mosaics.  We had a few moments here for prayer.

 

 

 

 

We returned by bus to Tiberias.  A couple of us strolled through town again, this time stopping for Maccabees at a streetside lunch counter. 

 

Friday

 

The sun rose over haze atop the Sea of Galilee.  Bags packed and left in the hall before breakfast.  We were on our way out of Tiberias before 8:00.

 

Mt. Tabor
Mt. Tabor

It took only a half-hour to reach the bus parking area on Mt. Tabor, in the Bedouin town that rises up the bottom half of the mountain.  We took taxis up the switch-backed road to the summit.  The air was very cool; sun high in the sky by  now.  The haze prevented a truly panoramic vista, but the atmosphere of the summit is majestic nonetheless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The marble basilica is splendid, with a bi-level sanctuary like the church of Stella Maris in Haifa, but here there is a full chapel below, in what could be the ruins of an earlier church.  The altar is on the spot of the Transfiguration.  Here we concelebrated Holy Mass, encased in mosaics of angels in the barrel vault over us, with peacock tracery in the apse window.  The mosaic in the upper apse is also splendid.  In the gifts shop outside, holy cards with this image were to be had in bulk; I bought thirty.

 

We boarded the bus and descended the mountain, bound for a new region.  It was not long until the terrain (and the atmosphere) changed significantly.  We rode along many miles of border fence with Jordan.  Then we passed through a checkpoint into Palestinian West Bank territory.  The lushness disappeared; we had entered the Judean wilderness.  Hardscrabble poverty everywhere.  We arrived at the tel of ancient Jericho, the site of the city destroyed by Joshua bar Nun (as Raouf referred to him)—it was a hill of dry rubble.  Near here, Pope John Paul II said, during his Holy Land pilgrimage in 2000:

 

“In my mind I see Jesus coming to the waters of the River Jordan not far from here to be baptized by John the Baptist (cf. Mt 3:13); I see Jesus passing on his way to the Holy City where he would die and rise again; I see him opening the eyes of the blind man as he passes by (cf. Lk 18:35-43).”

 

After lunch, a couple of the Fathers enjoyed $2 five-minute camel rides in the parking lot.  The Mount of the Lord’s Temptations was visible to our west, a wretched, godforsaken mound of great height.  We did not ascend via the nearby gondolas, but instead boarded the bus, bound for Jerusalem.

 

We headed west through relentless drouth and Palestinian poverty.  We passed through a checkpoint out of the West Bank.  An Israeli soldier guarded the site from a tower with a huge mounted machine gun.

 

We ascended 4,000 feet, and soon the earth was moister, and Jerusalem came into view.  We drove through the center of the city, passing west of the Old City but not entering it.  Then we encountered the reality of the wall that keeps Palestinians out of Jerusalem.  This trip to Bethlehem was a shopping excursion to the over-priced gift supermarket of a Palestinian Christian who asked us to pray for the success of the peace process.

 

The sun was getting ready to set when we finally pulled out of Bethlehem, passed through another checkpoint at which the bus was briefly boarded by two machine-gun toting guards, a young man and a young woman.  Then we made our way back through Jerusalem to the Ambassador Hotel.  The lobby proved to be a convenient place to gather with brother pilgrims and enjoy drafts of Palestinian-brewed Taybeh Golden.

 

 

Saturday

 

The Mosque of the Ascension
The Mosque of the Ascension

We boarded the bus at 8:00 a.m. (after a good night’s sleep—for me, anyway), bound for the nearby Mount of Olives.  We disembarked at the ‘mosque’ of the Ascension, a small Crusader-built structure (except for the walls and roof—the Crusaders built an open stone gazebo) which the Muslims allowed to stand (and bricked up) because they too venerate our Lord’s Ascension.  This small structure is enclosed within a larger walled court.  Against the walls of the court, Christians are permitted to celebrate Holy Mass once a year, on Ascension Thursday.  The mosque is built over the rock from which our Lord ascended into heaven.  The edifice is small; only one group may enter at a time.  An Asian Pentecostal group went in before us and “carried on like Banshees” while inside.

 

 

 

From here we walked a hundred yards to the open-air church of the Pater Noster, with the Our Father in dozens of lingos on the walls.  Did St. Luke’s episode (11:1-4) of our Lord teaching the disciples to pray happen here?  St. Helena built a church here, and under the open-air sanctuary is a grotto full of first- and second-century-B.C. tombs.  This could have been a place of refuge for Christ from the Pharisees and Sadduccees, who would not have entered a cemetery, because it would have made them unclean.

 

We hopped on the bus for a very brief ride to the top of the Palm Sunday route down the Mount of Olives, a very steep downhill into the Kidron/Jehosaphat Valley.  We peeled off the route to the right to enter the Dominus Flevit area, which affords a singular view of the Temple Mount across the valley.  We celebrated Holy Mass in the teardrop-shaped Berlucci church, with the iron-traced apse window offering the Temple Mount view.  After Mass, we continued down the Palm Sunday route, between Jewish cemeteries.  At the bottom of the hill, we turned into the Garden of Gethsemane.  There is a courtyard with olive trees 2,000 years old.

 

Then we visited the Church of All Nations, which has some 18 domes, each donated by a particular Christian country.  Berlucci intentionally kept the church dark to suggest the night of the Lord’s Agony.  The rock on which Christ prayed is immediately in front of the altar, enclosed within an altar rail made to look like the crown of thorns.  We had the opportunity for a nice devout visit here.

 

Exiting the courtyard, we walked 100 feet and then down into a lower court which offers entrances both to the grotto where the Apostles slept (and where Christ was betrayed)—a very small chapel, in which Mass was being celebrated—and the empty tomb of our Lady, a dark Byzantine church deep underground.  An Orthodox priest shooed me out of the tomb enclosure, a smaller version of the tomb enclosure in the basilica of the Holy Sepulcher.

 

On the street above the lower court we hopped on the bus and drove across—and then south down—the Kidron Valley.  We followed the path the Lord took in chains to the church of St. Peter in Gallicantu.  This church was built a decade ago, over the sites in the hill where Caiphas’ house stood, just south of the Temple wall.  There are three levels to visit:  the upper, on the level where the Sanhedrin condemned Christ; the middle, to which our Lord descended by steps towards the dungeon, and where He laid His eyes on St. Peter after the Apostle denied Him three times before the gallicantu; and the level of the dungeon, which includes a pit of solitary confinement, where the Lord was kept for a few hours, and where we read and meditated on Psalm 88.

 

We emerged from the church at the lowest level, and came out on to the hillside at the Holy Steps, the ancient steps from the city down into the valley, which our Lord trod twice on Holy Thursday night.  We ascended the top of the staircase, and made our way to the bus.  We drove south, through the high-rent settlement of Bibi Netanyahou I (as Raouf called him) to a kibbutz hotel for lunch.  From there we headed southwest to En-Karem.

 

The Basilica of the Visitation
The Basilica of the Visitation

Our Lady, with Christ in her womb, traveled here from Nazareth after the Annunciation to visit Elizabeth, Zechariah, and preborn John the Baptist.  There is a beautiful church at the top of a tall hill here in the Judean mountains.  The weather yesterday and today was utterly splendid, and the lazy Saturday afternoon atmosphere in En-Karem (a popular getaway daytrip for Jerusalemites) was delightful.  The church of the Visitation is decorated with refreshing Italianate fresco murals, all honoring the Virgin.

 

 

 

 

 

We re-boarded the bus and re-entered Jerusalem, making for St. Stephen’s/the Lion’s Gate.  We disembarked and entered the Old City for the first time here.  We did not walk far:  We turned in after a few yards to the White Father’s enclosure, which includes the ruins of the Pools of Bethesda and the Church of St. Anne, on the site where the Blessed Mother is said to have been born.

 

Raouf explained how the pool of Bethesda was originally built by the Seleucids in honor of the pagan god Scalipius (god of healing), but the Jews later changed the idea to that of the angel of the Lord causing healing.  We read John 5 together.  Then we went into the beautiful Crusader church.  The acoustics here are perfect, so we sang a Salve and an Ave Maria and had a nice pious visit.

 

At this point the bus was boarding for the drive back to the Ambassador, but a couple of the Fathers and I undertook a walk through the Old City instead.  We met some St. Louis pilgrim brothers as we wended our way through the narrow labyrinthine streets, seeking the Basilica of Holy Sepulcher.  We finally found it, and we toured the buzzing, dark, strange church.  We were shooed away from the Calvary chapel by an Orthodox monk because they were beginning a prayer service:  “Because of reasons pertaining to the status quo, you are not allowed to be in here during the prayers.”  We did not enter the Sepulcher enclosure itself, because it would have required a wait in a long line.  We wandered around the church, discovering various strange, dark chapels.  Then we visited our Lord in the tabernacle in the Latin rite chapel.

 

We emerged just before six to find the sun going down.  We had some trouble deciding what to do and where to go.  We finally exited the Old City through the Jaffa Gate and attempted to walk north to the hotel.  To make a long story short, we got lost and wound up in a Hasidic neighborhood (not far from the hotel, in fact).  We were taken for missionaries by a large group of young Hasidic men on their way home from the synagogue, and they regarded us in a none-too-friendly manner.  Fortunately, another young Hasid was friendly and advised us to take seek out a cab.  We found one, which brought us back to the Ambassador in time for supper.

 

 

Sunday

 

The bus left the hotel at 7:45 and waded into rush hour traffic in West Jerusalem, where the work week was beginning, a la Monday in the States.  Akram fought his way to the Israeli Federal area; we drove past the Knesset building and the h.q.’s of various federal ministries.

 

Then we entered the Israeli Museum.  First we studied the scale-model of ancient Jerusalem, which was enormously illuminating and helpful for visualizing our Lord’s short trips on Holy Thursday and Good Friday.  We also visited the dark ‘Shrine of the Book’, dedicated to the supposedly earth-shattering discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Your scribe found this to be a yawn-o-rama.

 

From here we took the ‘back’ way to Bethlehem, avoiding the main wall checkpoint.  Manger Square is in a rough-and-tumble area, and the Basilica of the Nativity complex is so difficult to feature from the street (and our visit inside so disorienting) that I did not get a clear sense of the lay of the land until studying a guidebook map later.  We entered the Latin Rite church of St. Catharine, built in 1881.  The faithful were gathering in the main nave for 11:00 Mass, so we wound up vesting for our Mass in the large sacristy alongside an effeminate Fransciscan and the most ill-behaved lot of Altar Servers I have ever encountered.

 

Finally we proceeded to the tiny chapel of St. Helen for a beautiful Holy Mass.  After Mass we visited the subterranean grottoes.  First to the caves of St. Jerome:  one where his tomb is (but not his remains, which were moved to Rome, to St. Mary Major) and another cave where he worked on his Scripture translation.  Other cave chapels accessible from St. Catharine’s are dedicated to St. Joseph and the Holy Innocents.  A tunnel connects these caves with the Nativity/Manger cave, but only the Latin Patriarch is allowed to use this tunnel, and only on Christmas Eve.  So we went back up and entered the Basilica of the Nativity in the north apse (the church is triapsidial) through the door that connects the cloister outside the Franciscan church with the main Basilica.

 

Manger Square, Bethlehem
Manger Square, Bethlehem

The Basilica built by Justinian in the sixth c. still stands.  Obviously once splendid, the church is now pathetically shabby.  Pope John Paul II said of this basilica:  “Even the great church built over the Saviour’s birth-place stands like a fortress battered by the strife of the ages.”  We waited our turn to descend into the Nativity/Manger cave; the brothers became somewhat restive during the nearly hour-long wait.  Then, upon arriving at the very site of Christ’s birth, we were rudely rushed out because of an imminent ceremony.  Nonetheless, it was a blessed, if brief, visit.

 

 

 

At this point, we were free to wander the Old City, so we set out to adventure.  First, we spent a half-hour praying in Holy Sepulcher.  Then we headed southeast, and we eventually wended our way to:  first, a Muslim-only entrance to the Temple Mount itself, hard-by the Dome of the Rock (we just peeked in; a Lebanese guard told us we could not enter); second, the Western Wall, where we passed a few moments in recollection under the twilight sky, sensing that our presence was unwanted.  Then we walked north straight out of the Old City and uptown to the Ambassador (not getting lost this time).

 

 

Monday

 

Wake-up call came at 5:00 a.m.  We were on the bus in the dark, headed for Jaffa Gate at 5:45.  Everyone wore cassock and surplice, with prelates of honor in choir cassock and Kinghts in mozzetta.  As we passed through the gate of the Old City, we began to chant the Litany of the Saints.  We entered the Basilica in solemn procession behind the Archbishop, kneeling by twos to reverence the Anointing Stone.

 

Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre
Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre

We vested for our Holy Mass at the Sepulcher.  The sacristy bell rang, the organ sounded, and we were surprised and delighted to discover that the Franciscan monks would be chanting our Mass in Latin.  All the pilgrim priests filed into the Sepulcher enclosure for the canon, most of us in the Chapel of the Angels.  We went into the tomb itself by twos to receive our Lord’s Body and Blood.  After Mass, we had our official pilgrimage photo taken on the steps right outside the Basilica.

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the brothers remained at the church to pray until we reconnoitered for Stations of the Cross; the rest of us piled into the bus to go back to the Ambassador for breakfast.  We met up again, attired for liturgical procession, in the courtyard between the Condemnation and Flagellation chapels, just west of St. Ann’s church, where we had been on Saturday, just north of the Temple Mount.  This is the ancient site of the Antonia Fortress (a.k.a. the Praetorium).  We proceeded to make the Stations in the warm sunshine, hassled a bit by passerby and shop hucksters, but with great spiritual fruit.

 

First Station:  in the Chapel of the Flagellation

Second  Station:  in the Chapel of the Condemnation

Third Station:  In the small Polish chapel along El-Wad Rd., just outside Our Lady of the Spasm

Fourth Station:  In the courtyard in front of Our Lady of the Spasm church

Fifth Station:  In the small streetside Franciscan chapel

Sixth Station:  In St. Veronica’s chapel in the Convent of the Little Sisters of Jesus

Seventh Station:  In the streetside chapel, site of the city wall gate at the time of Christ

Eighth Station:  In the walkway outside the Greek monastery; marked by a cross in the wall

Ninth Station:  Close to the outside of an apse of the Holy Sepulcher Basilica

Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth:  In the chapel of the Stripping of Christ in the Basilica

Thirteenth Station:  At the Anointing Stone

Fourteenth Station:  At the Tomb enclosure

 

The Quad at Bethlehem University
The Quad at Bethlehem University

After concluding the Stations, we emerged from the church to find the photographer with our copies of our group photo.  We walked to the Jaffa Gate and waiting Akram and the bus.  We drove down back down to Bethlehem to visit the University.  The American Christian Brothers who run the University and the Development Director hosted us.  We toured the chapel, Millennium Hall, the campus quads, and then ate a delicious lunch in the hotel school dining room.

 

 

 

We drove from here to the Shepherd’s Field to visit the small but lovely Berlucci church and the grotto underneath.  The quiet peacefulness of this place communicated the magic of the city “where it is always Christmas.”  John Paul II:

“’Here Christ was born of the Virgin Mary’: these words, inscribed over the place where, according to tradition, Jesus was born, are the reason for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. They are the reason for my coming to Bethlehem today. They are the source of the joy, the hope, the goodwill, which, for two millennia, have filled countless human hearts at the very sound of the name “Bethlehem”.

“People everywhere turn to this unique corner of the earth with a hope that transcends all conflicts and difficulties. Bethlehem – where the choir of Angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men” (Lk 2:14) – stands out, in every place and in every age, as the promise of God’s gift of peace. The message of Bethlehem is the Good News of reconciliation among men, of peace at every level of relations between individuals and nations. Bethlehem is a universal crossroads where all peoples can meet to build together a world worthy of our human dignity and destiny.”

 

After some discussion, we took the long, roundabout drive to Bethany (made so long and roundabout by the wall of Sharon I, as Raouf called him).  In Bethany we visited Antonio Barluzzi’s church of St. Lazarus, adorned with beautiful mosaics of the gospel scenes.  Rain began to fall heavily as we emerged from the church, but seven of us chose to have Akram drop us off at the Old City nonetheless.  A couple of us rambled around, happening upon the solemn entrance of the Cardinal Prefect of the Eastern Churches at the Holy Sepulcher—quite an affair.  Then we continued roaming and managed to ramble through each quarter of the Old City until it got dark, we got tired, and we made for a cab.

 

 

Tuesday

 

We were on the bus at 7:45, more or less packed for the trip home, but the hotel graciously let us keep our rooms until this afternoon.  Our first destination was “Mt. Zion”, so called (according to Biblical Archaeologist Fr. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, whose Holy Land guidebook was an invaluable help) by medieval Christians because they misinterpreted a particular prophetic verse.  In Old Testament parlance, ‘Mt. Zion’, ‘Mt. Moriah’, and ‘Temple Mount’ all referred to the same ridge directly west of the Kidron Valley, with the City of David on the lower, southern end of it.  The ‘Mt. Zion’ we arrived at this morning, however, is one ridge west, across the Tyropoeon Valley.  This Mt. Zion is the site of the Upper Room, a structure built by Crusaders on the site where the Essene residence where our Lord solemnized the Last Supper was formerly located.  The church was changed into a mosque, which is how it is currently decorated.  Now the edifice is controlled by Israel, and no Masses or any other religious ceremonies are permitted here.  The Upper Room is above what is called the Tomb of David, which, according to Fr. Murphy-O’Connor, it is not.  This seems to be the site of a Jewish seminary.

 

Mt. Zion is also the site of the Dormition Abbey, a truly glorious octagonal stone church built by Germans in 1903.  In the crypt there is a beautiful statue of our Lady falling asleep at the end of her life.  Apparently, Jerusalem is where she breathed her last; she had returned home from Ephesus.  We had a brief, prayerful visit here.  Immediately adjoining the Upper Room structure is a small Franciscan church, to which we repaired for our final Holy Mass together.  We meditated on the many graces of the pilgrimage at the very site where the Lord inaugurated our sacred priesthood.

 

Next we took a short busride to the Jaffa Gate, from which we walked a block to the Latin Patriarchate.  We were led to a handsome audience hall.  As things turned out, we were received not by the Patriarch himself (busy meeting with the Cardinal Prefect who had arrived the previous day) but by an auxiliary bishop.  His Excellency spoke edifyingly and at great length.  Our leader Archbishop Burke finally had to cut him off, so that we could continue on our way.

 

We emerged from the hall and made a brief visit to the lovely Gothic pro-Cathedral (Holy Sepulcher is the cathedral), where we renewed our consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  We ambled out the New Gate to board the bus.  We circumnavigated the Old City yet again, making our way to the Tyropoeon Valley, down to the excavations of the Pool of Siloam.  We stopped here briefly to read part of John 9 and meditate on the light of Christ while a mosque prayer-call blared over a nearby loudspeaker.

 

Back on the bus for a quick ride up to the southwest corner of the Temple Mount, where modern archaeologists have made thorough excavations and built a little museum.  We saw the ruined market street, the pavement of which had been broken by stones falling from the Temple walls when the Romans destroyed it.  Along the southern wall, we saw the Mikvehs in which pilgrims bathed themselves before entering the Temple enclosure.  We saw the ruined bridge balustrade along the west wall and blocked up doors along the south wall.  Then an energetic young museum docent gave us a quick tour and demonstrated the illuminating “virtual city” computer program.

 

As we exited the museum, rain was pelting down.  We ran to the bus for umbrellas and then walked a few feet north to visit the Western Wall.  Raouf urged us to walk up to the wall itself, but this led to one of the Jewish attendants yelling at us:  “Remember, there is only one God, and He is not a man.”

 

We got back on the bus and shot down to the friendly kibbutz-hotel we had visited before for lunch.  Then back to the Ambassador to vacate our rooms and pack the bus.  We had two and a-half hours before dinner, so Akram dropped us at the New Gate.  A few of us went back to say farewell to Holy Sepulcher.  We waited a half-hour to visit the tomb one more time.  We also spent time at Calvary.

 

We walked out Herod’s Gate and back up to the hotel.  The Patriarch’s photographer’s son pulled over to pick us up and carry us up Mt. Scopus.  We returned just in time for a very nice dinner.  Then we boarded the bus bound for Ben-Gurion, recited the Holy Rosary together one last time, and bid Jerusalem and the Holy Land goodbye.

 

4 thoughts on “Account of My Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

  1. Unfortunately, you describe the Franciscans as monks!
    They are Friars, a completely different type of Religious. They are both contemplative and active, out in the world preaching the gospel, dependent on the generosity of those they serve, unlike monks, who live in settled communities, hence the name “Mendicant Friars.”

    As a matter of interest, Martin Luther was not a monk either but an Observant Augustinian Friar. He could not have done his university teaching as a monk.

    My wife and I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1991 with the Augustinian Friars of St. John Stone’s Church in Southport, near Liverpool and apart from the gaffe about Franciscan Monks, I enjoyed the article as we did many of the same visits.

  2. Except for your good comments, I totally agree with you on your description of Israel in general. Eye opening. Isn’t it?

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