Saintly Santa Recognizing

At a parish where I was stationed years ago,* while I was still a seminarian, at Christmas-Eve Mass, right after Holy Communion, the lights in church would go down. Then Santa Clause himself would enter the church, from the main doors. He would walk silently down the aisle. Then he would kneel down in front of the manger with the baby Jesus. Santa would pray silently for a while. Then he would disappear.

Santa baby JesusWe love Santa because he is kindly, and he is fair-minded. He has the qualities of a saint—after all, he is a saint, Saint…

Santa, like all saints, knows the truth, that the Lord Jesus is the Son of God and our Savior.

…At the first Christmas, in Bethlehem, plenty of people saw the baby Jesus and thought nothing of it.

‘Look, there’s a poor couple from Nazareth, with a newborn baby, here for the imperial census.’ ‘Poor woman, having to give birth so far from home. But there’s another mouth to feed in this impoverished country!’ Etc.

For all these people, Christmas was no holiday, no day for prayer and solemn rejoicing. December 25 was just another day for the hard realities of life.

But then there were the few people who knew the truth about this particular baby. That He is God made man, sent to earth so that we could hope for eternal life in heaven. Mary and Joseph, the shepherds who had seen the angels, and the wise men who had followed the mysterious star. With indescribable quiet joy, they worshiped the Savior, the King, the baby who is our Lord and God.

May God give us the grace to celebrate Christmas like them–quietly, prayerfully, and happily.

* St. John the Evangelist, Silver Spring, Maryland! (Where they just lost their pastor to cancer. I owe good Father Pennington an immeasurable debt for how much he helped me when I was a seminarian. May he rest in peace.)

Indigo + the Lord, the Son of David

Yesterday, we heard St. Paul remind St. Timothy, “Beloved, remember Jesus Christ, a descendant of David.”

One of the Church’s favorite prayers comes from the lips of the blind beggar. He cried out to Jesus, “Son of David, have pity on me.”

The Messiah, the Son of David.

But, today…

We hear the Messiah ask: “David Himself calls the Christ ‘Lord.” So how is He David’s son?”

How is the Lord the son of David? Good question.

I mean, the Lord is the Son of David. There is no doubt that Jesus Christ was born of David’s tribe. Mary and Joseph had to travel south to Judah for the census, because they were not natives of Galilean soil. They returned to their homeland, to the city of David.

So how is the Lord the son of David? After all, there is also no doubt that God was born in Bethlehem. Back in 1000 BC, King David prayed to God—the same God Who, once in royal David’s city, was laid in a manger bed.

So: How? People, what is it called? Almighty God became the descendant of David by the mystery of the…

Incarceration? The Incantation? The Intubation?

Infatuation? Installation? Instigation? Imputation? Impetration? Inoculation? Inter-lineation? Indigo-tincturation?

Incarnation. Jesus Christ. True God and true man. One Person in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.

Abouna Abiud Reports


Greetings from Jerusalem. To catch you up, dear reader:

…The Holy Land first welcomed us with lush greenery and bucolic countryside—the Galilee of the Lord’s youth. Traveling south, we came to harder country. Then we entered one of the tensest cities in the world.

One could ask: Where on earth is there a place so beautiful and peaceful that it would be a suitable location for the Son of God to teach and to heal? The shores of the Sea of Galilee are certainly beautiful and peaceful enough.

But one also must ask: What city on earth is such a jumble of antagonisms, long-standing grudges, and self-righteousness that it could kill the Son of God? Jerusalem is such a city.

…Yesterday we left Nazareth. We headed south. We renewed our Baptismal promises on the bank of the Jordan River.

Stepping into the Jordan River

We came to the place where the ancient Israelites entered the Promised Land after their journey back from Egypt. This is where the priests carried the Ark of the Covenant into the Jordan, the water piled up like a mound, and the people walked across the river bed with dry feet.

They headed for Jericho, and so did we.

In hardscrabble Jericho

The Lord Jesus passed through Jericho a number of times, when He Himself was on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

His most famous parable is about the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. We ascended to the Holy City on this pilgrim road (now paved)…

…This morning we visited the Upper Room, where: 1) The Lord Jesus instituted the Holy Mass, 2) He appeared after He rose from the dead, 3) the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles in tongues of flame.

Trying on the kafiyeh

Then we left Jerusalem and went out to the Judean hill country, to visit the church built where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived. This is where our Lady came to help her cousin—the Visitation.

From there, we entered Bethlehem. After eating delicious falafel sandwiches, we entered Manger Square, the sight of so much Christian piety over the centuries.

In the hill country of Judah

We recalled the words of Popes who have come on pilgrimage here:

Pope John Paul II was here in 2000:

In Bethlehem it is always Christmas. ‘Here Christ was born of the Virgin Mary’: these words, inscribed over the place where 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.”

IMG_1165People 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. Bethlehem is a universal crossroads where all peoples can meet to build together a world worthy of our human dignity and destiny.

Pope Benedict was here in May:

“Do not be afraid; for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy…today in the city of David a Savior is born for you” (Lk 2:10-11). The message of Christ’s coming, brought from heaven by the voice of angels, continues to echo in this town, just as it echoes in families, homes and communities throughout the world. It is “good news”, the angels say “for all the people”. It proclaims that the Messiah, the Son of God and the Son of David, has been born “for you”: for you and me, and for men and women in every time and place.

In God’s plan, Bethlehem, “least among the clans of Judah” (Mic 5:2), has become a place of undying glory: the place where, in the fullness of time, God chose to become man, to end the long reign of sin and death, and to bring new and abundant life to a world which had grown old, weary and oppressed by hopelessness.

Looking up at the Basilica, we could see that “the great church built over the Savior’s birthplace stands like a fortress battered by the strife of the ages,” as John Paul put it.

The main basilica, under the care of the Greek Orthodox, is in rough shape. Our visit to the grotto of the Nativity was very moving. Then we went to the cave of St. Jerome to celebrate Holy Mass.

From there we descended to the Shepherd’s Field, where the angels announced the birth of Christ to the humble men watching over their flocks by night.

Barluzzi church on Shepherds' Field


Through the Little Door


Back on May 13, when your unworthy servant was commemorating the eighth anniversary of my ordination to the diaconate, our Holy Father was in the City of David…

nativity basilica door

The ancient Basilica of the Nativity, buffeted by the winds of history and the burden of the ages, stands before us as a witness to the faith which endures and triumphs over the world.

No visitor to Bethlehem can fail to notice that in the course of the centuries the great door leading into the house of God has become progressively smaller.

Today let us pray that, by God’s grace and our commitment, the door leading into the mystery of God’s dwelling among men, the temple of our communion in his love, and the foretaste of a world of eternal peace and joy, will open ever more fully to welcome, renew and transform every human heart.

(Pope Benedict, homily in Manger Square)

Grotto of the Nativity

We pilgrims will crouch down through the ancient door of the Basilica of the Nativity in nine days, please God. We will visit the very place where the Son of God was born!

Up the Wall

Basilica of the Nativity, where Christ was born
Basilica of the Nativity, where Christ was born

Archbishop Dolan with his second-grade teacher
Archbishop Dolan with his second-grade teacher
Someone called the new Archbishop of New York “Falstaff in a mitre.”

With all due respect, I do not think that this is apt.

As we Shakespearians know, Sir John’s most lovable quality is that he is not, in fact, a good person. He is a lying, lecherous, selfish, cynical, dissolute coward.

Sir John Falstaff
Sir John Falstaff
Just because Falstaff is also jovial, garrulous, and imperious does not mean that he makes a suitable literary figure for His Excellency Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who is an industrious and orthodox prelate.

A year ago today, your humble servant was in Bethlehem, venerating the birthplace of Christ.

The Israeli government has erected a wall around the Israeli settlements near Bethlehem.


Don’t forget to eat all the candy in the house today.

Singing Midnight Mass

priest-singingThe priest who celebrates a solemn festival Mass is said to “sing” the Mass.

For five years as a priest, I have con-celebrated Midnight Mass on Christmas, standing to the side of the pastor as he celebrated the Mass. This year, the pastor kindly offered to concelebrate with me.

So tonight I will sing Midnight Mass for the first time.

Here is the homily, and may the good Lord give you a merry Christmas!

Christus natus est.

Verbum Dei caro factum est.

Expergiscere homo, quia pro te Deus factus est homo.

Venite adoremus!
…Wait a minute–you didn’t know that the homily would be in Latin?

Continue reading “Singing Midnight Mass”

Holy Father to the Holy Land

His Beatitude Fouad Twal
His Beatitude Fouad Twal
The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem is the chief shepherd of Roman Catholics in the Holy Land.

The Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which houses the grotto where our Lord was born, is under the control of the Orthodox. A Catholic basilica, the church of St. Catharine, shares a wall with the ancient Nativity church.

The Church of St. Catharine houses the grotto where St. Jerome labored for years to translate the Holy Scriptures. The underground walkway between the two grottoes is sealed off by a locked gate, separating Orthodox territory from Catholic territory.

In his time, St Jerome could walk just a few feet from his study to pray at the place where Christ was born.

Now there is only one man who can do that, and he can only do it once a year. The man is the Latin Patriarch and the time is at midnight on Christmas Eve.

Meanwhile…Today Patriarch Fouad released his Christmas Message. It is very edifying.

It includes this splendid news: Pope Benedict will go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in May 2009!

The place where Christ was born
The place where Christ was born

All-Star Week

This week is just about the best week of saints’ days in the whole year.

Today we keep the Feast of the Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, the Archangels. Tomorrow we keep the Memorial of St. Jerome. St. Jerome was a learned scholar and orator in Rome, but he went to the Holy Land to give his life to the task of translating the entire Bible. If St. Jerome had not done the work that he did 1600 years ago, we would not have the reliable Bible translations that we have now. When I was in Bethlehem in February, I was able to visit the cave where St. Jerome did his work; it is just a few steps from the place where the Lord Jesus was born.

This Sunday, Bishops from all over the world will meet in Rome for a Synod. For three weeks, they will discuss the Word of God. Our Archbishop Wuerl is one of four bishops from the United States who will attend. Let us pray to St. Jerome that the Synod will be fruitful.

On Wednesday, we will keep the Memorial of St. Therese of the Child Jesus (a.k.a. St. Therese of Liseux, the Little Flower), Doctor of the Church. St. Therese’s Story of a Soul is one of the best spiritual reading books you can get. Her “Little Way” is the “elevator” to heaven. On Thursday, we keep the Memorial of the Guardian Angels. Of course each of us should thank our Guardian Angel ever day for all his help. But if we have let a few days slip, we can try to make it up by special expressions of gratitude on Thursday. Your Guardian Angel is the best friend you have. When we get to heaven–please God–we will finally see our Guardian Angels. We will of course effusively thank them for helping us to get there. They will say, “Don’t mention it. Just doing my job.”

Then on Saturday, we keep the Memorial of St. Francis of Assisi, the second-most popular saint of all time (after the Blessed Mother). In addition to being friendly to animals, St. Francis was also intensely ascetic. He renounced every worldly pleasure for the love of God. He was unswervingly faithful to the Pope and the Church. And he was given the gift of sharing in the Lord’s own wounds, the stigmata.

More people have given up everything to follow the example of St. Francis than any other saint. It is safe to say that no one has ever been closer to Christ, more like Christ.

Assisi is one of the most beautiful and prayerful places on earth. Those of us who will go on pilgrimage together from St. Mary of the Assumption, Upper Marlboro, Maryland, U.S.A., to Italy in November will visit Assisi, walking the streets where St. Francis walked. We will pray at his tomb, and we will remember the rest of you there, for sure.

There you have it: Ecclesiastical All-Star Week. If ever there were a week to try to go to Mass everyday, this is it. Many graces will flow from heaven this week. Thank you, holy angels and saints!

Account of My Pilgrimage to the Holy Land




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.





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.




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










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. 




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.





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.





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).





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.





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.