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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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. 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.