Day 6 of the Catholic Digest Holy Land Pilgrimage with Steve and Janet Ray from the Footprints of God pilgrimages.
Today was an overwhelming, but powerful and grace filled day. Our day started very early with a wake up call of 4:15 am. The pilgrims walked the Via Dolorosa in the dark and the silence early in the morning, just as Jesus carried his cross 2,000 years ago. We prayed the Stations of the Cross through the streets of Jerusalem until we reached the Holy Sepulchre, the place where Jesus was crucified and buried.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a maze of altars, stairs and twists and turns. When we first entered the church we were able to venerate the stone on which Jesus’ body was prepared for the crucifixion.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has a complicated history and over the centuries the various Christian rites have fought over the territory. In 1852 the Turks issued an edict which declared a status quo in the church and nothing can change unless agreed by all the different rites.
One of the rules in the Holy Sepulchre is that the different rites share the space at specific times during the day. Catholics are able to celebrate Mass in the tomb from 5-9am. If a group of visiting pilgrims doesn’t know of this rule (because there are no signs), it may cause conflict.
Our group arrived at the church early, but due to overages from earlier hours it looked as though our time slot would be bumped. Thankfully Steve Ray was able to set up a mass on Calvary.
We walked up a steep staircase to the place where Jesus was crucified. I knelt underneath the altar and reached my hand into a hole to touch the rock on which Jesus’ cross stood. Steve Ray reminded us that if we put our hand there 2,000 years ago it would have been sticky with blood.
As Mass began, Fr. Eamon Kelly from the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, reminded us what a privilege it is to be having Mass on Calvary. During his homily he remarked on the many ways man tries to deal with the problem of suffering. But with Christ, our suffering is enabled to become an instrument of salvation. Fr. Kelly explained that Christ’s body was offered up for us. God loves us so much that he didn’t even spare his only Son. God had to empty himself so that we could be fulfilled. This is resurrected living: living with hope, joy and love for the living God.
Shortly after Mass we discovered that one of the groups that was scheduled for Mass in the tomb didn’t show. One of the Franciscan priests asked if we would like to have Mass in the tomb!
The tomb of Christ is a very small area. You can only fit about four people in the tomb itself. The outer reception area can fit about 30 people (if you pack them in like sardines).
There are 1 billion Christians in the world and we all want to fit into this small space. With no signs or clear rules, you can imagine the chaos and the tension that this causes.
God bless the Franciscan priest whose job it is to enforce the rules during the Roman hours from 5-9am. It is not an easy job (and we should pray for him!) But it is extremely important to use and defend the time allotted to the Catholics at these holy places because if we don’t use the time, it will be taken away.
What a blessing to have Mass on Calvary and then also in the tomb! God has certainly blessed our trip.
Next we traveled to the Church of St. Anne, the birthplace of Mary. Outside of the church there are ruins of the pools of Bethesda, where the healing of the paralytic took place (John 5: 1-9). St. Anne’s was built to commemorate the birthplace of the Blessed Mother. When the Muslims invaded they didn’t destroy the church because the acoustics were so good in the church that they converted it to a mosque. In the beginning of the 20th century the Church of St. Anne was brought back under the guidance of the Roman Catholics.
Our group had the opportunity to go inside St. Anne’s church and sing. The voice of one is carried throughout the entire church without the aid of microphones. We sat in the front and sang several Marian hymns. It was beautiful to hear our song echo through out the entire church.
We traveled to the Western Wall, the holiest place in the world for Jews. Steve Ray gave the biblical history and we had an opportunity to visit the retaining wall of the ancient Temple.
At the end of the day we had a very special appointment with the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. He spoke with our group about the Christian community in the Holy Land. He shared the challenges that the Christians face and admitted that it is a difficult situation. But he reminded us that prayer is our hope. He asked us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem because it is peace for the Church.
When we asked the Patriarch how to practically help Christians in the Holy Land he said first of all to pray for peace. Next, encourage pilgrims to come to the Holy Land. Let them know it is a safe and holy place to visit. If you are unable to travel you can support the dioceses through financial support or consider adopting a sister parish in Bethlehem.
He encouraged us to pray for peace so that every pilgrim can visit the Holy Land.
He said that pilgrims are accepted by all groups in Israel, not only because there is an economic benefit, but because pilgrims are a bridge between the conflicting groups. Pilgrims come to the Holy Land to pray and with them they bring the presence of peace.
Learn more about visiting the Holy Land and see highlights from today at Catholic-Convert.com