Continuing with Day 8, and the final installment, of excerpts from my February 2000 Jubilee year Holy Land pilgrimage journal.
Day 8 – Tuesday, 2/22/2000 Jerusalem/Emmaus
Our day begins with early breakfast as we proceed to begin the Stations of the Cross. In groups of three, we take turns carrying a cross between each station. Father read the stations as we pause at each one. The Holy Sepulcher Church is built on top of Calvary. We are invited to go individually and touch the rock of Calvary on which Christ was crucified on the cross. I am crying. Wiping tears from my eyes with my hand, I touch the stone. My best offering at this moment is my tears. Next, we touch the slab of His anointing where I place my grandfather’s medal to be blessed. We are then invited around the empty tomb as Rula gives us all candles. She lights a candle from the tomb and lights Father’s candle. We light all our candles. On the Saturday before Easter, Rula says Christians have an ecumenical candle ceremony in the church. We are asked to keep our candles and light them on Holy Saturday this Easter. Our Mass today is in the Holy Sepulcher church. I have the first reading here and it is very emotional for me. I think of the song “The Old Rugged Cross” which begins “On a hill far away…” I’m thinking, today that hill isn’t so far away. It’s in this very place – this church. The reality of this is incomprehensible to me. We travel out to Emmaus to visit the Church of the Breaking of Bread. We walk a short piece of old Roman road that is located in the enclosure of the church grounds. Our last site of the pilgrimage is St. Ann’s church. We depart for the airport at 3AM to head for London. I’ve not slept at all this night.
I’ve been home several weeks now and still can’t believe I was really there. I read scripture now and so many places come to real life for me. I still get emotional and cry, if I think too much about it. I miss the routine of community Morning/Evening Prayer and Daily Mass. The places in scripture I’ve only read about all my life have become realities. I feel I’ve been re-baptized in the Spirit — like a candle that is redipped many times to reach its fullness. I feel a special grace has been given to me. Every step I take reminds me I walked in Jerusalem — drifted on the Sea of Galilee — knelt at His manger — strolled down the Palm Sunday route — felt His agony in the Garden and in the dungeon — carried the cross — and stood on the place called Mount Calvary where Jesus died for me…..
How fitting that I close my series of journal exerpts on Palm Sunday – the beginning of Holy Week. Just this afternoon, I led our RCIA group in the Stations of the Cross. I still cry. My memories are powerful and make themselves present. The Christian practice of making a Holy Land pilgrimmage dates back to early medieval times. During periods of time where access to the Holy Land was closed, it became a practice to errect replicas in churches. On November 21, 1342, Pope Clement VI entrusted the Holy Land to the Order of Friars Minor. Read the Bull. A lot of information on the history of this can be found on the Custody web site. Resulting from this was that Franciscans were given exclusive permission to build Stations of the Cross. Special indulgences were given to pilgrims praying the Stations in Franciscan churches. Below is a small quote from a very good article on the history of the Stations of the Cross.
Devotions to the Way of the Cross began in earnest after 1342, when the Franciscan friars were given custody of the holy sites in the Holy Land. The Franciscans have been closely identified with the devotion ever since; for years, Church regulations required a set of the stations to be blessed by a Franciscan when possible. — Tim Puet — Read rest of article
I made my pilgrimage in February 2000. By the Summer, there was again unrest in Israel – the sort that affects tourism. On April 2, 2002, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was taken in a 38 day siege. Franciscans were barricaded inside the church. I was stunned. I watched the endless Cable live news reports. I cried. What had changed for me is the fact I had been there a little over a year ago. It was news like that written in the quote below that was piercing me.
At least 200 young Palestinians, some of them armed, others simply civilians who found themselves cut off from their homes, took refuge in the Church of the Nativity, believing that the Israeli army would not dare to shell or storm the sacred spot. Forty Franciscan brothers, four sisters and about 30 Orthodox and Armenian monks found themselves locked inside with them. They were not hostages, however. According to Fr. David Jaeger, a spokesman for the Franciscan friars and nuns inside the complex, the Franciscans chose to remain because, as traditional custodians of the Christian sites in the Holy Land, they felt it their duty to stay and protect the shrine’s sanctity. Read rest of article at Messenger of St. Anthony
My pilgrimage made this very personal to me. I gained a new respect and understanding for all the Friars who greeted us in all the sacred sites. As we begin Holy Week, know the Way of the Cross and from where we have come.