Sunday, November 12, 2017

Jerusalem on the Lord's Day

The day began early with a 5:00 a.m. wake-up call so that we could get to the Holy Sepulchre on time for 8:00 a.m. mass after following along the Via Dolorosa. Mass has to be scheduled at least six months in advance to reserve a chapel and we chose an early time to best utilitize the day's activities

We arrived at Damascus Gate and walked through the Muslim Quarter to arrive at the Via Dolorosa. The morning was warm and few pilgrims had yet arrived, but we knew they were soon to flock to the area. Brazilians and Polish were the first to arrive, so we gathered for a prayer and then began our walk along the Way. Praying as a group is a challenge because the streets get crowded quickly, and if we begin to pray, we are drowned out by other singing pilgrims. Our tour guide showed us the intricacies and perplexities of following the Way of the Cross.

One of our pilgrims was particularly interested in Station Three, Ecce Homo, which has a Franciscan convent, guest house, and school. His grandmother attended the school years ago. He and and wife intend to return to the convent during the afternoon's break.

We gathered at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and saw that the line to see the tomb was already  three hours long. We took the pilgrims past the Armenians who were praying Sunday liturgy and down the stairs to see Helena's chapel, where the true cross was eventually found.

We said the Mass of Resurrection at the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Wow. What an experience. It is really moving and joyous to preside at mass in these sacred spaces. It is indescribable.

We then toured Golgotha, the place of the crucifixion and the anointing stone where the body of Jesus lay for his preparation after being taken down by Joseph of Arimathea. 

We then traveled through the Old City on the way to see Dormition Abbey, but first we saw the old border of the city around the time of Hezekiah. We put over yarmulkes and head-coverings to see the tomb of King David, which is just below the place called the Upper Room where the Last Supper would have been held. For some, this place was a stretch of the imagination because it had been built in the time of the Ottomans.

The Church of the Last Supper was nearby and we stopped there to tour the church and to wait until the Sunday masses at Dormition Abbey were over so we could visit. As we waited, we smelled non-hybrid roses, lavender, and thyme, while eating roasted nuts.

Dormition Abbey is the place the commemorates the Assumption of Mary into heaven. The upstairs church is acoustically perfect; the lower church has many artistic versions of Mary as she appears throughout many nations. Though many people pass through, it is a place of quiet and serenity.

We gathered for lunch near the Holy Sepulchre and then had one and a half hours of free time. Some went shopping, some went walking on the ramparts and wall of the city; a few others did some minor sight-seeing. I took a walk to Mamila Mall, walked down to the artist colony, and strolled past the residential community on the other side of the wadi from the Old City. I was tired but I appreciated the time of quiet.

We then walked down to the Western Wall, which is a rebuilt wall closest to the place where the Holy of Holies was reserved. It is the Jewish Tabernacle in the Temple. The bottom of the wall contained stones that existed at the time of Jesus. Solomon built the Temple, the Maccabees had it restored and dedicated, the Romans demolished it in 66 AD. Many of us wrote notes and prayers and tucked them in the crevices of the wall. 

We then went to the The Jesuit Center near King David Hotel. It is the Pontifical Biblical Institute, which is a Roman House, a Vatican property. Seminarians will study archeology and scripture for six months of the year, while the center hosts other groups during the other half of the year. Thirteen Jesuits lives in Jerusalem now in various capacities. The tour showed us Israel's only mummy, which is housed in the Jesuit museum.

I was happy to see Fr. Stefano again because I hadn't seen him for two and a half years. I also saw Fr. Luc, who works in the French Consulate, and I was very delighted and surprised to see Fr. Jose Abrego, a Spaniard who is the current superior of the community. Several years ago, we walked through the city together and I was happy to show him the Spanish monument dedicated to the people of Jerusalem. This was a good stop.

We were exhausted because we walked six and a half miles, so we went back to our rooms and took a little rest before heading out to the Grotto Restaurant in Bethlehem for dinner. We had amazing appetizers and salads and then we were entertained by dubke dancing from local Christian Palestinians. It was quite a spirited night as every single pilgrim danced some part of the dubke. After dinner, I came back to the hotel with my hosts for conversation and drinks.

Tomorrow, we head north to the land where Jesus lived as a youth and young adult. More to come. See you tomorrow.

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