Posts Tagged ‘Jerusalem’


Friday, January 11th, 2013

This common farewell saying among our Jewish sisters and brothers came true this past December 30th for our thirty seminarians, three priests and myself as we made a wonderful pilgrimage to the land of Jesus’ birth. With absolutely idyllic weather for five of our seven days in Israel (cloudless blue skies and daytime averages in the mid-70’s,) we visited all the holy places, prayed at them, took one day at the end for a silent day of recollection, recalling all that we had seen and experienced, and then set our eyes on home. For myself, I believe it was my seventh trip to the Holy Land and in all likelihood will be my last. Many of you will recall that I led a semi-pilgrimage using a cruise ship for our conveyance in the Fall of 2011. It was then that I thought, if at all possible, I would love to bring those who are preparing for the priesthood to experience for themselves the incredible sense of the presence of Christ in the midst of modern day Israel.

We stayed at only two places, the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem (nothing to do with the US university of the same name) and the Hospice of the Franciscan Sisters on the Mount of the Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee in the northern part of the country. Both places had chapels where we prayed morning and evening prayer together, but daily Mass was celebrated in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the Church of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor, the Church of the Primacy of Peter along the Sea of Galilee and the Church of St. Peter in Capernaum. Additional time was made available for lengthy private prayer in the Church of the Dormition of Mary on Mt. Zion (Jerusalem), the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, and the Church of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel above Haifa. Additionally, every evening during Vespers or “Evening Prayer” I gave the seminarians about a twenty minute reflection which I had worked hard on prior to departure.

As many people say when they have finished a visit to the land of Jesus’ birth, they can not listen to the Gospels, indeed the whole of Scripture, in the same way again. To understand spatially what it meant to walk from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemani, to appreciate the topography for the trip down from Nazareth to Cana or even better, the three trips from Galilee to Jerusalem for the major feasts adds so much more to one’s understanding of the Incarnation and Christ among us in history two thousand plus years ago. We had a superb guide in Hani, an Arab-Christian and former principal of the Christian Brothers High School in the Old City and he, better than I ever could, made the scriptures come alive and he often connected the dots of words and places. We also had, and perhaps even more importantly, a great bus driver who kept us alive along challenging roads.

The two priests whom I ordained last May, Fathers Tim Corcoran and Victor Amorose came along. It did not seem fair to announce while they were in the seminary that I was inviting all the seminarians to come to the Holy Land at Christmas/New Years 2012/13 and leave them at home because they were “unlucky” enough to be ordained just prior to the trip. Along with our Vocation Director, Father Carl Melchior, the four of us were able to lead the community in prayer and provide for them sacramentally. It would be hard to precisely define the major moment for my traveling band of seminarians as each would likely have their own favorite spot. But we left the region of Galilee on Epiphany, right after celebrating the Solemnity in the Chapel at the hospice on the Mount of the Beatitudes and I came across this line from the gifted Father Robert Barren, Rector of Mundeline Seminary in Chicago and author, who quoted Archbishop Fulton Sheen speaking about the part of the Epiphany Gospel where the Magi or wise men disobey Herod’s orders and return to their homes by a different route than that which they came. Archbishop Sheen said, “of course, they went home a different way. No one who comes to Jesus ever returns the same way that they came.” I hope that was true of all of us.

I am exhausted and sleep does not come easily yet. I lost ten pounds in walking and climbing (in the Catholic Church, nothing seems worth seeing without climbing steps) and longed for my McDonald’s sausage biscuit for eight days, but it will be a while before the memory of this final visit of mine dims and the looks on the faces of those who, God willing, will some day serve you as priests as they stood on the Mt. of Olives with their faces toward the West and the place where the Temple once stood and then walked down the steep hill into the Garden where Jesus prayed and met his accusers.

For me now, “next year in Jerusalem” will now mean that moment when someone comes, hopefully, to lead me into the new and heavenly Jerusalem. The men I travelled with have a lot longer journey ahead of them, but they learned much about the cost of discipleship and following Jesus.



Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Mass in Jerusalem at the Church of St. Savior on St. Francis Street. Photo kindness of John P. Christian

A day in Jerusalem would be challenging enough but when the news came to the passengers that our ship would not be moving to the Port of Ashdod which is closer to Jerusalem but would instead remain in Haifa for a second night we knew we had a long day in store for us (we departed the dock by bus at 645am, arrived in Bethlehem Square at 1015am and returned to the ship at 800pm). Bethlehem is in what is euphemistically called the “west bank”. It is a euphemism because there is no river running through Jerusalem or many parts of the land, which would serve as a boundary, or line of demarcation. Nonetheless, we stopped the border, our Israeli guides got off, we then passed through the border and three Christian-Arab guides got on the buses and took us to the birthplace of the Lord. Unlike that first Christmas night there must have been at least 3000 people off cruise ships that descended upon the Church of the Nativity at the same time. The wait in the Orthodox part of the Church to descend to a small room and see the “spot” where Mary delivered was already two hours but our guide knew a back route which took is into what we could easily believe to have been a stable and we saw the same place from the rear. The guides were very good and we as a group had an opportunity to support some of the few Christian-Arabs who have remained in the area. It will be all-Muslim soon without a return of Christians to the area and there is no peace and a very unsettled situation, which makes any return almost illogical.

Our next stop was for Mass at the Church of St. Savior or as we would likely call it in the United States, Blessed Sacrament. We were running late at the time with the Way of the Cross-and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher remaining to be seen before dark, which came at 445pm. The visit to the tomb of Jesus, which also includes the ninth through the twelfth stations, and Golgotha took well over an hour but it was the central focus of our pilgrimage for that day. Because of the long bus rides, other places which I would have liked to have shown my fellow pilgrims were impossible: the Garden of Gethsemane in daylight (we saw it only after dark), the Upper Room and the birthplace and home of John the Baptist at Ein Karim were all impossible. The group returned to the bus by way of the “western wall” which as you the reader surely know is all our Jewish brothers and sisters have remaining of the great Temple which was destroyed in 70AD by the Romans putting down a revolt. It is always a moving place and this day was no exception and many of our own group approached to touch the wall and even slip a note inside it.

So our three-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to the land of the Lord and of the apostles Peter and Paul perhaps much too quickly came to an end. Just listening to those along with me, however, I knew that they had a great experience, loved Galilee and were moved by as much of Jerusalem as they could see. Had there not been an outbreak of violence between Hamas and Israel aimed at the port of Ashdod where we would have docked, we would have had more time in the holy city. We had terrific guides and drivers for the day and everyone appreciated that.

I will repeat for the final time hoping that you the reader will capture this reality, when one comes to the Holy Land to reconstruct the life of Jesus, it is the experience and not the specific geography that is important. All of us had an easy time visualizing Jesus walking the shores of the Sea of Galilee and all of us could easily imagine Peter, Andrew, James and John leaving their nets and following him. Since Jerusalem has been destroyed and rebuilt so many times since the death of the Lord, one has to work harder to make it credible and a place of faith. For example, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Golgotha, which was, then outside of the city of Jerusalem is now inside what is wrongly called “the old city” but is really the “new city” of Jerusalem of antiquity. It takes imagination and extrapolation to make it work but I think for almost all of us it did. Finally, I have had a very challenging time sending this blog while enroute on the ship. Sorry about the delay.

Darkness falls on Jerusalem and all the earth. Photo kindness of John P. Christian

So we left the place where it all started and in a few days will pick up the trail of Paul in Ephesus and Peter and Paul in Rome. Shalom!