Following the Passion of Christ
From 'Bus B', Catholic Education, Parramatta Diocese
Saturday 13 August - Jerusalem
Our day really started last evening with the reflection and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the Church of the Agony located in the Garden of Gethsemane. After walking to the garden we spent quiet time in the Garden area looking into the grove of ancient olive trees and gazing beyond to the walls of the old city of Jerusalem. Within the darkened church we knelt before the altar and across the rock of the agony, identified as the place where Christ knelt and prayed, the place where he asked his disciples to pray with him, the place where he was betrayed by one of those closest to him. We celebrated Benediction and spent our hour watching with Christ present in the Eucharist whilst our chaplains offered the opportunity for confession. This was a wonderful reflective experience and the perfect preparation for the day ahead.
On Saturday morning, the Jewish Sabbath, we ventured to the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu. This is a modern church built over the ancient ruins of the house of the Chief Priest Caiaphas. What remains are the cells below this house, a place where it is probable that Jesus was kept on the night of His arrest. The ancient steps, uncovered in archaeological excavations, running down from the church and leading to the Mount of Olives are over two thousand years old and are likely to be the very steps taken by the group arresting Jesus and the steps that Jesus himself walked over two thousand years ago.
Having finished at the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu, we visited the Israel Museum where we viewed an amazing scale model of Jerusalem as it looked the night before the Romans in AD70 destroyed it. This model is incredible in its detail and looking at this model helped all of us better understand what Jerusalem would have looked like when Jesus came to this city as he approached his Passion. We also had the opportunity to view an exhibition related to the Dead Sea scrolls and the Essenes, the ancient sect that produced the Dead Sea scrolls and we learnt something of their distinct way of life. This was a good preparation for us as we are due to visit the Dead Sea on Sunday and travel close to Qumran, the place where the scrolls were discovered by a shepherd boy, totally by accident, in caves in 1947.
Following our visit to Israel Museum, we drove to a restaurant near Bethlehem near to the Shepherd’s Field, a place we had visited a couple of days earlier. This restaurant is styled (very vaguely!) along the lines of a Bedouin tent and the food served was typical Middle Eastern food, lots of bread, salads, lamb, chicken finished off with some super-sweet baklava and extremely strong coffee. Along with these Middle Eastern delicacies were some very non-Middle Eastern chips and roast vegies! All in all, no one left lunch hungry. We were also treated to a couple of our pilgrims getting dressed up as Bedouins and dancing to a traditional drum – some great photos to show others on our return!
Then back to the Old City of Jerusalem and each bus group walked the Way of the Cross-, the Via Dolorosa. Each group walked with a large wooden cross, carried by four different pilgrims, between each station. As we prayed at each station and chanted as we walked between each station, we focused on the Passion of Jesus and were able to connect with His suffering in a way that we had never been able to before. What was significant was that many people who were not a part of our pilgrimage stood and watched as we walked by, not only taking photos or filming us but also bowing their heads in prayer or in respect for what we were doing in following in the footsteps of Christ. We completed the Way of the Cross-at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, though we had to complete the Way of the Cross outside this most holy of churches for all Christians. It is unfortunate that conflict between the five Christian denominations controlling this site (Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Syrians, Armenians and Copts); prevent pilgrims from the practice of completing the Stations of the Cross inside of the church.
Upon entering the Holy Sepulchre we were overwhelmed by both the significance of the site for us and for all the people of the world who were there visiting and worshipping. The church itself is divided into sections both due to it being destroyed and rebuilt several times and because there are five different Christian denominations who worship here. Throughout the church there are amazing mosaics decorating the high ceilings and walls, depicting the last four Stations of the Cross. As you walk through and admire the beauty of the church the scent of burning incense can be smelt everywhere and you can hear chanting from each denomination that are scheduled to take turns in processions throughout the day. We visited the tomb where Jesus was buried and were allowed to enter four at a time, to say a quick prayer, before being moved along by the Orthodox priests who were managing the huge crowds through this sacred space. We then were able to visit Cavalry or Golgotha (the place of the skull) where Jesus was crucified. We were able to touch the rock on which they would have placed Jesus’ cross in the mountain when he was crucified. It is difficult to accurately convey, in words, the emotions felt as we reflected on the significance of standing at and touching the very place Jesus died on the cross for us as well as kneeling before the site where he was buried. We celebrated our mass in the public space adjoining the site of the tomb and less than 30 metres from the site where Jesus was crucified. Bishop Anthony, in his homily, stressed the special nature of this site for all Christians the most sacred church in the world. Leaving this, the holiest Christian place in the world, the words which often end Mass rung in our ears and hearts stronger and louder then ever: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
Posted by blog-hlm at 6:58 AM