To our loyal followers, this will be the last blog post! It is hard to believe that nine weeks has already come and gone. But I hope that you all have enjoyed reading these posts, as I know the guys have had writing them or making the videos, and due to alphabetical order, it is my honor to get to write the last post.
In one of our final days in the Holy Land we had an open day to go and explore the city of Jerusalem, so two of my brother seminarians and I decided we would walk in the footsteps of Jesus on His journey from His Agony in Garden to the place where He was laid in the tomb.
We started by waking up early and walking to the base of the Mount of Olives where there is a church built around the place that Jesus would have prayed in Agony in Garden of Gethsemane, before Judas betrayed him. As we entered the church it was remarkably quiet, because normally there are droves of pilgrims entering and exiting the church trying to get a chance to venerate the spot. We used the time to pray as Jesus did, trying to prepare ourselves to start this journey, to be obedient to the will of the Father by walking in the way of the cross, and down the Via Dolorosa (the path in Old City from the 1st Station of the Cross to Holy Sepulcher where Jesus died, was buried, and rose).
Upon leaving the church we dipped down into the Kidron Valley, where Jesus would have been led after being betrayed by Judas on the way to go to Caiaphas, the high priest’s home. We descended down into the green valley and walked about ¼ mile at the base and then ascended back up the other side, following the old city wall as cars honked and I imagined people shouting like they may have at Jesus. We arrived at the house of Caiaphas, where we spent about fifteen minutes in prayer before we began our walk around to the beginning of the Via Dolorosa, where Pilate condemns Jesus to death. From there we began our trudge to the Holy Sepulcher, stopping along the way to pray each of the stations of the cross. We were surrounded by the business of the old city, shopkeepers hassling us to buy things, other groups clogging the narrow streets, but it just made the experience feel more real. Then at last we arrived at the Holy Sepulcher and there were crowds all around coming from near and far to see, and in a moment of prayer, John 19:30 came to mind, the last words of Jesus before He gave up His spirit and died, “It is finished.”
These words hit me like a ton of bricks as we Finish up this Pilgrimage. It has truly been a life changing experience and unbelievable blessing from God for all of us. And now although this Pilgrimage of 2019 is finished, it does not stop there, just as it doesn’t stop with Jesus died on the cross. No, there is a newness of life after! The Resurrection! The Ascension! Which we are preparing for this Lent. And having gone on this pilgrimage it will affect us for the rest of our lives, changing how we will read Sacred Scripture and who we will be as preachers of the Word of God, which we all will be ordained shortly to do!
So, on behalf of all my brothers I want to thank all the people who made this trip possible, all of those who have been praying for us and following our blog, our leaders and teachers while on this trip, and Mundelein for letting us be gone so long! It has been a blessing and “It is finished.”
“At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last.”
Since our arrival in Jerusalem, all of us have had the blessing of walking in our Lord’s path to Calvary, the Via Dolorosa (the Way of Sorrow). Fridays at 3:00 pm Franciscans lead pilgrims on the Via Dolorosa. (Franciscans have been the custodians of the Holy Land for over 800 years).
The Via Dolorosa has 14 “Stations” or “stopping places” in the Old City of Jerusalem that commemorate Jesus’ way of the Cross. The First Station starts in the place where Jesus was condemned by Pilate, the Stone Pavement (Lithostrotos in Greek, Gabbatha in Aramaic) identified in John’s Gospel. The stations proceed all the way to the Holy Sepulchre and end with Station Twelve, the site of his Crucifixion on Calvary (from the Latin), or Golgotha (Greek) or “place of the skull” (English), Station Thirteen where Jesus is taken down and his body placed on the “Stone of the Anointment” and Station Fourteen where Jesus is laid in the tomb. These are the same Stations of the Cross found in almost every Catholic Church and which we commemorate especially on Fridays in Lent.
Walking the Via Dolorosa on Fridays in Jerusalem is both prayerful and chaotic. There are large crowds of pilgrims that join in this devotion. However, there are also large crowds of people that are passing through the very narrow, barely one car wide lanes and alleys, with shops and street hawkers everywhere. Cars, cabs, motor cycles, and motorized bikes also compete for the precious space where our Lord trod. In an effort to stay together, pilgrims are doing what appeared to me as “holy shoving” small steps, pushing ahead to stay together in a large mass of holy people. It was a miracle that I didn’t twist my ankle as we were constantly going up and down, suddenly steps would appear sometimes ramps for vehicles (often both). Despite everyone’s best efforts, people got split up from the group and the Franciscans speaking a multitude of languages tried to guide pilgrims, people and traffic through the Old City of Jerusalem (probably a sight not that much different than our Lord would have experienced).
At each station, the words of the station and a reflection are read in a variety of languages and then the mass moves on.
This particular Friday walking the Via Dolorosa occurred after a long day of walking various sites in the Holy Land. By the end of day, when I completed the Via Dolorosa I had walked, in total, almost 15,000 steps or almost 6 miles. I was exhausted, my legs hurt, and I could only imagine what our Lord experienced walking this path after his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, a long night of contentious questioning and mistreatment, Scourging, and finally carrying his (our cross) to his death. The Son of God, our Lord and Savior, the perfect lamb, doing this all for me and you, sinners.
“Remain in me, as I remain in you.” (John 15:4) Jesus frequently exhorts us in the Gospel of John to remain in Him, to abide in Him. What does this mean for us? Why does Jesus so frequently stress such a unique phrase?
At our visit to Gethsemane—the gorgeous church that sits at the foot of the Mount of Olives commemorating the agony in the garden—I encountered a bit of this reality. When I entered the church, I was immediately struck. The vaulted ceilings were covered in dimly lit mosaics, and the void of the church’s body was dark. The windows were stained purple to prevent too much light from entering. Here one could immediately enter into the first sorrowful mystery, for there was splendor in the distant ceiling and walls, but darkness draped about you, just as Jesus would have seen the seemingly distant goodness of His Father but felt the weight of his coming Passion all around Him.
At Mass, I was gifted with the opportunity to cantor. We celebrated on the center altar and everything said through the sound system echoed over the murmuring of the pilgrims. “In you, Lord, I take refuge, let me never be put to shame.” Psalm 71 was set for the responsorial, and as we chanted these words, I could not help but feel I had entered into the garden with Christ. His cry was ours, and it saturated the church with the reality of that event from two millennia before. I was brought out of myself, and I forgot everything except Jesus in the garden. This was the power of the Holy Mass, and this was the power of the beauty of that church.
What does it mean for us to abide in Jesus but, among other things, to meditate on his mysteries, to enter into the events of his life, and to thus let His life become a part of ours. After reflecting on this experience, I think that in this way we are brought out of ourselves and grow in the capacity to view things from His perspective. Jesus’ mysteries (the experiences of his life—even the everyday ones) begin to penetrate our thoughts, imaginations, desires, and feelings, and we then are more able to live our lives out of this union with Him.
Practically, this means for example that when we are confronted with something difficult we know we must undergo, like a tough conversation or a forgiving someone who just hurt us, the more we have entered into the mystery of the agony in the garden, the more we can prepare for that trial with Jesus, in Jesus, and through Jesus. By entering this part of His life, we let this part of His life enter into us. Then, with Him, we can agonize in the garden, see how much easier our task is than His, draw strength from His courage, feel supported by His suffering with us, and live our lives permeated with Christ. What a beautiful way to live! Easier said than done, and this is a gift we need to beg for in prayer, but this I think is why He exhorts us, “Remain in me, as I remain in you.”
One of the many blessings we have had thus far in this pilgrimage is that of encountering different people. One of such encounters is the fraternity we shared with our Armenian seminarian brothers in Jerusalem – a continuation of a beautiful standing relationship. It was an afternoon/evening of tours, soccer, and a light dinner. We began our tour from the Armenian Cathedral of St. James, where we had visited during their prayers earlier in the week, followed by a tour into the huge Armenian quarters, wherein we finally got to the green enclosed turf. It was soccer time. We had a wonderful free-scoring game, where we exhibited great teamwork, skills, and resilience to dominate and win the game: 14 – 9 (Hurray!!). After the game, we had dinner and an amazing time of interaction. As I stood by the water station all tired but enjoying the fraternity and joy shared in engaging conversations by different small groups of Armenian seminarians and my brothers, what kept resonating in my heart was Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21: “That they may all be one…”
Special thanks to our videographer: Robain Lamba (Diocese of San Jose), who also exhibited great defensive grit when he subbed.
Our first day in Jerusalem, our group woke up very early. At 4:30 am, we were on our way to the Holy Sepulcher to celebrate Mass at Calvary. As you can read from the previous posts, there are great crowds that are typically found in the Church. Despite it being a blessing that so many people desire to encounter the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection, it makes for a challenge to prayerfully enter into these most important mysteries. However, at such an early hour, we were guaranteed to have a prayerful experience at Calvary.
Speaking briefly of the layout of the Holy Sepulcher, Calvary is directly above the Chapel of Adam, the place he is believed to have been buried. The term Golgotha, “the place of the skull,” according to first-century tradition references the skull of Adam. The chapel itself is pretty bare and not too many visitors visit it, but for me, it holds crucial importance. In Matthew’s account of the crucifixion, we hear that an earthquake occurred at the death of Jesus (Mt 27:51-52). The Chapel of Adam shows the rock that was split at the crucifixion, which again is the grave of Adam. Jesus’ blood, flowing from his pierced Sacred Heart, was able to travel down the split in the rock onto Adam’s tomb, onto Adam’s skull, symbolized in the icon. Through Jesus’ blood, Adam, the symbol of all humanity, was saved.
Arriving, then, at the Holy Sepulchre at 4:30 am, a small group of four of us were able to explore. Having never been there and having done no previous research, I had no idea where anything was in the Basilica. The group of us went upstairs and found ourselves face to face with Calvary. It was a profound experience! I found myself face to face with the sacrifice of Jesus, knowing that a few feet behind me is the Holy Sepulchre, which is the final scene of this act. Being weeks away from Diaconate Ordination, I felt the urge to pray for the grace to give of myself as Jesus gave of himself on the cross – fully, lovingly, and without exception. I pray that the blood flowing from the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the cross, which brought salvation to Adam, would cleanse me and bring me salvation.
Thank you for your prayers, love, and support. Without such support, this opportunity to prayerfully experience the Holy Land would not have been possible.
As we start the season of Lent I want to reflect on the incredible experience that some of my classmates and I were able to experience over the last week and a half. We were given the special opportunity to be locked inside the Holy Sepulcher. Those who were interested in spending the night were split between three nights to ensure that everyone could have some quiet alone time in the empty tomb by themselves. As soon as classes ended for the day I began to prepare so that I would be ready to spend the night in prayer. After eating an early dinner I began the journey towards the church. While walking to the church I began to think of Christ talking with the disciples outside of the garden while he prayed. The soul was willing but the flesh is weak. Would I be able to stay awake this whole night I wondered to myself?
As I entered the church, we had approximately twenty minutes before the doors were to be locked for the night. Even with the small amount of time left to see everything in the church, the church was still full of pilgrims. These pilgrims had come from all around the world to see the three important sites that are all located under the roof of this large church. They were there to see Calvary, the stone where Jesus was anointed, and the empty tomb. However, the empty tomb was the most important out of all the sites.
As the time approached to lock the doors a representative from each of the two Muslim families appeared at the church. One family is responsible for holding onto the key while the other family uses the key to lock the church. As the two family members exited the church the Franciscan Friar closed the large door behind them. We then waited for them to lock the doors from the outside before handing the small ladder back inside the church through a small door in the main door. After the door was locked the church became very quiet as the pilgrims and tourists who were on the other side of the door could no longer be heard.
The Franciscan friar told us that if we wanted to visit the tomb we should do so in the next four hours before the Greek Orthodox start preparing for their liturgy. We then made our way to the tomb. While walking to the tomb I began to think of the women who went to the tomb with spices only to find that Christ had risen from the dead and was no longer there. Each one of us was able to spend some time alone in the tomb. This was the tomb that Christ was laid in before He rose on the third day.
The four quiet hours moved by very quickly. Soon the Greek Orthodox monks waited by the door so that pilgrims could enter for the liturgy. It was surprising when they opened the door to not see anyone waiting to get into the church. However, soon there were people running across the courtyard in the front of the church so that they could be one of the first to enter the church. Once inside they ran towards the tomb and began lining up to be able to go inside of the tomb.
I pray that for the next forty days, we are able to prepare our hearts so that we too may be ready to run to the tomb to find it empty just as Peter did and as pilgrims do today. Let us be ready to announce to the world that Christ is truly risen today, Alleluia!!
The Church of St. Anne, near the start of the Via Dolorosa, is known for its beautiful acoustics. Groups and choirs travel from all over to sing and to pray. The church is dedicated to St. Anne and St. Joachim, the parents of the Virgin Mary. It is traditionally venerated as the home of Anne and Joachim, the birthplace of Mary. It was an absolute privilege and joy to sing, “If Ye Love Me,” by Thomas Tallis, with the seminary schola for the pilgrimage! Enjoy the recording of the schola in this beautiful church!!
The walls encircling the old city of Jerusalem are compelling. Even today they stand as not only a historical significance and reminder of the past, but also an engineering feat. The present walls of Jerusalem were built by Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century when he restored the ancient walls of the city that served as military fortifications. Today the walls serve a more peaceful purpose as a destination for tourists to experience the Old city from an elevated position. Some interesting facts about the wall: the average thickness is 8.2 feet, the average height is 40 feet, and the total distance encircling the city is a distance of 2.5 miles! The walls also contain 34 watchtowers and 7 main gates.
A group of us decided to walk the wall which is accessed near the Jaffa Gate next to the Christian and Jewish quarter areas of the old city. The first thing we noticed is that there’s not much room on the top for passing! It’s very narrow with uneven stones along the way. As I scanned the rooftops, steeples, minarets, and Synagogues I began to see more clearly the layout of the old city. It’s divided up into four quarters: Christian, Armenian, Jewish, and Muslim. And as I passed through each one it was interesting to experience such a difference between them.
Whether it was the smells of different foods cooking, sounds of the people and their native languages, or the architecture of the different buildings, the eclectic ambiance deepened my appreciation of the inter-religious culture existing so closely together within these walls. Standing from a height that can almost see the entirety of the city I thought about how much bloodshed throughout history was spilled here on this small spot of land! And how Jesus from a distance outside the city wept over Jerusalem’s unfaithfulness to Yahweh. Yes, it was a small city but prized highly by God as his special place for his people. But Jesus did more than spill his tears, he spilled his blood as well on Calvary – which I could also see from a distance now encased completely by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Later, as we walked through the Christian quarter we encountered kids playing basketball on a court which butted up against the wall. We began to shout for the ball, so we could shoot from the top of the wall. One youngster tossed the ball up and we took a few shots. My diocesan brother, whom I will let you name after watching the video Rampart Walk Basketball, shot a perfect airball and all the kids laughed.
Luckily one of us finally sunk one from a good distance! As we continued our journey on the rampart we came upon a few soccer games and some more basketball games cheering the kids as we passed by.
The weather was very good and we experienced an amazing sunset that reflected off the slope of the Mount of Olives. The view from the Jewish quarter was breathtaking, overlooking the Kidron valley which is covered with thousands and thousands of graves with concrete tomb like monuments above them. It reminded me of a toppled Jenga game set! As we exited the wall back to Jaffa gate I was reminded of the Gospel of John where Jesus says to the women at the well, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” I thank God for this opportunity to experience the Holiness of this beautiful City! And it IS Holy! But I also thank God for his bride the Catholic Church, and the Eucharist that I can find in any part of this beautiful world in one of His churches.