Wednesday, March 14, 2007

DAY FIVE – Bethlehem and Ein Kerem

by Steve Ray on March 14, 2007

Perfect weather is frequent in Israel but other possibilities often present themselves. It is days like today that remind my pilgrims that this is not a vacation but a spiritual pilgrimage and adventure. It was pouring down rain.

Many have said that rising with the sun today was the highlight of their trip — not getting up so early with drooping eyelids, but the walk through the Old City of Jerusalem for a High Mass at the Tomb of Christ. Yup, what a treat! I was able to secure the High Mass so that my pilgrims all sat with the Franciscans immediately in front of the Tomb for a 45 minute Mass presided over by Fr. Andrew Bloomfield and Fr. Ed Fride.

Even the video you will see cannot show the emotion, the sense of awe and the personal touch of God at this Mass. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has a powerful pipe organ. With the pipes blaring, Franciscans singing, and all the other wonderful sounds reverberating through this one-of-a kind place on all the earth. This is the place where the 2nd Person of the Trinity, God himself died and was buried and rose again on the third day. Words cannot describe . . . .

After Mass we took a group picture on the steps to the right of the entrance, then back to the Notre Dame for breakfast. We boarded the bus at 8 AM and headed south to Bethlehem. We passed through the Security Fence, the huge concrete wall, all arrived at the shop. Everyone had been chewing at the bit to get some shopping down so here I promised them we could "shop til you drop."

It is a Christian shop called Nissan Bros. and it helps support 63 Christian families in Bethlehem. After my friend Ephram the own recited the Our Father in Aramaic, the language of Jesus, everyone bought olive wood gifts and all sorts of religious items.

Then to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. How does one process the profound importance of this site? As we processed into the grotto under the Church where Mary gave birth to Jesus and laid him in the manger — how can you really grasp the depth of the mystery, where time and eternity met, where God was revealed to the world as a helpless baby. Born of a mother without a father, he was Son of the Father without a mother. Creator of the universe, He now became part of that very material world.

Everyone touched the ground exactly where he was born. We also visited the other grottos where Joseph was warned by the angel to flee to Egypt and to St. Jerome's tomb — also the place where he translated the Bible into Latin, creating the Latin Vulgate.

Then through a gaunlet of street vendors and on the bus to Ramat Rachel Kibbutz for a delicious lunch. From there we headed to Ein Kerem, the place of John the Baptist's birth and the Visitation. By the way, we are praying every Mystery of the Rosary along the way at all the sites related to the mysteries — so in Ein Kerem we prayed the Joyful Mystery of the Visitation.

It was pouring down rain when we arrived. My hearty and cheerful pilgrims upped the umbrellas and downed their grumbling and with a smile and cheerful attitude, we all trudged through the swirling water and the downpour. The Church of the Birth of John the Baptist was first, then Janet took 50 pilgrims back to the hotel on one bus, while I took the other 50 up the long walk to the Church of the Visitation which has some of my favorite art in all of the Holy Land. I gave my talk here explaining Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant and much more. It was delightful!

The rain cleared, we boarded the bus and returned to the Notre Dame Center for dinner. After dinner we gathered in a meeting room where I gave my regular pilgrimage talk about the situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It is good for the pilgrims traveling through this land to understand the situation from both sides and to have a healthy and informed understanding of the political, religious, geographical and personal understanding of the people in this land. We all crashed into bed about 11 PM.

We are ready for another day — walking the Via Dolorosa, the Stations of the Cross through Jerusalem, visiting the Western Wall, and going back to Bethlehem for lunch and Mass in the field where the Angels announced the birth of the Lamb of God to the Shepherds. We will then tour the magnificent Shroud of Turin display here at the Notre Dame.