Friday, September 11, 2015


WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 2: Nazareth - Consider your Calling.
Today was the day we spent time in Nazareth, Considering Mary's - and our - call, as temp. climbed into the 30's.  Time at the Orthodox Church at Mary's Well before walking through the Old City and the souk to spend two hours at the Basilica of the Annunciation. Then time in Cana where people renewed wedding and partnership commitments.  Moving.  Eucharist back at the Convent of the Beatitudes.   Touched by deep sense of continuity as we encountered places still occupied by people over millennia.  Signs of Palestinian anger at Israel 's occupation evident even here.   We ended the day with moving hour of reflection in Chapel.   All early to bed tonight after not getting here until 2am this morning.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 3: Galilee - Living out our Calling.
Just back from our 'cruise' on the Sea of Galilee after Mass on the shore at the site of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes.   This is the place where, sadly, Jewish extremists recently tried to set fire to the church but only a part of the cloister was destroyed.   I am told that there have been further threats to destroy churches unless the Pope abandons support for a Palestinian State and 'recognises' the areas occupied by Israel (i.e. the Territories which the UN confirms are illegally occupied by Israel).  Once again it is Christians who are caught in the middle of the struggle between Jews and Muslims.  O pray for the peace of Jerusalem!   And we have seen signs of the ongoing attempts at reconciliation.   So staying here seems very appropriate and we will have a time of reflection on the Beatitudes before supper.

So - Mensa Christi, Church of the Multiplication,  a visit to Capernaum and then a leisurely time sailing on the Sea/Lake.  And lots of silence between the laughter and liturgies.

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 4: Mount Tabor and Jericho - the Passion begins.
Left hot and humid Galilee  (38c.) and drove to Mount Tabor to visit Church of the Transfiguration where we celebrated Mass.  Such a beautiful spot where heaven touched earth and glory shone out.   But love also made itself known at the Jordan where we
stopped at the newly re-opened Baptism site.   And here I was truly moved for after travelling down mile upon mile of barbed wire border fencing between Israel and Jordan here all bathed in the waters of the Jordan just 12 feet wide.  And who urged Israel to reopen the site for Christians?   King Abdullah of Jordan  (and  'some" foreign governments  - I dare not hope one might have been our Government - might we ever regain any moral authority  - or interest?). 

So here we are at the Lutheran Hostel in the Old City where the Dome's of Holy Sepulchre and the Rock stand out just a stones throw away.  Tomorrow the Via Dolorosa after Mass in the acoustically wonderful Church of S. Anne

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 5: 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem! '
Salve Regina sung in the most wonderful Church of S. Anne (at the request of one of the pilgrims)  whose acoustics are renowned; a Liturgy for Healing at the Pool of Bethesda; Stations of the Cross including prayers at Station 10 (the Coptic Patriarchate) beneath a banner in memory of the Copts murdered on the beach by ISiL, and walking down the Mount of Olives praying at the churches of Dominus Flevit, the Pater Noster until we reached the Church of All Nations and Garden of Gethsemane - a rich and full day.   At the heart of which - and the goal of this Pilgrimage  - to venerate Calvary and be present at Holy Sepulchre where we shall be at 6.45am tomorrow!  DV.

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 6: 'This is my body, given for you.'
Awoken by the call of the minaret(s) from 4.30am!  These Jerusalem days start with invitations to pray which last until the booming bells of Holy Sepulchre begin 40 mins. later.   What to do apart from get up  - which 6 of us did - and go to pray with the Ethiopian's (and Copts, Latins and Armenians) in Holy Sepulchre. At least one can enter Christ's Tomb and pray there!

Later most of us attended the Eucharist at S. George's  (Anglican) Cathedral, which felt a bit like an Arabic outpost of the USA...  Good sermon from the Dean, Fr. Hosam, who preached on the text of the healing of the Syro -Phoenician Woman and drew out the parallels between the lengths she was prepared to go to have her daughter healed and the lengths Syrian mothers go to today to save their children.

After excellent buffet lunch at the College we split up for the afternoon with people visiting the Western Wall,  Armenian Cathedral (and how many people know of the Syrian Genocide of 1915?) etc.  I discovered that the S. Alexander Nevsky Church and Museum was open so visited there with some of the party - and was staggered to see a complete room from the days of Imperial Russia preserved there,  looked after by some young nuns of the Nursing Order founded by the Grand Duchess St. Elizabeth who was martyred in the Revolution.  And a solitary visit to Dormition Abbey and the State - run Chapel of the Upper Room.   Just a museum now...

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 7: Bethlehem - 'And we have seen His glory'
Today we're spending time in Bethlehem.  This meant passing through the Wall of Separation and considering what it means to be living in a virtual ghetto.  That's both Palestinians and Israeli 's for whilst the former suffer ongoing oppression and injustice (illegal Settlements, loss of  land,  destruction of property, curtailment of basic rights etc...) the latter are victims of their own violence and history.  

So, on the day we celebrated the Nativity of our Lord with Mass in the Shepherd's Fields we also reflected on how His members suffer today.  And, through an unfortunate event, we also experienced the way those members help each other when in need.   As we left the Fields one of our party talked of feeling unwell - and where should we be heading but to lunch at the (Christian run - but open to all) Arab Rehabilitation Centre in Beit Sahour, a centre which includes a hospital!!!  Immediately  (!) she was seen by a doctor, tests then carried out and results awaited.  Thankfully not serious and the doctors gave their all-clear 10 mins. before the pilgrims returned from visiting the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem. The angels were on our side!

But it gave me a chance to talk with the administration  manager who is Syrian Orthodox.  Having fled the Turkish Great Genocide (the generic name for that genocide which the Turks inflicted on minority religious groups in the region) in 1915 her family moved to Bethlehem and now fears the total destruction of their Church.  So many Christians leaving, little hope for the future in their countries, a minority Arab group amongst Arabs - who wants the Christians?  They are so grateful for our interest and support but now fear further take-over of their land - even in the Palestinian Territories - by the Israelis.  There was a deep and painful sorrow in her words and I remembered with sadness the way our government seems to have washed its hands of  (moral) responsibility to protect a deeply persecuted minority in this region.  God forgive our hardness of heart!

Phew - another hot one!  This was to be our 'Desert Day', and the temperature was forecast to be in the 40's. But, in the event,  the sun was hidden all day by the effects of the 'shakir', a combination of events which brings a smog-like atmosphere throughout the region as fine dust from Egypt fills the air.  So at 8.30am we walked the steep path down (and up) the Wadi Qelt to the Monastery of S. George where Elijah is reputed to have lived in a cave.   Women with dresses and men in trousers were allowed in, together with a large group of Romanians led by their priest (in cassock - I felt I'd let the side down, being a wimp in shorts and polo shirt). Some of our group were allowed in and two came out an hour later glowing with wonder having shared in prayers with the Romanian 's,  been given a tour of the monastery (including seeing the skulls of the monks martyred by the Persians in the 7th.c.), and talking with one of the five - young - monks who seem to form the community. Others less modestly dressed walked further down the Wadi and wondered at the sheer silence,  beauty and sense of remoteness of the place which, in reality, is only a few kilometers from Jerusalem.  Yet it wasn't completely silent as all the time we heard the song of scores and scores of birds.

By noon we had left and were at the site of another community - at Qumran - probably inhabited by the Essenes at the time of Jesus where John the Baptist may have spent time and which must provide one of the roots of early Christian monasticism.  Having considered some of their practices I was struck by certain commonalities, not least by the way we all practice ritualised washing - the Essenes with twice-daily purification baths; Muslims who wash before praying, and  Christians who, apart from the bath of Baptism 'wash' themselves with Holy Water on entering a church and then may throw it over people at Asperges!  

Finally we went on to wash ourselves in the waters of the Dead Sea - and smear ourselves in mud.  And our skin feels utterly renewed!

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 9: Ein Karim, Abu Ghosh - 'Did not our hearts burn within us!'
Today we journeyed to Ein Karim and Emmaus: the first the place of Visitation (between Mary and Elizabeth), the second where the eyes of disciples were opened on the day of Resurrection as they travelled, talked together and broke bread.

And that has been our pattern - to 'break bread' eucharistically (joyfully), break bread in shared meals and talk together.  So each evening - and all this afternoon - pilgrims have reflected silently, shared in pairs and then amongst us all as they have considered what this Terra Divina has communicated to us.  And today, after our Eucharist and lunch in the tranquil setting of the Convent of the Sisters of Sion (founded by a Jew who converted in 1845), we spent the whole afternoon in that simple exercise before attending Vespers in the glorious,  ancient, beautiful and sacred space of the Benedictine Abbey of Abu Ghosh, one of the sites of the village of Emmaus.  So our pilgrimage from the Annunciation to the Resurrection concluded with the haunting song ofFrench nuns and monks from le Bec Hellouin twinned, of course, with Canterbury Cathedral.

But our first stop at Ein Karim had seen us acknowledge the Visitation by singing the Magnificat and Ave in the beautiful church dedicated to that mystery and then walking through that - sacred - village, now haunted by the murder of so many Christians and Muslims in 1948 as Jewish brigades fought their way up to Jerusalem.  And houses once homes to generations of mostly Christian Arabs are now bijou residences for artists,  their Christian symbols defaced and the ancient mosque under threat of demolition.  One is never far from the realities of history and the pain of people's thwarted lives as one seeks to be open to this Land made Holy by God.

One final reflection.  Throughout it has become clear - by many conversations with different people - that it is not the obvious injustices carried out by those who exercise power and control but the gradual drip, drip of injustices - the development of illegal Settlements,  confiscation of small amounts of land, daily oppressive treatment of one people by another, obfuscation by the State - all this and more which is, slowly, wearing down a people until a sense of hopelessness sets in.  Or until people say enough is enough - which is when their pain and anger can erupt in violence.

We ended today's journey with a sense of sadness as we said farewell to Bassam Abdalla, our excellent Guide who, for nine days, had shared his faith and passion, as well as his wisdom, knowledge, hopes and fears for this Land.  Tomorrow our journey ends as we celebrate for one last time that meal which our Lord shared with His disciples in a room just metres from here.  And we shall take as our theme His Ascension which occurred from a spot we shall gaze upon from our roof top setting.  So finally we must say : O pray for the peace of Jerusalem!

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