Notes from the Holy Land Day 4
Angela DiLaura, Everest Collegiate High School senior, continues her blog from her classes’ senior trip to Jerusalem during Holy Week into the Triduum.
“While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her first born son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6-7).
We began today by visiting Bethlehem, the City of David, the birthplace of Jesus. As we drove up to the city, we were greeted by quite a surprise. From what I had learned about Bethlehem from watching the news, I expected to see a fence, maybe with barbed wire, enclosing the city. Instead we were greeted by a high concrete wall. My first thought was, “I feel like I’m in Berlin, not Israel.”
We began our time in Bethlehem at a small shop owned by Christians, where we did most of our shopping and gift-buying to support the Christian community there. (If I won the lottery, I would buy a plane ticket and go back there.) Artisans native to the area hand-carve statues from olive wood that are absolutely spectacular. Next, we went to Shepherds Field, where Father Daniel (Pajerski LC) celebrated mass in a cave where the shepherds used to shelter their sheep at night. They were in one of these caves when the angels appeared to them to announce the coming of the Messiah. We explored a few caves with Father Daniel, and then emerged, dusty and blinking in the sunlight after our mini spelunking adventure, to continue on to the Church of the Nativity.
The Church of the Nativity is the oldest known Catholic Church. When Persian invaders destroyed most of the early Christian churches during their invasion in the 5th century, they left this church because of the image of the Magi in the front. Different portions of the church are kept up by different groups of Christians, but predominantly by Orthodox Catholics. The site of the Nativity is located in a crypt underneath the sanctuary, and is designated by a twelve-pointed silver star. The site of the manger where Jesus was laid is a few feet away. After singing “Silent Night,” we walked next door, to the Roman Catholic church of St. Catherine of Alexandria. Then, we went to lunch in a restaurant that was in an enormous tent, where we were served delicious Israeli food. This is trip has definitely been full of new experiences!
After lunch we returned to Jerusalem and drove to the summit of the Mount of Olives. First, we stopped at Pater Noster, the place where Christ taught the apostles the Our Father. There were several hallways and courtyards where the prayer was depicted on large plaques in about 180 languages. After finding the one in English, we walked partway down the mountain to Dominus Flavit, the place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. The church there, designed by Berlucci, very fittingly had a dome shaped like a teardrop. The area just outside the church offered a breathtaking view of the city. The following is the best description I have to offer.
When you imagine the view of Jerusalem, think of pristine, stately buildings, well guarded. Air that is so clear you can taste its crispness. Crystal clear water that sparkles in the sun. A sky the perfect shade of azure, which glows in the sun. The comfortable bustle of the marketplace. Straight ahead, the two blue-gray domes of the Holy Sepulcher are visible in the middle of the Old City. To the left, the golden Dome of the Rock marks the Muslim place of worship. Further in that direction, the blue dome of St. Peter in Gallicantu is discernible next to the stairs ascending from the Kidron Valley. On the other side of the Holy Sepulcher, the city stretches on, shining under the bright, Mediterranean sun. My imaginings of what heaven will look like have changed a little after seeing the city.
After pausing to take in this view, we continued our descent of the mountain, ending in Gethsemane. In the majestic church in the garden is the rock upon which Christ prayed in agony before his passion. Touching that rock, I felt so united to the cross. I understood two things. First, it was my own sins and weakness that hurt Christ, and he died specifically out of love for me. Second, I can unite myself to the cross and console Christ’s heart through the offering of the little crosses I encounter every day. I probably could have stayed there for hours. But, there was more to see! Outside the church is a grove of olive trees, the same ones that made up the garden in Christ’s time. I was looking at the exact same trees Christ looked at 2,000 years ago. Incredible, or what?
After we finished exploring the garden, we met up with the bus and returned to the hotel for the evening. After dinner, several of us left the hotel, walked the short distance to the wall of the Old City and went to the marketplace. Going through the gate into the marketplace produced an immediate overload on my senses. Both sides of the narrow streets were lined with shops and vendors. Bright colors flashed at my eyes from all directions, and voices everywhere invited me to look at their merchandise. It smelled of pita bread, spices, sugar, and fruit. One store sold clothing, the next one music, the next jewelry, and the next fruit and vegetables. The most remarkable thing was that this stretched down through all the streets in the Old City. After exploring for a while, we returned to the hotel with a plan. During our explorations we had discovered the way to the Holy Sepulcher and learned that it opened at 4:00 in the morning. Several of us decided to get up extra early the next morning and walk down to pray before leaving for the day’s activities. We went to bed not long after, ready to get up at 3:15 am to arrive at the Holy Sepulcher at 4:00 am. Unusual for teenagers, right? But, what can I say? We wanted to visit Cavalry and the tomb. I guess love makes us do crazy things, and “what greater love is there than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”