Notes from the Holy Land – Final Days
Following is the final blog from Angela DiLaura of Everest Collegiate High School, about her senior class pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
He is risen!
After a lovely, albeit a bit hectic, spring break, I will dive into my memories to finish telling you about my class’ trip to the Holy Land.
At 3:15 am on Holy Thursday, I stumbled through the dark, trying to turn off my alarm before I woke up my roommate, Sarah. As I was getting ready to leave, I heard her laughing a little bit. “What?” I asked curiously. “Well,” she said, “are you planning on spending the night in the Holy Sepulchre tonight? Father Daniel said we would probably have that option.” “Of course!” I responded. “You’re not going to sleep in this hotel room again before we leave,” she said. She was right. A long day (or two) was ahead of me!
At 3:30 am, seven of us quietly left the hotel, and walked through the dark streets of Jerusalem, arriving at the Holy Sepulchre at 3:50 am. Ben, David, Eric, Monica, Nick, Gabe, and I sat around the small gate that would soon be unlocked, excited for our first glimpse of the church. A few minutes after 4:00 am, we heard footsteps approach the gate and a key turn in the lock. The door swung open, leading into the courtyard outside the Church across which we could see the enormous door leading into the Holy Sepulchre. As we walked through the doors, I realized that there were only a few other people in the whole Church. First, I went up to pray at the rock of Cavalry. Because there were so few people, I was able to spend practically as much time as I wanted praying there. At cavalry there is glass over the rock, with an altar. Under the altar, I was able to reach down to touch the rock. Above the altar is an almost life-sized crucifix, and the whole area around the rock is decked out with gold and silver decorations. To the right of the altar is a beautiful picture of Our Lady of Sorrows, with what looked to be about fifty different rosaries placed in front of her.
Before leaving Cavalry, I lit a candle and placed it in the then empty holders, telling Jesus that I wished I could stay with Him there. Looking back as I descended the stairs to the rest of the Church, I saw that one little candle filling the whole area in front of the altar with a golden glow. I could already see melted wax slipping down the side of the candle.
I realized that this little candle summed up the whole of Christ’s passion. It brought light and warmth to the darkness, just as Christ brought love and salvation to the world. However, the candle doesn’t burn forever; no, it burns itself slowly away to produce the light and warmth. Just as Christ gave Himself up on the cross for our salvation. I lit that candle to represent myself accompanying Christ, but I realized that I could accompany Him in a deeper way by carrying my own cross next to Him. By doing my very best to bring his love and light to the world, I can be like that candle, and I can be like Christ.
I went over to the tomb with several of my classmates, where we sat outside waiting to go in. It seemed that the little Church was being decorated for the Triduum, so we weren’t sure that we would be able to go in, but we didn’t mind waiting to see. After we had been there for about an hour, they told us we wouldn’t be able to go in that morning, so we decided to return to the hotel and catch an hour or two of sleep before we began the day’s tour.
By 8:30 am we were all on the bus heading past the Old City to Mount Zion. First we stopped at the Cenacle — the Upper Room where Christ celebrated the last supper with his apostles. Then we walked further down the mountain to the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu, built over the location of Caiaphas’ house, where Peter denied Christ. Inside the building, we went down to the lower levels of Caiaphas’s house where prisoners were flogged and kept in various cells. After descending a steep set of stairs, we entered the room where Christ would have been kept on Holy Thursday night. Amer told us that he would have been lowered down into this pit with a rope through a hole in the ceiling. The pit would have been filled with enough water that the prisoner would have needed to remain standing in the water for the length of the time he was imprisoned there.
I thought about how, after suffering His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and a exhausting trial before the High Priest, Jesus was lowered through the ceiling into this pit, were He was kept awake all night, standing in freezing cold water, His thoughts surely focused on the suffering He would go through the next day for us. I wonder what flashed through His head. Thoughts of all the people who would reject Him? Thoughts of all those who would suffer out of love for Him? Thoughts of all those who would sit through Mass every Sunday and receive His sacred body and blood without thinking of what a gift they were receiving, without thinking of His love? Thoughts of the little and big sacrifices we make to console Him.
Jesus, think of me while You wait in patience for the suffering You must undergo to save me! Let my little sacrifices console Your weary heart, let my charity be Your food and drink! And Jesus, when You think of my sins, think rather of how much I need You to be my Savior, and how hard I will try to please You by never sinning again.
Outside behind the Church was a beautiful view of part of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. Father Daniel (Pajerski LC) heard confessions on a bench under a palm tree. Running up the slope of the Mountain, right next to St Peter in Gallicantu, were stairs that ascended from the Kidron Valley below to the top of Mount Zion. They dated back to the time of Christ, and Amer told us it was likely Jesus used them often, traveling back and forth from the Old City and upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane. Towards the middle of the steps, I could see an indentation from the thousands of footsteps that walked down the middle of the steps. Footsteps of Jews, Romans, Gentiles… and Jesus.
Next we walked back up part of the mountain, along the wall of the Old City, to Notre Dame, the Pontifical Institute in Jerusalem, where we ate lunch. Father Daniel told us that we had two options for the afternoon: we could go to the Holy Sepulchre in the afternoon, and then have the evening free, or we could have the afternoon free and be at the door of the Holy Sepulchre by 6:30 pm to spend the night in the church. Along with eight others, I decided to spend the night in the Holy Sepulchre. We headed back to the hotel to catch a few hours of sleep before setting out into the Old City to spend the night in prayer. After all, who needs sleep? We were in Jerusalem!
We arrived at the Holy Sepulchre at 6:15 am, sitting down right in front of the doors to make sure we would be able to get in. At 7 am, the doors swung open and we rushed in, heading straight for the tomb. There was hardly any line, and after a few minutes of waiting, we were able to enter the tomb and kneel in front of the stone where Jesus’ body was laid. Because it was Holy Thursday, the Eucharist was exposed there on the rock. What an amazing experience that was: to be in front of the Eucharist on the night of the Last Supper, praying in the place where Christ rose!
For the next six hours, we walked around the church, visiting Cavalry and the tomb, and finding various spots to sit and pray. Around 1 am, all of us were feeling very tired, so we decided to look for a side altar or room where we could try to sleep for a little. We ended up in a tiny courtyard, still within the Holy Sepulchre, where we huddled in a circle trying to share the one blanket we had brought. So much for sleep! We talked for a couple of hours, sharing funny stories and experiences until at 3 am we finally decided to rest. After only an hour outside, all of us were freezing cold, so we moved inside to a side altar (it was barely warmer inside the Church). For several hours we sat in the cold. As I shivered, I thought of how, earlier in the day, we had visiting the pit where Jesus was spending the night on that Holy Thursday. I’m sure He was even more tired and cold than I was, so I tried to accompany Him as the night stretched on. For several hours we alternated between napping, praying, and forming the “penguin huddle” (so named by Gabe) to stay warm. At 8 am, we were standing by the enormous doors, watching as they were unlocked. It was beautifully sunny outside, although it was still cold.
Good Friday had begun.
We walked back to the hotel, where we had thirty minutes to shower, pack up, grab breakfast, and meet on the bus. First, we drove to the Mount of Olives, where we had the chance to ride and camel and take pictures with a beautiful view of the city of Jerusalem behind us. Next, we drove and walked into the Old City, where we visited Bethesda and the Wailing Wall. The Church of St. Anne’s, next to the pools of Bethesda, has incredible acoustics, so we sang Mozart’s “Ave Maria.”
Then, we took a bus over to the Notre Dame center where we ate lunch before heading back into the Old City to walk the Stations of the Cross, following in the footsteps of Christ. That was an unforgettable experience. Christ carried his cross, not down a wide street and through fields, but through the narrow markets of Jerusalem. As the Jews were celebrating Passover, the streets would have been packed with vendors, pilgrims from other parts of Israel, and natives of Jerusalem. We were able to see where Christ walked, to imagine the atmosphere around Him, and to follow His footsteps on Good Friday. Jesus, give me the grace to pick up my cross and follow You every day as You guide my life!
After we ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we returned to the Notre Dame Center, where our bus was parked. We drove to Joppa, where we ate our last Israeli meal. Finally, we were dropped off at the airport in Tel Aviv, with four hours until our flight left. I don’t think any of us wanted to leave. I sat by an enormous window by our gate, writing in my journal as the sun set. It was incredible to think back over all the experiences that were packed into one short week. It felt like I had been there a month, and yet like I had been there a day. I am only seventeen, but I have been to the Holy Land and walked in the footsteps of Jesus during Holy Week. I received so many graces; I will probably be “unpacking” them for the rest of my life.
I know Christ didn’t give me that experience to keep to myself. He didn’t give me all the graces just for me. Now that I am home, I know Jesus wants me to use everything I was given to spread His light and joy. He has a mission for me and for all of us that were on this trip to share our experiences and the gifts we received. To go like Mary Magdalen did to the disciples, and to announce, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18).