By Mr. Nghiem Nguyen
After a night in the Holy Sepulchre, a Christmas day, and a long night’s rest, we are all physically and spiritually rejuvenated. We started the day early with a visit to the Mount of Olives – the site of Jesus’ Ascension. After some historical explanations from our tour guide, we were able to see and touch the footprints that Jesus made when he ascended.
After that, we visited the site of “Pater Noster”. Our guide explained that, due to Roman persecution, most people had forgotten (or never learned) how to pray. In this place, Jesus taught the Our Father prayer. We found the English translation engraved on one of the walls and followed Jesus’ example in saying this familiar prayer. Despite having visited dozens of sites, it is still touching to say the same words in the same place as Jesus.
We then walked up to Dominus Flevit where Jesus had wept as he approached Jerusalem. Fr. Daniel led a Gospel reading and we reflected on the need for Jesus in our lives as we face trials and tribulations. The site was also opposite the city walls of Jerusalem and provided us with magnificent panoramic views.
After enjoying the scenery, our minds shifted as we approached Gethsemane. The olive trees were not quite old enough to have Jesus touch them, but they were approximately 1000 years old. Looking at these dignified trees gave us a glimpse of what Jesus saw as He began to experience the Agony. Inside the church was the place where Jesus prayed. All of us knelt and had a personal moment. One student shared that he offered his sufferings to Jesus and asked Him to take them, too. I think we all had a similar sentiment.
Leaving Gethsemane, we walked to Dormition Abbey. This is believed to be where Mary fell asleep and was assumed into heaven. We reflected, sang “Immaculate Mary”, and then prayed. One student shared that he prayed for his future wife, for her purity, and for the chastity of their marriage. The Holy Land has a special way of drawing out the best thoughts and intentions in us all.
After leaving the site of the Assumption, we fully immersed ourselves in Easter Triduum. We started with the Cenacle. In this specific room, four Sacraments were instituted. It is the location of the Last Supper, where Jesus implicitly instituted the priesthood. After the Resurrection, Jesus also established Reconciliation. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended for the first Confirmation. It was amazing and humbling to stand in a room so rich in history and so filled with grace.
We then walked to St. Peter Gallicantu. The steps up the hill to the church have been verified as the steps where Jesus and His apostles walked. At the top of the steps, Simon Peter denied Jesus three times. While standing in the same place where St. Peter stood gave all of us a vivid reminder that we also deny Jesus many times in our own lives.
Inside the church was the Sacred Pit. After being captured, Jesus was brought here to be scourged, whipped, and tortured. We saw and touched the same stones where Jesus had bled. Jill shared a Psalm on suffering and we reflected on how Jesus continues to take on our sufferings even after we caused Him so much agony.
After leaving the place of Jesus’ torture, we were reminded of how blessed we are with a mass celebration at the stunningly beautiful Notre Dame Center. Everest Collegiate was well-represented with Clare serving as a lector and Jill singing the Psalm. The boys and I were especially honored and humbled by taking the place of the apostles and having our feet washed by the bishop. We were a little nervous, so we pre-washed our feet.
After a delicious dinner, we drove back to the Garden of Gethsemane for the Holy Thursday candlelight procession. The evening started slow with most of us standing outside the church in the cold, but as we began to walk, we steadily re-immersed ourselves in the experience of the Passion. With each step, we became more focused, more unified, and more prayerful. Jill led the group in singing Everest’s familiar worship songs. In a crowd of thousands, our voices were still heard clearly and perhaps louder than ever before. It felt as though the melodies often sung in the Boys School Chapel had crescendoed and bursted onto the ancient streets of Jerusalem. There were also many other groups singing their songs in their own language. We alternated between listening to others and contributing our own music. We were also pleasantly surprised as other pilgrims joined in our singing.
The procession reached its conclusion and climax at St. Peter Gallicantu. We were not able to visit the Sacred Pit again, but images, emotions, and impressions that we earlier in the day were definitely with us. The students all seemed at peace and fully engaged in the moment. We were alone on a terrace with a beautiful view of Jerusalem at night. It was the perfect time and place for us to reflect on our day.
We continue to pray for all of you back home.