Today we woke up to a beautiful day with the bells of the churches in Jerusalem ringing. Whilst the Jewish people celebrate their Sabath, we joined our Lord in his way of sorrow: Via Dolorosa or Ways of the Cross. We went over the steps He suffered, his pain, solitude and the cruelty laid upon him, and him always baring our load with faith, hope and love. We entered Jerusalem through Herod’s Gate, which leads to Damascus, and from there on a very remarkable experience began.
We started at the Church of the Condemnation, the way the Franciscans have done since the 14th century. Walking towards the second and third station whilst singing was a very moving moment; it made me realise how I was stepping on the very same land and places where Jesus had been, thinking of how we suffered and only someone like Him would give his life in such a loving way to save us.
We continued through the streets of stone to find the Ecce Homo arch where Jesus, after being sent by Pilate to be scourged, was presented to the people to be crucified. We passed the third station, the now Armenian Catholic Patriarchate and carried on to the place where Simon of Cyrene helped our Lord carry the cross (Mk 15:21). Then, my feelings were stirred up when I touched the wall where Jesus once had to lean on, exhausted and weakened by the loss of blood, He had to pause on the wall on his way to Calvary (Golgotha, the place of the skull). What a blessing it is to be in this special place and praying in such an special way!
The ninth station is by St Helen Coptic church, we prayed stations 10 to 14 on top of the Church of the Resurrection. This is because due to the church holding different denominations prayer is not allowed inside. I have never felt so close to Jesus as I did today while walking with him to his death. It made me think how our lives can compare to this Via Dolorosa and despite all adversities, we should carry our cross and trust in the loving God we have, always going on with faith and hope of the resurrection.
At the end of the Via Dolorosa we entered the Holy Sepulchre (Church of the Resurrection). We had the opportunity to put our hand where the cross was raised; what a touching moment! We could touch the stone in which Jesus was wrapped for his burial, saw a piece of the column where Jesus sat after being flagellated and finally went into the Empty Tomb: “Why look among the dead for someone who is alive? He is not here, He has risen!” (Lk 24:5).
This amazing experience even included a view of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch coming into the church with his bishops – an interreligious experience! There was a corner where we could feel at home, the Catholic side. It depicts an image of Mary of Magdala meeting the resurrected Jesus. We could also see the rock that was split in two when Jesus died on that Friday when we gave His life to cleanse us of our sins.
A morning full of emotions and thoughts, it ended with some time for us to individually reflect and make some inner silence. We then made our way to the Latin Patriarchate; on the way we stopped by a Lutheran church and at midday we had the pleasure of celebrating Mass at what Cardinal Vincent Nichols described as a church where we can feel at home. He celebrated Mass and Fr John Farrell reminded us that as Catholics we should be outgoing and spreading the Word rather than just keeping the joy to ourselves.
After all this food for the soul and mind it was time to replenish energies. We headed towards Knights Palace where we were greeted by a noble and friendly Knight sitting on his throne; then we were ready for more! On the way to Mount Zion, we passed the wall where General Allenby once declared Jerusalem under the rule of the British Empire. We then walked to Mount Zion where we visited the Upper Room where the Last Supper took place and Jesus instituted the Eucharist.
In addition, we visited the Dormition Abbey, founded by a Benedictine community, where the Virgin Mary is venerated. We then resumed our walk and passed a Franciscan convent, and continued to St Peter’s in Gallicantu, where Peter wept after denying Jesus for the third time. We saw what a Roman prison looked like, saw the Holy Steps where Jesus went down after the Last Supper to Gethsemane and up after being arrested. We ended our day by riding the coach to our next destination: Bethlehem!
Last but not least, we had a small celebration for Fr David who today celebrated his 6th anniversary of priestly ordination and kindly shared his delicious chocolate cake with us, his flock. Congratulations Fr David, you do an wonderful job! 🙂