Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bishop Finn Leads Pilgrimage to the Holy Land – Part 1

Kansas City – St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn is leading a Kansas City pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The pilgrimage began yesterday and will last till November 10. Claude Sasso, Ph.D., Vice-Chancellor of the Diocese, will be sending occasional dispatches on the visit. Below is the first installment. Pictures will follow. They certainly had a busy first day:

The Pilgrimage Tour arrived at David Ben Gurion Airport on October 28, 2009, tired but excited to be in the Holy Land.  On Thursday, October 29th, the Pilgrimage to the Holy Land began its first full day in Israel from our Jerusalem hotel, the Knights Palace.  We traveled south a short distance by bus from Jerusalem and arrived in Bethlehem about 8:30 A.M.  There we visited the Holy Grotto of the Nativity.  But before visiting the Holy Grotto, Mass was celebrated for the 42 pilgrims by Bishop Robert Finn in the Franciscan Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria, which is adjacent to the Grotto.  We thus began the first of our daily pilgrimage Masses with a Christmas celebration of the birth of our Lord.  After Mass we moved over to the Greek Orthodox Church built over the Holy Grotto of the Nativity and descended the stairs inside to the Grotto area.  Each pilgrim in turn lay prone to kiss the spot where the Savior was born in the candle-lit Grotto. Memories of the scene of the Manger and the love of our Savior flooded into our minds and some emerged in tears.

Then we moved over to the adjacent cave area where St. Jerome spent thirty-four years between 386-420, which is now separated from the Nativity Grotto by a wall, but was not at that time. Here St. Jerome, who had recently finished his translation of the New Testament, began to learn Hebrew from local rabbis so that he could translate the Old Testament into Latin.  The end result of all his labors was the Latin Vulgate Bible, which was the Bible of the Western Church for over one thousand years.  Along with his other writings it established Jerome as the greatest of Bible scholars.  He is remembered for his saying that "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ."  The beautiful little Grotto with its altar and holy images on the wall is maintained by the Franciscans.

The pilgrims then visited Bethlehem university, which is administered jointly by the Christian Brothers and Muslims.  The Christian Brothers came in 1893 to establish a primary and secondary school, which became Bethlehem University in 1973.  This Vatican sponsored university has over 300 Palestinian students, about 30 percent of whom are Christians.  While visiting their beautiful chapel, we heard students singing hymns in preparation for the noon Mass. The Christian Brothers were very hospitable to us and provided a lunch which was prepared and served by students, some of whom addressed us and ate with us after our tour of the campus.

After leaving the town of Bethlehem we descended into the countryside close by to visit the Shepherd's Fields of Boaz.  It was here that the angel appeared to the shepherds by night and said, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be to all the people; for today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you, who is Christ the Lord."  A multitude of the heavenly host appeared saying, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men of good will" (Luke 2:10-14).  They went in haste thereafter climbing the high hills to see the divine child in the manager in Bethlehem.

Late in the afternoon the pilgrims returned to the Old City of Jerusalem by bus and prepared to walk from the Knight's Palace hotel to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as the sun was setting.  After the singing of beautiful hymns in Latin by a half-dozen Franciscans friars, one of them welcomed us to the holy site and told us they were praying that our visit to the tomb of Jesus would deepen our faith and our commitment to share the good news of His Resurrection and Gospel with others when we returned home.  Led by Bishop Finn, who was followed in procession by the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulcher among the pilgrims, we entered single file a few at a time to offer our heart-felt prayers to our Savior. It was to say the least an eventful day for the 42 pilgrims led by our Bishop, who led us in prayers throughout the day, beginning on the morning bus ride to Bethlehem and finishing at the dinner at the hotel that night.