Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bishop Finn Leads Pilgrimage to Holy Land – Part 2

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 second installment. Tomorrow I’ll post the third which has pics.

Our second day on the Pilgrimage to the Holy Land took place on Friday, 30 October and began under sunny skies but a much cooler day in the 60's.  We traveled by bus to the Dome of the Ascension on the Mt. of Olives, which is situated east of the Old City of Jerusalem and looks down upon the Kidron Valley and Old Jerusalem.  The site is sacred to Christians because it is where the Ascension of Jesus took place forty days after his Resurrection. 

Bishop Finn gathered everyone inside the small dome and read from the Gospel of Luke concerning Christ:  "And it came to pass as he blessed them, that he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.  And they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem" (Lk 24: 51-52). In the first chapter of Acts, which was also read, it is recorded that "he was lifted up before their eyes and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing up into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white garments and said to them, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up to heaven? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, shall come in the same way you have seen him going up to heaven’'" (Acts 1: 9-11).  After praying we learned that the first Christians worshipped in a cave on the sight until a chapel was constructed in 380 A.D. It was a round building open to the sky but it was converted into a Muslim shrine after the conquest by Saladin in 1187 A.D. and was considered sacred to Moslems, whose Quran has one line affirming the Ascension (Surah 4:158). The footprints formed in the dust inside the dome were considered to be those of Christ and the right print still remains today.

We walked from there a short distance to the Church of the Pater Noster, which is believed to be the place where Jesus responded to the request to teach us to pray, by teaching the Our Father. The Church was built by Constantine and construction supervised by St. Helena, his mother.  The Constantian church was destroyed by the Persians in 614, but the Crusaders constructed a small oratory amidst the ruins in 1106. The present Church and Carmelite monastery was built between 1868-1872 by French Princesse de la Tour d'Auvergne.  Tiled panels inscribed with the Our Father prayer are found all around the grotto area in over 100 languages. Bishop Finn read from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 11, where it recounts Jesus’ teaching.  We pilgrims prayed the Our Father in the Grotto and then entered the Chapel of the Carmel.

We then walked down the sharply declining road on the hillside which Jesus used on Palm Sunday a short distance to the Dominus Flevit Church, a small Franciscan church located on upper western slopes of the Mt. of Olives. This church commemorates the tears Jesus shed as he approached Jerusalem looking out towards the Temple, which the Romans destroyed during the civil war with the Jews in 70 A.D. along with the city. 

The Church of Dominus Flevit, which literally translates, "the cry of the Lord," was constructed by the Italian architect Anton Barluzzin in the shape of a tear drop. It has four large jars on the exterior corners to symbolize the Jewish custom of catching the tears of one who is mourning. As we entered the small church the altar decoration of the mother hen gathering her chicks catches the eye as does the beautiful window behind the altar, which provides a panoramic view of Old Jerusalem from the East in general and especially the Dome of the Rock. It was here we celebrated Mass.  In his homily Bishop Finn noted that Jesus was not thinking of his own glory on Palm Sunday but weeping for those who will be lost. He said that Jesus' constant prayer was that we be one. He urged the pilgrims to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and to participate in the work of peace and unity.

As we further descended the Palm Sunday road we observed a vast grave yard on the hillside where many Jewish people have been buried in the belief that they are close to the Valley of Jehoshaphat, where they expect mankind to be resurrected on the Day of Judgment. Our last stop was the Garden of Gethsemane, with its eight ancient olive trees, the garden where Jesus spent a sleepless night praying before his arrest and crucifixion. The Franciscans maintain the Basilica of Agony, which was built in 1924.  This beautiful church was our last stop and Mass was being offered there as we arrived. This was our last stop before lunch at the Notre Dame center and a free afternoon to see things on our own.

The first installment can be read here.