Monday, November 2, 2009

Bishop Finn Leads Holy Land Pilgrimage – Parts 3 & 4

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 are the third and fourth installments. These have piled up over the weekend when I wasn’t posting. Part five later today.

October 31, 2009

We began the day with the celebration of the Holy Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher with the pilgrims seated outside of the Sepulcher itself and Mass offered inside by Bishop Finn on an altar board inserted above the Sepulcher. The music was provided by a dozen Franciscan Friars, one of whom assisted Bishop Finn with Mass along with Fr. Rocha. The Mass and music were beautiful and the 15 minute walk back to the Knights Palace hotel built the appetite for our breakfast.

The Pilgrimage continued with a morning bus ride of about 7 km though the Judean hill country to Ein Karem, a tiny village surrounded by green hills, where the Church of the Visitation is located. This is believed to be the site where Mary, after traveling for four five days in these rugged hills made her way to the village to see her cousin Elizabeth.  There was almost no traffic as we traveled through the streets of western Jerusalem on the Jewish Sabbath. On the steep road up to the Church the pilgrims were led in the recitation of the rosary by Bishop Finn.  The Church originally built by the Crusaders is today beautifully maintained by the Franciscans. Outside the Church a wall opposite the entrance contains the words of the Magnificat on tiles in 42 languages. As you enter the upper Church there is above the portico a beautiful mosaic of the meeting with Elizabeth.

After entering the Church Bishop Finn read the account of the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth given in St. Luke's Gospel.  This tells us that when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, "the babe in her womb [John the Baptist] leapt.  And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and cried out with a loud voice saying, 'Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb! And how have I deserved that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" We then went down to the lower Church which was one of the most beautifully decorated churches we have seen with large frescoes depicting the story of Mary.

Leaving the Church of the Visitation we made our way down the steep stone path and over to the nearby Church of John the Baptist, which commemorates the birth of John the Baptist.  The original Church was destroyed by the Samaritans, rebuilt by the Crusaders and restored by the Franciscans centuries later. Here the pilgrims gathered by the wall outside to pray the Benedictus, the words spoken by Zechariah after the birth of his son, John the Baptist. The passage was read by Bishop Finn (see Luke 1: 68-79) and prayers were said as we remembered all those back home who asked us to remember their intentions.

After lunch in West Jerusalem the tour made its way to the Church of St. Ann in East Jerusalem, a beautiful 12th century Church built by the Crusaders, replacing a previous Byzantine church. This site is believed to mark the site where the Blessed Mother was born which is marked below the church. Saladin turned it into a Muslim theological school in 1192 but after centuries of disuse it was acquired by the French who restored it. Beside the church is the pool of Bethsaida, where we remembered the healing of the paralytic by Jesus (John 5: 1-15), the account of which was read by Bishop Finn and followed by prayers.

The pilgrims then walked a short distance to the sanctuaries of the Flagellation and the Condemnation on either side of a small square, at the beginning of the Via Dolorosa (Way of Grief or Suffering). The traditional route starts just outside the Lion's gate and near the location of the former Roman Antonio fortress and winds its way westward through the Old City toward the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We visited the Chapel of the Flagellation where Eucharistic adoration was taking place and then crossed over to the Chapel of the Condemnation to pray before beginning our tracing of Jesus' steps on the Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus walked carrying his cross to Calvary. The pilgrims than carried a cross and walked the Via Dolorosa praying the stations as we went led by Bishop Finn. The first nine stations are found on the small crowded streets of the area but the last four are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is shared between various Christian denominations including the Coptic, Armenian, Orthodox and Franciscans.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, originally build by the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century under the supervision of his mother, St. Helen, was destroyed by the Persians in 614 and again by the Egyptian caliph, Al Hakim in 1009 as part of a general destruction that helped spark the Crusades.  The Crusaders rebuilt the Church, the holiness of which is appreciated by pilgrims from all nations.  As you enter the Church you see the anointing stone on which the body of Jesus was prepared for burial, which many kneel to kiss.  On this occasion, we entered the Church from the rear and passed through the Coptic area on our way to complete the last four stations.  A stairway leads to Calvary (or Golgotha), the place where Jesus was crucified. The Franciscan chapel of the Nailing of the Cross is station 11. It has a beautiful 12th century mosaic of Jesus being nailed to the Cross. Adjacent to the Catholic chapel is the Greek Orthodox Calvary, which contains the actual rock of Calvary, which can be touched by kneeling and reaching under the altar, which all the pilgrims did. When the stations were finished the pilgrims walked back to the hotel through the streets exhausted but spiritually renewed and happy.

This account is being written before we go the Church of All Nations for a holy hour tonight. The pilgrims are very much looking forward to that.

November 1, 2009

We celebrated Mass this morning at the Franciscan Chapter of the Cenacle.  In his homily Bishop Finn referred to the mysteries which took place in the Upper Room (including the Last Supper and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and the Blessed Mother at Pentecost) and said it was our privilege to consider the connection between these mysteries. In addition to being mindful of all the Saints he said we should be particularly mindful of our priests who he said he felt a special closeness to in this Mass and that we should offer thanksgiving for them, praying also for their purity and holiness.

After Mass we visited the Cenacle or Upper Room, the building site where the Last Supper was held, though the original building no longer exists and the current one had been a Muslim mosque for some time before it was restored to the Franciscans. Bishop Finn read an account of the momentous events of the Last Supper from Scripture and two prayers were offered by the pilgrims, one of thanksgiving for the Holy Eucharist and one to the Holy Spirit. The room of the Last Supper is located just outside the Dormition Abbey and we walked over to the nearby Church of the Dormition, which has a beautiful frescoe over the main altar with Mary with the Child Jesus holding open the Book of Isaiah 7.  One tradition says Mary was buried here, which the crypt below the Church commemorates, although another perhaps stronger tradition says Mary died and was assumed into heaven in Ephesus.

The pilgrims also visited the Mount of Temptation, where Jesus was thought to have been tempted by Satan, high above the town of Jericho, which can be reached by traveling through what the Bible refers to as the Judean wilderness.  The town is mentioned several times in Scripture, beginning with its conquest by the people of Israel after crossing the Jordan River and also in the Gospels, notably in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The town of 15,000 today is close to Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.  We visited this site and learned more about the Essenes who lived there and then went on to the Dead Sea itself, where some members of the pilgrimage waded in the salt water.