Yesterday, the plane I was on held the majority of the Bishops who are participating in this Peace Pilgrimage, along with nearly 300 other people from all parts of the world coming to Tel Aviv for business, pleasure or in many cases, just to come home to be with their families. We landed at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv and were met by representatives of the Near East Travel Association, who are one of our hosts. After each of us retrieving our luggage with no problem (a minor miracle?), we got on the chartered bus to take us the 50 minute drive into Jerusalem. As I had already commented, we rode along a beautiful highway which we were told the Israeli government had built for its citizens, residents and friends. However, even though the road/highway goes right through the West Bank, no Palestinian citizen, resident or supporter is allowed to use the road. These people live all along this road, on both sides of the road for miles and miles, but kept in behind barbed wire fences all along this road, which is kept secure by a number of military checkpoints along the way. This was the very first sign of the divisions which are part of the daily life of the people who live here. We arrived at the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem, which will be our home base for most of our time here. (Our side overnight trip into Gaza has been cancelled due to the heightened tensions. Our other side, overnight trip to Nazareth in Galilee will still take place later in the week.)
Even though it was a short day, after a brief time of rest, we traveled to the holiest place any of us could go: the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It was not easy to get there, primarily because it was "rush hour" in Jerusalem when we were going so the traffic was very congested; also, because it is within the Old City which is surrounded by the holy wall, an amazing sight in itself.
As we walked into the Old City through one of the 8 Gates which grant access, it was immediately like going back to a different time and place. The massive cobble stone streets---the streets that Jesus would have walked, and the very streets which made up the Via Dolorosa, that is, the Way of the Cross---are amazing. The streets are lined with shops of various sorts, and then there are the Bazaars where merchants sell their wares primarily for the Pilgrims of all the different faiths. We finally came to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,
Outside the Church of the Holy Sepulcherwhich has been built over the sites of Jesus' Passion, Death, Burial and Resurrection. We were given a historical explanation for how there have been many churches built over these spots over these last 2000 years which have been destroyed and rebuilt time and again by various groups who at the time were exercising power. This current Church dates back hundreds of years, but the places where Jesus suffered, died and was buried---and rose---are preserved intact. We saw the Pillar to which Jesus was tied during the merciless Scourging; we touched and venerated the spot where Jesus was Crucified and died; we venerated and kissed the slab upon which Jesus' lifeless body was laid after being taken down from the cross to be quickly prepared for burial;
Anointing the slab