Friday, September 12, 2014

Peace Pilgirmage First Day: Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Greetings from the Holy Land---the Land of our forefathers and mothers: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David; the Land where Jesus lived, taught, died and rose, and where the Christian/Catholic faith was born; the Land of Mohammed the Prophet from Mecca.  In this ancient part of the world, where many of those signs of the beginnings and the continued practice of the world's three great religions---Judaism, Christianity and Islam---are visible everywhere, there are also signs of modern cities, growth and development in so many ways.  Yet the ancient conflicts between and among these good people continue from generation to generation, and currently are still present.  People are tense.  And yet, the plea from all the people is the same now as it has always been:  we want to live in Peace.  I am very privileged to be one of 18 Bishops from the United States who have come to this Holy Land on a Pilgrimage for Peace in the Holy Land.  Over the course of these next 8 days, we will tour and visit these holy places; we will pray at these holy places; but we will also be meeting with Christian leaders, Jewish leaders, Islam leaders---religious and civil (sometimes one and the same)---to try to learn more about the root causes of these ancient/current conflicts, and to discuss ways to greater understanding, mutual respect, and ultimately ways to live in peace.  As everyone knows, these are complex issues, which are intertwined with religious, political, social and cultural concerns.  But there must be a way to Peace----God's constant plan is for His people---all people---to live in Peace and Unity.

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 Sepulcher
which 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

and we were privileged to go into the very place where Jesus was laid in the tomb, and from which Jesus rose 3 days later.  At each of those holy places, I prayed for our Diocese and I prayed for all my own personal intentions, and I prayed for peace.  After seeing the other parts of this massive Church,we were privileged to celebrate our first Mass in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, presided and preached by Bishop Richard Pates who is the Chairman of the Bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, and concelebrated by all of us and attended by a number of pilgrims from other places as well.  As we came out to begin walking back through the Old City, it was just dusk, and the Prayers of the Islam people were being loudly broadcast through the City----quite a contrast indeed.  After the bus ride back to the hotel, we had a very nice dinner together, followed by a short time of orientation by staff of the USCCB Office for International Justice and Peace and representatives of the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) who are also helping to coordinate all the activities of our Pilgrimage.  Finally, it was time for bed.  As I went to sleep, I prayed Prayers for Peace in this Holy Land, and throughout the world.

1 comment:

  1. Dear +Bishop Bradley,
    Today is the 3rd day of the Novena for Peace we are offering for you and the 17 +bishops on your pilgrimage for peace. We will be praying the Beatitudes: that we may follow Christ more closely, and continue to be peacemakers in our home, our workplace, our community, and our world.