Today was a field trip day. We began by proceeding in haste into the hill country of Judea to the town of Ein Karim. This is the town where Elizabeth and Zachariah lived and where Mary went to greet Elizabeth after the Annunciation. It is here that the second joyful mystery of the Rosary, the Visitation, took place. We were able to visit the Church of the Visitation as well as the Church marking the Birthplace of John the Baptist. The name “Shawn” is the Gaelic form of “John” and I claim John the Baptist as my primary patron saint. So, this was a very special place for me to visit. They have a marker over the place of his birth similar to the one marking the location of the Annunciation in Nazareth. We couldn’t stay long, but I prayed that St. John would continue to help me to be a good prophet and precursor of the Lord and that I may do a good job of preparing His way. “He must increase and I must decrease.”
After leaving Ein Karim we went to visit the memorial called “Yad VaShem” dedicated to the Shoah (Holocaust). This was a very powerful and distressing place. I have visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. (which I now definitely think is the better of the two museums) and remember spending almost an entire day there. The hour and a half that we had at Yad VaShem was barely enough time to walk through the place, yet alone read much of anything. Being here helped remind me of how important it is to understand just how much the Shoah is still very much in the front of people’s minds. If you can begin to understand just how deeply wounded the Jews still are by the Shoah (and rightfully so), then it is easier to understand why the State of Israel falls into some of the unfortunate practices that we have observed. It doesn’t excuse or justify the oppression of the Palestinians, but it does help you understand their fears and motivations. Some of the highlights of this visit were the eternal flame in the “Hall of Remembrance” and the Children’s Memorial. In this memorial they have a dark room with a few candles and mirrors all over such that all you see are thousands of little flames in every direction to represent all the children killed in the Shoah. The quote above the door says “Every child is a candle of God” and the names of the children are read as you walk through. I also was moved to see the Avenue of the Righteous Gentiles where the non-Jews who helped save people during the Shoah are memorialized by trees. I saw there the tree dedicated to Oskar Schindler, made famous in the movie “Schindler’s List”. Above all, Yad VaShem was a memorial of man’s inhumanity to man. We must pray that we will never again declare that some people are not people…and yet we do. Have we learned anything from the Shoah? That will be the true measure of our race and the real value of Yad VaShem.
Our final stop today was in Bethany. This is the famous town that was home to Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. We visited the church dedicated to them and even got to enter the tomb of Lazarus. What a special opportunity. One of the sad things about Bethany today was evidenced by the fact that Bethany is right on top of the mount of Olives, just a mile away, but we had to go almost 10 miles out of our way to get there. This is because the Israelis have built their separation wall right through Bethany, cutting many families and friends in half. Bethany is the city from which Jesus began his Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem. Since the creation of the wall, the traditional Palm Sunday procession is now no longer possible and an alternate route has to be taken. I wish that I could have walked down the Mount of Olives from Bethany and followed the route of Jesus. I could just imagine him riding his donkey with all the people shouting. What a special day that would have been for our Lord. Perhaps this was one of his last moments of joy before the agony of the upcoming week began. As went in and then came out of the tomb of Lazarus, I was again reminded how real life after death is. Lazarus of course had to die again, but Jesus showed just how easy it is to raise someone from the dead. Jesus truly holds the keys to death and we have nothing to fear. The raising of Lazarus is one of my favorite stories in the Bible, and I was truly blessed to be able to visit this famous place.