Today began with a bit of disappointment. We arrived at the Temple Mount for our scheduled tour on top, but found out that the Muslims who control the mount on top declared today a feast day and closed the whole place down without warning. We did, however, get to visit the Western Wall and pray there. This is the famous “wailing wall” which is as close to the destroyed temple as the Jews can get. I said a quick prayer for the return of the Messiah and his acceptance by all Israel as the Scriptures foretell. It was nice to see many of the Jews there saying their morning prayers.
After some rescheduling, today turned into a day devoted to Mary. We began at Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion. This church is built over the home of the Virgin Mary. The Church teaches that at the end of her earthly life she was taken body and soul to heaven. There is some debate about whether she actually died or not. The term “dormition” therefore means “falling asleep.” We all gathered in the crypt of the church and sang Immaculate Mary in honor of our Blessed Mother. With the great acoustics of the place, I have to admit that we sounded pretty darn good and I think Our Lady was pleased.
From Mount Zion we headed over to the Mount of Olives to get a better view of Jerusalem. We gathered at the church Dominus Flevit which means “The Lord Wept.” It was here that Jesus wept over ancient Jerusalem, knowing that it would soon be destroyed. From here we had a beautiful vantage of the whole city and were able to do our teaching on the temple which we missed. Just as Jesus prophesied, everything in the city was destroyed in 70 AD, including the temple. There is no temple on the temple mount today as the Muslims have built their Dome of the Rock right on top of the old temple. Mike pointed out how this is not a problem for us as Christians as Jesus has fulfilled everything that the temple foreshadowed. What we have every day at Mass is more holy than the temple ever was.
We had Mass today at the great crusader church of St. Anne. It is built over the home of Sst. Joachim and Anne and marks the spot of the birth of the Virgin Mary. It’s amazing that this church survived the Muslim destruction, partly because they turned it into a Muslim school. The acoustics here are absolutely amazing and it was wonderful to celebrate the Sunday liturgy with song. I preached on the importance of “going” and not just letting this pilgrimage be a fond memory of happy feelings, but really an experience that demands action and a change of life. This is the good fruit that I pray will come from the seeds planted here.
This evening, Mike gave us a presentation on the Arab/Israeli conflict. Having lived over here for 3 months previously and now for another 10 days you definitely get a different perspective. Before I came to the Holy Land 5 years ago I didn’t even know what a Palestinian was. The big thing that starts to make people think is when you realize all the Christians are Palestinians. If we support the notion of a strictly Jewish state of Israel, we end up supporting the persecuting and ultimate elimination of all the Christians from the Holy Land. In fact, the Christians have always served as a kind of buffer between the Muslims and Jews. Both of these groups want to the completely eliminate the other from the land while only the Christians wish to see everyone peacefully co-exist. The sad truth is that the Christian presence in the Holy Land has greatly diminished in recent years. If something doesn’t change, there will no longer be Christians living in the land of Jesus. Pray for peace here, and really mean it.
As I right this blog tonight I’m writing for the last time from Jerusalem. I am currently sitting on the beautiful rooftop of the Notre Dame Center with a perfect breeze blowing through. The Dome of the Rock is right in front of me and I can see the shadowy outlines of the domes of the Holy Sepulcher. We’ve got a few more things to do in Jerusalem tomorrow, including Mass on Calvary, but then it will be time to say goodbye. We will be staying in a hotel in Tel Aviv for those not flying home at midnight tomorrow. Hopefully I will find some internet there. Happy Sunday and Happy Fathers’ Day to all those back home.