I’ve had a hard time sleeping since I arrived. That’s due, in part, because of jetlag. But I think the other reason is that I’m in the Holy Land and every night I have to calm down and pray Hail Marys until I fall asleep. Every morning here is like Christmas and every night is like Christmas Eve. Each day holds so many gifts.
Today I woke up at 4 a.m. I tried, in vain, to finish my short blog from the previous day. I just finished moments ago, actually. The blogs have been hard to write thus far because what I’m experiencing isn’t the “big news” yet — I haven’t seen the Holy Father with my own eyes. That happens tomorrow, God willing.
I made my way to breakfast in the beautiful hotel where we’re staying. Breakfast here is fruit and dairy, mostly, with delicious bread. (I try to avoid bread in general, but I just can’t resist here.) I had a walk through a beautiful park overlooking the Old City, Jerusalem before I met up with our tour guide, Ali Arad, Joyce Coronel of The Catholic Sun and Bill Howard of the Colorado Catholic Herald.
We went to Mass at a Benedictine Abbey — Sainte Marie de la Résurrection — in Abu Gosh. It was like Mass with those old “Chant” CDs, only the chants were live, being sung by nuns, brothers and priests before us. While the music was in Latin, the rest of the Mass was in French.
It occurred to me — there, during Mass — that this is all going to work out. You know, the Gospel. Because there I was in a church built hundreds of years ago, with fresco paint peeling off the walls, and it still felt brand new. The immortal souls of the older nuns and brothers seemed to shine brightly as they praised God during the Mass. I recognized these songs and somehow, hundreds of years after they were first sung, their meaning wasn’t old. The prayer intentions, whatever they were, were the same prayer intentions shared around the world. We pray together every day at every Mass, across borders and seas.
After Mass, we had a chance to speak with Abbot Jean Michel. He said the Holy Father’s visit brings much hope to the Holy Land.
“It’s a sign of reconciliation,” he said. “The Palestinians are very happy to welcome the pope despite the difficult situation. The pope brings hope to the heart of the people. He did this by recognizing the Christ Child, and every child, in Bethlehem.”
“Every child who is born and grows up in every part of our world, is a diagnostic sign indicating the state of health of our families, our communities, our nation,” Pope Francis said in his homily in Manger Square in Bethlehem. “And we have to ask ourselves: who are we, as we stand before the child Jesus? Who are we, standing as we stand before today’s children?
The abbot’s and the pope’s words echoed in our minds as we made our way through the Old City, Jerusalem. We visited the Basilica of the Dormition on Mount Zion, where it is believed the Blessed Mother fell asleep before her glorious Assumption. It’s not far from the site where it is believed Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with the Apostles. In that same area, we visited the tomb of King David. Can you imagine? I can’t imagine it myself and I was just there today.
We then visited the Western Wall, what remains of the ancient wall that surrounded the Jewish Temple’s courtyard. It is a site for Jewish prayer and pilgrimage. Pope Francis will visit the wall tomorrow morning.
After a coffee break, we continue to the Via Dolorosa. Each station is set where it is believed Christ walked through Jerusalem on his way to Calvary. It’s a believable spacing. Some stations are far apart and others — like when Jesus falls the first time and when Jesus meets his mother — are right next to each other. Along the way we ran into groups from Africa and Asia, praying at each station in their own language. Merchants set up shop along the way, as you might expect. But it can be distracting to tell someone you’re not interested in buying a crown of thorns to take home while you’re meditating the Paschal Mystery.
The Via Dolorosa culminates in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, which was built in the fourth century over the ground where it is believed Christ was crucified and buried. We didn’t make it into the church, though, because it was closed for a couple of VIPs who are in town — Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew I.
The Holy Father prayed alongside the patriarch on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I.
“This celebration is the high point of the visit,” said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi at a press conference this evening. (Meeting Father Lombardi was amazing. He’s really quite funny.)
“This is the first time Christians of different traditions have prayed together at the same time at the Holy Sepulchre,” he said. The Holy Father and the patriarch got along so well, it delayed the rest of the day’s schedule. They dined together afterward along with many representatives of different Christian faiths.
“They were happy to talk together in a friendly manner,” Father Lombardi said, adding that Pope Francis referred to the patriarch as his “beloved brother in Christ.”
“I embrace you with all my love in Christ, Christ who is my love,” Father Lombardi said, relaying the pope’s words. They signed a common declaration, though Father Lombardi said the declaration doesn’t contain anything new.
Tomorrow, God willing, I will see Pope Francis. How am I supposed to fall asleep?