BY CHRISTINE HOGAN
Finally, after almost a year of planning, and days of travel, the CathNews pilgrims approached the Jaffa Gate in the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Built by Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman conqueror, to protect the holy places of Islam, it leads into the greatest, most contested, centre in and of the religious world.
This was the road into the city which Jesus took, riding on a donkey. Kaiser Wilhelm went through these gates on a white steed; a typical act of arrogance. In 1917, General Allenby did not commit the same mistake. After the city surrendered to his forces, he walked through this gate.
In these narrow streets, fragranced by spices and leather, coffee and herbs, fruit and vegetables warming in the mild late Autumn sun, fresh-faced young Hassidim, dressed in black, rush to appointments, their ear locks trailing; pilgrims from Mumbai mix with observant Russian Orthodox; a gaggle of Palestinian school boys rushes up the steps of the Via Dolorosa, almost skittling Muslim grandmothers out on their daily visit to the souq; an ultra-liberal American female is introduced to members of our group by a rabbi from Melbourne.
Welcome to the Holy City.
“Welcome home,” said Fr Juan Maria Solana as he welcomed our group on Monday evening. It was a play on words – welcome to your home in Jerusalem (the beautiful guest house of Notre Dame of Jerusalem - more of this in a later blog), but also welcome home to us as Christians to the place where Jesus lived and died and was resurrected... Welcome home to the place where our faith was born.
Fr John, as he is known, is Mexican, a Legionary of Christ, and the Charge of the Holy See here at the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Centre. Tall, warm, and charismatic, Fr John has been in Jerusalem for eight years and well used to welcoming people from all over the world home to Jerusalem.
He had an important guest staying – the Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (an order dating from Crusader times) was in house and due to process on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Tuesday morning.
There had been a lot of activity around the Holy Sepulchre in the past couple of days. The newly arrived Papal Nuncio to Jerusalem, Archbishop Lazzarotto had made a similar procession on Monday.
Given we we're expecting crushes of people here, it was a pleasant experience to be in relative peace and quiet inside the holiest church in Christendom, the place of the passion, death, burial and resurrection. One of our group was so moved by being in the tiny grotto of the tomb, she queued up twice to get in there!
The church itself, as our tour guide Dr Brian Brennan reminded us, has been in contention for millennia. The Greek Orthodox, the Catholics, the Armenians all have bits of it in their care, while the Copts, the last in, have to make do with a toehold on the roof.
So Tuesday was our orientation day in Jerusalem, and it ended with the first of our guest speakers, Irris Makler. Australian, a foreign correspondent, and author, Irris has lived here for eight years. The story of her life during that time have been chronicled in her book, Hope Street, Jerusalem.
Lively, engaging, engaged, Irris brought her knowledge and understanding of the current conflict and put it in context for our pilgrims. She had spent the day in Ramallah, at the exhumation of Yasser Arafat's bones. She covered his burial, the stories about the cause of his death (according to the Muslims, he was poisoned, some Israelis contend he died of AIDS). And now the story had come full circle for him and her.
She is pessimistic about any resolution of the conflict, indicating that for her the root cause was a problem of leadership – or lack of it. The cycle of quiet, unease, violence seemed unresolvable to her in this 'beautiful, hateful, wonderful' place.
Christine Hogan is the Publisher for the faith-based publications produced by Church Resources, and moderates the discussion boards of CathNews. Christine Hogan is the Publisher of CathNews and currently on our inaugural pilgrimage to Jordan and Jerusalem. She is blogging regularly for the duration of the pilgrimage. This blog focuses on Jerusalem Day 2.
Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.