We went early this morning at 7:30 to the Western Wall, where many Jews were devoutly praying on the Sabbath. The Presence of God dwells beyond the wall, according to the Jews. Women and men pray separately at the wall. No pictures were allowed today.
The Temple Mount was closed today so we couldn’t visit it.
We walked then through the narrow streets of the Old City as the Muslim and Christian shops were opening. Joseph gave us some freshly baked Jerusalem bread to eat. By the time we reached the Via Dolorosa, the traditional path that Jesus took to his death, the streets were crowded with pilgrims, from Brazil, Russia, Korea, Singapore and Eastern Europe, as well as natives of Jerusalem.
I met a bishop from Brazil who knew the Passionists there.
We walked the Via Dolorosa to the Convent of the Sisters of Sion, an order of nuns founded by a Jewish priest-convert, whose purpose is to work for better relations between Christians and Jews. Their convent is built on the site of the Fortress Antonia, where Roman soldiers were garrisoned at the time of Jesus. While excavating for the convent years ago, an early street and part of the soldiers’ barracks were uncovered.
In this place early pilgrims, entering the city from the Mount of Olives, commemorated the trial of Jesus by Pilate, his scourging and mockery by the soldiers–the beginning of his way to Calvary carrying his cross, as Joseph explained.
Afterwards, we entered the area of Bethesda, where Jesus cured the paralyzed man who had been waiting for 38 years to be cured but no one would help him into the healing pool when it bubbled up. (John 5,1-19) The ruins of the pool from the time of Jesus have been excavated, along with an ancient Byzantine church built over the ruins, but you have to follow the ground plan carefully to sort them out, because centuries overlay centuries.
The Crusaders’ church of St. Ann, built in the 12th century, is one of the most beautiful churches in Jerusalem. When we were there it was filled with the songs of the different pilgrim groups taking advantage of its wonderful acoustics.
We went from there by bus to the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu on the eastern slopes of Mount Sion where we celebrated Mass. Some believe it was here that Jesus was brought before Caiaphas, the High Priest, and accused of blasphemy. In the area luxurious homes from the time of Jesus have been found, so it is likely that prominent Jewish leaders lived here.
Next to the church is a steep path down from Mount Sion to the Kidron Valley below, which dates to the time of Jesus, and it could have been the path he took after the Last Supper and the path those who seized him in the garden took to bring him to Caiaphas.
The Gallicantu church recalls the condemnation of Jesus by the Jewish leaders and also the denial of Peter. The weathervane of the rooster over the church is a reminder that a cock crowed after Peter denied Jesus three times.
The afternoon was devoted to plundering the local stores.
In the evening we went to a Church of the Gethsemani for a holy hour. In the dark church–we were the only ones there–we read the gospel accounts of Jesus in the Garden from Matthew, Luke and John as we sat around the open rock before the altar. Each of the evangelists tell the same story but draws a different lesson. In Matthew’s account Jesus relies on his Father for everything, and so leads his followers to go to the Father for life. In Luke’s account, Jesus is strengthened from heaven for what he must do, and so are we when we pray. In John’s account, Jesus is already glorified, even in the midst of his sufferings. God’s sovereign power never fails, even in the midst of suffering.