Tag Archives: Holy Land

Where did it happen?

We wonder where the gospel events took place, especially during Holy Week.. Where was Jesus judged by Pilate? What way did he go to Calvary?  Where was he crucified and where was he buried?

Reliable historians generally agree that the tomb of Jesus and the site of Calvary are  in the Church of the Holy Sepucher.  “Is this the place where Christ died and was buried?” Jerome Murphy-O’Connor asks in his solidly researched “The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide” (New York, 2008). “Yes, very probably,” he answers. (p 49)

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Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

Jerusalem’s “Via Dolorosa”, the traditional way of the cross,  is less historically reliable. Beginning near St. Stephen’s Gate, where the Fortress Antonia once stood, it winds up at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  Murphy-O Connor says it is “defined by faith and not by history.” (pp 37-38) Early Christian pilgrims created it.

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Pilgrims on the Vis Dolorosa

After the Christian church was established by Constantine in the 4th century, pilgrims from Mount of Olives, where many stayed, walked through St. Stephen’s Gate up to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, stopping at certain places to recall incidents from the passion of Jesus. The present Via Dolorosa was formed from their devotions over the centuries.   (cf. Murphy-O’Connor, p 37) Pilgrims, not archeologists, have given us the present Via Dolorosa.

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Jerusalem at the Time of Jesus

Is their a more reliable way?  A reconstruction of Jerusalem (above) from the time of Jesus at the Israel Museum–somewhat altered here– suggests another way that  Jesus was led to Calvary.  At the bottom right is the luxurious palace complex built by Herod the Great. (below) When Pontius Pilate came from Caesaria Maritima for Passover he probably stayed there and judged Jesus in the courtyard outside the palace.

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Herod’s Palace, the Citadel

After sentencing Jesus to death, Pilate handed him over to a detachment of soldiers quartered somewhere in the great towers to the left of the palace, who scourged him and crowned him with thorns.

They then led him away to Calvary, probably parading him through part of the upper city as a warning to others. In our map of Jerusalem above, the rock outcropping near to the city wall is the site of Calvary where Jesus was crucified. The gospels say  he was buried in a tomb only a stone’s throw away.
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In Jerusalem today the Citadel stands on the ruins of Herod’s palace, still dominating the western part of the Old City.

You can walk on the southern ramparts of the city wall where Herod’s palace once stood and view some few remains of Herod’s building;  the towers have been rebuilt.

Murphy-O’Connor suggests a way  Jesus was taken to Calvary from here. “If, as seems likely, Jesus was brought into the city on his way to execution, the approximate route would have been east on David Street, north on the Triple Suk, and then west to Golgotha.” (p.38)

I walked that way some years ago, down David Street, to the Triple Suk and then west to Golgotha and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  My sense is Murphy-O’Connor is right, but I think we better not change the Via Dolorosa. For one thing,  good piety has given us the present Via Dolorosa and it has a truth and beauty all its own.  More importantly, it would start a war in Jerusalem, and the city has enough grief now.

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For more information on the places of the Passion, see

Exploring the Land Where Jesus Lived

Map 1st cent.A group of 8 Catholics and Protestants leave on Monday from JFK to explore the land where Jesus lived. We’re staying with the Passionists in Bethany for five days and then five days with the Franciscans at the Mount of the Beatitudes on the Sea of Galilee.

Bethany, on the lower eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives is considered part of East Jerusalem; the Mount of Beatitudes on the Sea of Galilee puts us within walking distance of Capernaum, so we’re close to two places with important links to Jesus.

Some of us have media experience and one of our goals is to produce some short videos (5 minutes or so) on the various holy places that may help Protestants and Catholics alike to deepen their knowledge of Jesus and his mission.

I’ll publish blogs of our trip for the next ten days, depending on internet access and what energy I can draw on. We’ll use Jerome Murphy-O’Connor’s fine guidebook, The Holy Land: An Oxford Archeological Guide…2008, along with the gospels to help us find our way.

Pilgrimage is always an adventure. So, here we go, pray for us.

Palm Sunday Procession

The gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke report that Jesus began his entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday at Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives. From here he went into the city of Jerusalem seated on a donkey and those who followed him threw olive branches before him, crying, “Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest.”

From the roof of the Passionist house in Bethany you can see the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives looming ahead; the road winds over the crest of the mount down the other side past the Garden of Gethsemani and into Jerusalem. We walked part of the road last week.

The area around  Bethany was probably sparsely populated at the time of Jesus and into the Christian era. During great feasts, the poorer pilgrims would stay in the area, probably pitching tents up in the olive groves, and walk to the city. Here are two pictures from the 1940‘s when the area was less populated, today it is Muslim.

After Constantine established the church in Jerusalem and built churches like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the 4th century, vast crowds came here on Palm Sunday to reenact the gospel. They probably began near here to go their way into the city to the empty tomb .

Fr. Roberto tells me the procession today for the Latin church goes through St. Stephen’s Gate and ends in the Church of St. Ann.

Our Palm Sunday celebration today in the Roman rite imitates the ancient practice of the Church of Jerusalem, as well as many other of its Holy Week rites as well. We follow our ancestors in faith in sign. Before our Palm Sunday procession we hear these words:

“Let us remember with devotion this entry which began his saving work and follow him with  lively faith. United with him in his suffering on the cross, may we share his resurrection and new life.”

Don’t forget, however, that the little procession we have in our churches today once stretched over some tough hills and went for a distance.

In the garden behind the Passionist house are some first century ruins of a few Jewish houses from the time of  Jesus. Outside one is  a mikvah for purifications. Not far away is the Franciscan church next to the traditional site of the tomb of Lazarus. Who knows? Could they have lived here? It looks like its part of the ancient village of Bethany.

In back of the site is the famous security wall which runs through the Passionist property. More about that later.

Palm Sunday Procession

The gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke report that Jesus began his entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday at Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives. From here he went into the city of Jerusalem seated on a donkey and those who followed him threw olive branches before him, crying, “Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest.”

From the roof of the Passionist house in Bethany you can see the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives looming ahead; the road winds over the crest of the mount down the other side past the Garden of Gethsemani and into Jerusalem. We walked part of the road last week.

The area around  Bethany was probably sparsely populated at the time of Jesus and into the Christian era. During great feasts, the poorer pilgrims would stay in the area, probably pitching tents up in the olive groves, and walk to the city. Here are two pictures from the 1940‘s when the area was less populated, today it is Muslim.

After Constantine established the church in Jerusalem and built churches like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the 4th century, vast crowds came here on Palm Sunday to reenact the gospel. They probably began near here to go their way into the city to the empty tomb .

Fr. Roberto tells me the procession today for the Latin church goes through St. Stephen’s Gate and ends in the Church of St. Ann.

Our Palm Sunday celebration today in the Roman rite imitates the ancient practice of the Church of Jerusalem, as well as many other of its Holy Week rites as well. We follow our ancestors in faith in sign. Before our Palm Sunday procession we hear these words:

“Let us remember with devotion this entry which began his saving work and follow him with  lively faith. United with him in his suffering on the cross, may we share his resurrection and new life.”

Don’t forget, however, that the little procession we have in our churches today once stretched over some tough hills and went for a distance.

In the garden behind the Passionist house are some first century ruins of a few Jewish houses from the time of  Jesus. Outside one is  a mikvah for purifications. Not far away is the Franciscan church next to the traditional site of the tomb of Lazarus. Who knows? Could they have lived here? It looks like its part of the ancient village of Bethany.

In back of the site is the famous security wall which runs through the Passionist property. More about that later.

We Go to God Through Questions

I’ve been talking to a number of people lately who have questions about their faith. I emailed this to one of them today:

Here are some sources you might find interesting as you look again at the faith you learned long ago.

Just a few months ago a new Catholic bible was published called the New American Bible Recent Edition. NABRE. The last printing was 20 years ago, but since so much new archeological material and textual discoveries have become available since then, they thought a new edition was due. Part of what we are experiencing today is an explosion of new knowledge in these fields and in other fields of human knowledge. I’m going to pick up that new bible soon myself. It has wonderful notes and introductions to the books and it’s also the translation we read in church.

I was in a Barnes and Noble store yesterday and looked at the section of bibles, but I could hardly locate the New American Bible among the other editions. With the decline of Catholic book stores it’s hard to get the books we might be looking for. The media don’t help either with some of their sensational productions on religion.

The pope’s two new books, “Jesus of Nazareth”. are also good to read. I’ve been reading his last one about the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus, and I find it stimulating. He’s using much of the latest scholarly materials and offering some wonderful insights. and he’s not afraid to take on tough questions.  We are all doing the same thing: learning and learning again.

I like a recent catechism published by the American bishops: The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. You can get it at Amazon.com. It approaches the different aspects of faith simply and offers a person, whether a canonized saint or not, who exemplifies that aspect and tells their story. Faith is better seen when it’s lived by people.

Since you were impressed by your recent visit to the Holy Land you may be interested in some entries I did for our pilgrimage from St. Mary’s from October 16 to November 20, 2010. You can find them on Victor’s Place, my blog, at https://vhoagland.wordpress.com/

I think I told you what one of my theology teachers told me long ago. “We go to God through questions. You find one answer and ten more questions are there waiting to be answered.”

Questions are part of our search for God.

A Church of the Hebrews?

Fr. Pol took me to the airport this morning early for the flight home. He celebrated Mass the evening before at Tel Aviv for about 700 Filipinos and other Catholics who work in that area as care-givers and domestics. There are over 80,000 Filipinos alone in Israel.

In the Gulf area there are about 2 million Catholics, many from the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka and Africa.

Pol was enthusiastic about the lively, ingenious faith of these immigrants, who send much of their earnings home, yet contribute so much to the efforts of their church here in Israel. They meet regularly at St. Peter’s Church in Joppa  and are planning another Christian center between Tel Aviv and Haifa. Some vital new movements are inspiring them.

The Israeli who hire them appreciate these workers for their ability to care for the sick and the elderly, and their honest values. Often they will arrange for them to get to Church on Sunday. Fr. Pol wonders if they will bring some of them to the faith.

Relations of immigrants to the government can be difficult, however. As in America, some are here illegally. Their children often are schooled in Hebrew and they want a more permanent relationship to the country but the political situation is not favorable now. Some are thinking that these immigrants may be the beginning of a new Christian presence, not just a pilgrim presence, in the Holy Land. One priest who is a Jewish convert is speaking of a Church of the Hebrews.

Fr. Pol and Fr. Marito and the Camboni Sisters next to them minister to this immigrant community regularly, driving all over Israel to wherever they can meet them.

Today is the Feast of Christ the King. Usually great things are done, according to Christian thinking, not by political or military or economic power, but by the power of the weak and the small. Weren’t lowly immigrants largely responsible for the original growth of the church?

Yesterday I missed an  opportunity for going with Fr. Pol to Tel Aviv because I wanted to get to Lazarus’ tomb and the Comboni Sisters offered to take me because they were going shopping. 17 Kilometers later we landed at the tomb and the sister said, “Look across the wall, that’s where we live, just a few yards away.”

The ugly security wall.

It didn’t stop a group of Russians from descending into the tomb. For about 15 minutes they sang glorious Russian chants and then came up into the sunlight. The tomb became radiant with their faith.

Living by the Wall

The tomb of Lazarus is only down the road from here, but unfortunately I’m blocked from getting there by the Israeli security wall at the end of our street. Instead of a few minutes walk, I can get there only by traveling a good distance around the Mount of Olives.

The security wall winds through our property and the property of the Camboni sisters, an Italian order who have a school and a hostel next to us. As they look out their back  window, it looms over them, about twenty feet away, and it goes on as far as the eye can see.

I have been celebrating morning Mass these days for the sisters–in Italian– and they told me the wall has stopped many children, all Muslim, from coming to their school.  Relations between Christians and Muslims in this neighborhood have always been good, thanks to the good works of these religious women.

If the Israelis want peace, it would be better to tear down the wall and sponsor some schools and clinics like those run by the sisters. A high barbed wire wall, patrolled by armed soldiers, blocking streets people have been using for centuries, running through the backyards of ordinary peoples’ homes, stopping the flow of business, doesn’t win you friends.

It makes enemies.

This afternoon Fr. Roberto drove me to the city where I made my way to the Via Dolorosa again, which was more crowded than ever with groups praying and groups shopping and gawking.

I did discover an Armenian church at the 4th Station that was an oasis in Babel. The church has some paintings of the 3rd and 4th stations. Jesus meets his mother at the 4th station. In the quiet courtyard before the church a mother was nursing her infant. In the church was a picture over the altar of Mary nursing her child.

The day ended at the Latin Patriarchate where Sir Patrick Allen, Knight of the Holy Sepulcher from  Union City, NJ, met Bishop Shomali, who was born in Bethlehem, to receive an award for bringing over 100 people to the Holy Land on pilgrimage. I was a photographer and guest, and the bishop even said some nice things about the Passionists.