Thursday, 5 April 2018

Walking to Emmaus

On Easter Monday, along with a group of more than thirty other people of various nationalities, I walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Unlike Cleopas and the other disciple on the original occasion, however, we got the bus back to Jerusalem.

I say that we walked to Emmaus; but perhaps I should say we walked to an Emmaus. Because there are no less than three places claiming to be the original Emmaus. This one, however, is the furthest away - about 30km - so at least we couldn't be accusing of skimping it. It's called Emmaus Nicopolis, and is under the care of the Community of the Beatitudes.

Quite apart from the Biblical significance of the walk (see Luke 24:13-35), much of it was through beautiful and rugged countryside. (The following photos only show the group from behind, because I was appointed as the rearguard, or 'back traffic' as Student Crossers would say.)









Just like Jesus broke bread with the disciples in Emmaus, so when we had finally arrived there we celebrated the Eucharist, along with many other people who hadn't walked but still wanted to remember that important Resurrection appearance nearly two thousand years ago. And then, as previously noted, we went back to Jerusalem by bus.

Looking back to the beginning of the walk, I ought to mention that as we came out from the Jaffa Gate we met a man who asked where we were going. When I told him that we were walking to Emmaus and that it was about 30km, he spontaneously decided to join us, just as he was. And he did in fact walk the whole way, in his suit and shoes. It was only the next day that it occurred to me that he might have been Jesus, just casually tagging along with his disciples.

The Great Three Days

Although I am only halfway through my time in Jerusalem, it's probably safe to say that one of the best things about being here is commemorating the Death and Resurrection of Jesus in the very place they happened. The surrounding Jewish culture also provides an enlightening context, being in significant ways similar to the culture in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. In particular, this year the celebrations of Passover and Easter came together very well. The account of the Passion in John's Gospel seems to imply that the Day of Passover fell on a Saturday that year, and that was the timing we had this year.

Holy Thursday
First up, however, was the celebration of the Last Supper. Unlike the other major events, we couldn't celebrate Mass in the actual place, because the Upper Room is under Israeli control and they only allow occasional prayer services there. There was such a prayer service in the afternoon - but another problem is that the space is comparatively small and I was stuck outside with a large crowd of others. Still, I got to go in afterwards and even getting to visit the place of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday was special in itself. (NB. The original building unsurprisingly no longer exists, but it seems pretty likely that the current building was erected on the same site as the Upper Room of the Last Supper and Pentecost.)

Backtracking a little, it was in the morning that I went to Mass of the Lord's Supper in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Yes, it's odd timing; but unfortunately all the Triduum services there had to be held in the mornings, due to the fossilized arrangements with the other Christian churches that share the place. We combined Mass of the Lord's Supper with the Chrism Mass, which at least was at its proper time, so the washing of feet and the renewal of priestly vows both took place in the same celebration, which is not inappropriate.

It's also not inappropriate that we commemorated the institution of the Eucharist in front of the Tomb, the place of the Resurrection, because the Sacrament is life-giving precisely because of the Resurrection.

The Archbishop's homily and also some photos of the occasion are available here.

In order to satisfy my preference for liturgy at the proper time, however, and also because I like to experience Mass in a language I understand, I also went to an English celebration of the Lord's Supper at Ecce Homo Basilica in the evening. I did similarly on the other days, meaning that I effectively had a double Triduum.

Good Friday
This was quite a full day, starting with Tenebrae at 5am, then Commemoration of the Lord's Passion at Mount Calvary (in the Holy Sepulchre Church) at 8am, Way of the Cross at 11.30am, and Commemoration of the Lord's Passion at Ecce Homo at 3pm.

The 8am Commemoration was of course very significant for being in the right place, i.e. in the Calvary Chapel, built on the very rock (probably) where Jesus was crucified. Unfortunately the right place also had limited space, so once the main procession had gone up to the chapel there was a lot of pushing and shoving as other people tried to get their places there. I was seriously impressed by how many people did in fact manage to fit up there (and I openly speculated that maybe the chapel had TARDIS-like properties); but I was content to wait down in the main body of the church along with the greater part of the congregation, "watching from a distance"(Matt 27:55). We could only follow part of what went on up in the chapel (luckily they sung the Passion narrative, which meant we could hear that). I looked around at the people gathered from many nations and languages, all of us peering up at Mount Calvary, not entirely following what was happening, but knowing we had to be there, before our dying Lord in solidarity and in supplication.

The Way of the Cross was similar to those that take place every Friday, except that the numbers were greater and the atmosphere more sombre. The weather was cooperating with the liturgical mood by being cold and wet - quite a surprise after a month of warm sunshine. And the impressive presence of heavily-armed Israeli police echoed (presumably unintentionally) the presence of the Roman soldiers at the original Way of the Cross.

Doubling up again, I went to the Commemoration at Ecce Homo, which was held in on the Lithostrotos - a Roman stone pavement in the basement. It's about a century too young to be the Gabbatha mentioned in John's Gospel. But its antiquity and the low stone arches of the space gave the service a catacomb atmosphere.

Probably the most important experience of Good Friday, however, came apart from the Christian liturgies. It was less than an hour after returning from the Ecce Homo commemoration of Jesus' death, and I heard horns sounding. At first I wondered if they were sirens warning us of, for example, a rocket attack from Gaza. But then I realised with a thrill that they were sounding the horns to mark the start of the Passover - just shortly after the slaying of the Lamb of God.

"Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the feast..."

Holy Saturday
The early timing of the Holy Sepulchre liturgies was especially odd on Saturday morning, given that we were celebrating the Lord's Resurrection about 12 hours too early. Someone did try to convince me that the celebration of the Easter Vigil at the Tomb in Jerusalem ought to precede even the celebrations in places like New Zealand, but I think that was just trying to make a virtue out of a necessity. One can either be upset by this liturgical incorrectness, or just be amused by it. I chose the latter, and enjoyed looking up at the bright blue sky, visible through the cupola above the Tomb, while the deacon sang, "This is the night..."

I was lucky enough to get a place close to the centre of the action this time. Theoretically we Capuchins weren't even supposed to be concelebrating; but some of the expected priests didn't turn up, so our Franciscan brethren kindly snuck us in at the last minute. As often happens in liturgical processions, "the last shall be first", and I ended up with a seat only a few metres away from the Archbishop. More importantly, of course, I was only a few metres away in the other direction from the place where Jesus rose from the dead. Which of course gave the whole celebration a special atmosphere. The Archbishop preached about the need to approach our 'tombs' without fear and with faith.

The rest of the day felt like a kind of half-Easter. I could hardly still be in Lent after the joyful celebration at the Holy Sepulchre; but force of habit and my liturgical sensibilities meant that I didn't feel like Easter had truly begun until the celebration of the Easter Vigil at Ecce Homo. This celebration began with the Easter fire on their rooftop terrace, with the stars above and views of the Mount of Olives and the Dome of the Rock.

"Now not day only shall be beloved, but night too shall be beautiful and blessed and all its fear pass away."

Postscript: Let us keep the feast
The coordination of Easter and Passover this year means that the Easter Octave and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are almost exactly coincident. This adds to the atmosphere - the city's streets and parks are full of festive Jews and Christians. I hope the Muslims don't feel too left out... or maybe they should.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Better Palm Sunday video and photos

If you have 9 minutes to spare, here's a better-quality video of the Palm Sunday procession:

There are also better-quality photographs on the Latin Patriarchate website, along with the text of the bishop's sermon.

A Palm Sunday procession like no other

I can claim that fairly confidently, because while there might be other Palm Sunday processions that match it in joyful, multilingual internationality, none of them follow the same route (more or less) as the original Palm Sunday.

We began at the church in Bethphage, built on the spot where Jesus is supposed to have mounted the donkey (and its colt, if you follow Matthew's version), and we then went up to the top of the Mount of Olives, where one gets an iconic view of Jerusalem. Coming down the hill, we went past the Garden of Gethsemane, across the top of the Kidron Valley, and into the Old City via the Lion Gate. We didn't go onto the Temple Mount - I guess the Muslims aren't too keen on having 5000 noisy Christians invading their patch - but otherwise it followed the route Jesus did, allowing for a few changes in road layout over two millennia.

The local Christians - mostly Arabs, but also some Hebrews - were well-represented; but there was a mixed rabble of different nationalities, some who were visitors to Jerusalem, some who work here. As we went along, the different groups sang songs in their own languages - which probably sounds chaotic, and it was, but it kind of worked, as this video hopefully illustrates:

Dancing also featured in some cases, including this African-led group:

At this point we'd been going for two hours; but people were still buzzing with energy. It was a joyful and happy occasion. Even the Franciscan friars were jumping around, the Arabs were singing their own version of Laudato Sii, and of course the Palestinian marching bands had to get in on the act. But enough videos from me. Here are some photos to complete my account:
Gathering in the church courtyard at Bethphage
The Franciscans are recruiting from an early age, it seems
Off we go...
The view southwest
Nearly at the top of the Mount of Olives
(the Dome of the Ascension can be seen behind the lamppost)
Going down...
First views of Jerusalem
Getting closer
The Lion Gate
Drummers warming up (and drowning out the bishop's sermon)

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

The wider family

As a follow-up to the previous post about the Capuchins who live here in Jerusalem, it makes sense to introduce you to the other people living in the same compound. We Capuchins live in the largest building, which has capacity for about 50 guests; but there are smaller buildings and wings that are inhabited by other religious orders or put to ministerial use.

Firstly, there are the Ursuline sisters, living in a wing on the other side of our church. Sr Claudia (the taller one) runs a centre for immigrant children - of which more in a later post. Sr Sandra works at the offices of the Latin Patriarchate.

Living in a house at the bottom of the garden, a house which was for a long time the friary, are the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist. Sisters Monica, Naomi, and Mary David (left to right) assist a project for traumatised children in Bethlehem, which was founded by their congregation, but they also work for the Latin Patriarchate and the Franciscan Custody in Jerusalem. (Sharp-eyed Coventrians may notice their cross of nails; but apparently it has a separate origin to Coventry Cathedral's cross of nails.)

Finally, in a corner of the property is a small house used by the Josephites (a congregation inspired by Blessed Charles de Foucauld). The current resident is Padre Giovanni Paolo.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

The Capuchins in Jerusalem

Although I have shared a lot about my experience here in the Holy Land, I have somehow omitted one of the most important parts of that experience - the men whom I live with. So herewith I introduce the Capuchin fraternity of Jerusalem.

Br. Kevin is from Tamil-Nadu in India. He has a degree in botany  (hence he is our expert in the garden) and another in information science, and he worked for a pharmaceutical company before joining the Order. During formation he volunteered to be a missionary and soon after ordination he was sent to Zimbabwe. After 15 years there, during which he served two terms as Custos (the minister for all the Capuchins in the country), he agreed to be assigned to Jerusalem as guardian of the friary. He has now been here nearly two years, getting the place well-organised.


Br. Chipaya is from Zimbabwe, where his father was the chief of his home village. His Capuchin life has been almost entirely in Zimbabwe; but last year he agreed to come to Jerusalem to help out Br. Kevin in running the friary. He is currently sweating hard over learning Hebrew.

Br. Yunus (no photo, sorry!) is the longest-standing member of the fraternity here - he has been in Jerusalem for nearly 10 years, studying and slowly working his way towards a PhD in early antiquity archaeology (which he will complete this June). He is originally from Turkey, of Armenian descent, but joined the Capuchins in Italy.

Br. Santosh is from Karnataka Province in India, but ministered for 12 years to tribals in Mizoram in the northeast of India. He has been in Jerusalem about 2 years, working as a chaplain to immigrants of his own language (this ministry means he keeps us supplied with Indian food). He sometimes also acts as a guide for groups of pilgrims to the Holy Land. 






Br. Gian Nicola was born in New York to Italian parents, and the family moved back to Italy when he was 13. It was there he joined the Capuchins, but he oscillates between identifying as Italian or as American, depending on his mood or other circumstances. He is in the early stages of a PhD in Biblical studies at the Hebrew University.


Br. Ebin is from Kerala in India. Unlike the majority of Capuchins from that state, he is of the Latin rite, not the Syro-Malabar rite (this fact is very important to him). He is in Jerusalem to study for a licentiate at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum.

Br. Rakesh is from Andhra Pradesh, India; but while still studying for the priesthood was sent to Switzerland, as part of the reinforcements for the Capuchins there. He is now in Jerusalem to complete his studies for ordination, for which purpose he goes to the Salesian College; but he will eventually return to Switzerland, where he now feels at home.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Earthquake in Papua New Guinea

This is a bit of a diversion from my posts about the Holy Land; but as many people already know, I have visited the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. What you might not know, because it has had little coverage in the news so far, is that the same area has recently been hit by an unusually large earthquake. Many people live in remote villages, some of which have been completely swept away by landslides.

It breaks my heart to think of the suffering of these poor people, who were always so welcoming and friendly. The normal aid agencies don't seem to be involved (as yet); but one way of sending help is to the Diocese of Mendi, which covers the affected area. The bishop (a Capuchin) has provided an initial assessment of the damage. I've been waiting to hear from him about the best way to send funds directly to the diocese; but communications are intermittent, it seems. In the meantime, this page provides some guidance about donating to the diocese.