A big group got up early to walk to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We left at 6 am, planning to be there at 6:30, when we were told that a morning mass would be said. Our guide told us the church opened at 4:30 am every day. Imagine our disappointment when, upon arrival, the doors were locked!
I suggesting knocking to see if anyone would open, which prompted Kent Cassidy to say,
“Who’s there?” I replied.
“Pastor Tim,” he said.
“Pastor Tim who?” I replied.
“Pastor time to open the doors.”
We had a good laugh and off we went to explore other parts of the Old City. We had entered through the Damascus Gate into the Muslim Quarter, the main entrance from East Jerusalem, the Islamic area of Jerusalem. There were many, many people in the narrow streets at that hour, at least until we came to an intersection and turned into the Christian Quarter – where suddenly everything was quiet. I guess the followers of Jesus sleep in…but not Paul Arbisi. We met him near the hotel as he was completing a 3.5 mile run around the outside of the Old City walls.
After breakfast back at the hotel, we gathered for morning devotions. Following an opening Taize song, we spent quite a long time debriefing. The day before had begun with a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial; we needed to talk through the experience. People expressed shame and revulsion about the anti-Semitism that culminated in the Nazi extermination plan. Several wondered what they would have done if they had been a Christian in Europe at that time. We talked about the growing white nationalism in our country, and the rise in hate crimes against certain groups. Many also noted that the visit had tempered their view of Israel’s policies against Arabs in Israel (21% of the Israeli population) and in the occupied territory.
We closed in prayer, asking for peace to be in our hearts and in this troubled world.
We then headed to the Mount of Olives, to start a long walking trek of about three hours. First stop was a lookout viewpoint on the ridge above the Kidron Valley, looking across to the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls and many churches and mosques. From there we made our way to the Dominus Flevit (“The Lord Wept”) Church, built where (or near where, as we say) Jesus paused on his Psalm Sunday walk into the city and wept over the city. The church was designed by Antonio Berluzzi in the shape of a tear drop. The inside is oriented toward a window looking out over the city…what Jesus would have seen.
Next on to a surprise visit (it wasn’t supposed to be open) to St. Mary’s, a Russian Orthodox church with brilliant gold onion domes. Beautiful grounds (with large feral Russian-looking cats) and very Orthodox interior. Lots of icons.
Then to an olive tree grove across the street from the bustling Garden of Gethsemane, so we could have some quiet time for prayer. Kathy led us through song and devotions, reading the story of Jesus with his disciples after the Last Supper in the Garden. When we finished we went across to the actual Garden, with olive trees said to be 2,000 years old. They are massive!
A short walk from the Garden we found the reputed burial place of Mary…down maybe 100 steps underground we went. It was dark and candlelit and wonderful space…and a long climb up!
Back on the bus to a nearby falafel restaurant. Our guide George knows everyone in town, it seems. He simply makes a call and we have the entire restaurant to ourselves. Delicious, and topped off with ice cream!
The rest of the afternoon we spent at the Israel Museum. The massive outdoor model of Jerusalem at the time of the Second Temple is impressive! Inside the group marveled at the Dead Sea Scrolls.
We had a free night for dinner. Some stayed at the hotel, others went to the rooftop restaurant at the Norte Dame Hotel, and a few wandered elsewhere to eat.
On the way to eat, we found a fabulous gallery with 100-year-old photos of locations in the Old City superimposed on photos taken a couple years so. They’re fascinating and beautiful. We bought several for the WPC collection.
A wonderful way to end a packed day.