A very Happy Easter from Jerusalem!
These past few months, since my arrival here in the Holy Land in January have been the experience of a lifetime. I am based on one of the many Jerusalem hills at the Notre Dame University, Tantur, just overlooking the town of Bethlehem. My fellow course participants come with a wide expanse of pastoral ministry from their various dioceses and religious congregations. They are from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, America, Poland, Switzerland and England. I am the sole participant from Ireland!
The time is busy, divided between class lectures and the opportunity to pray at the holy sites and to visit them in detail both here and in the Kingdom of Jordan. In addition, we have heard different narratives from many peoples, meeting with refugees and the migrant workers, listening to the stories from the declining number of Palestinian Christians, praying with them at Church and spending time in their homes, a time of dialogue with the Imam of the Al Aqsa mosque and the Arab Moslem people, the opportunity to have Shabbat prayers with the Rabbi and the neighbouring Jewish community in their synagogue and to be welcomed back in their homes for the Shabbat meal. Our conversations have been very enlightening. We have listened to all of their stories and been enriched in our conversation. We have heard about their hopes and fears, their daily struggles, concerns and challenges. Perhaps they are no different from our own. They all are genuinely striving for the goal of peace in this Holy Land and have asked that people in our parishes might also pray for this intention daily.
Spending Holy Week in Jerusalem has been amazing, joining in the Palm Sunday Procession from Bethpage and down the Mount of Olives to the Church of Saint Anne’s on the Via Dolorasa. On Holy Thursday we processed to the Cenacle and celebrated the Mass of the Lords Supper. Afterwards we walked to the Church of All Nations at the garden of Gethsemane for a Holy Hour and from there to the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu, where Peter denied Jesus three times. On Good Friday, we also walked the Via Dolorosa and prayed the Way of the Cross leading to the Calvary for the celebration of the Passion with the Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude, Archbishop Fouad Twal. On Holy Saturday we marked the Easter Vigil in the Tomb of Resurrection at 7a.m., because of the status quo at the Holy Sepulchre and the Dawn Mass on Easter Sunday this year was in the old city of Jerusalem at 4.00a.m., a little earlier than Lough an Laegh and without any breakfast!!
The coming time in the Holy Land also promises wonderful new adventures! I am deeply grateful for this great opportunity of sabbatical, thankful both to Bishop Michael, who has made it possible and to Fr. Mark who has been assigned to administer to the pastoral needs of the parish in my absence. I will conclude my sabbatical period in the Holy Land with a 30 day retreat by the Sea of Galilee. I am being refreshed by the experience and look forward to returning home with renewed energy and zeal, with a pep in my step, to continue my ministry as a simple humble worker in the Vineyard of the Lord.
I wish Mark and all your families, the blessings of the Risen Lord.
Warm personal regards,