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Holy Land pilgrimage 'Sometimes it causes me to tremble'

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placeholder June 13, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 11   •   Oakland, CA
Holy Land pilgrimage
'Sometimes it causes me to tremble'

Bishop David Zubik prays with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan at the door to the Holy Sepulchre, the tomb of Jesus.

April 4 was the pinnacle of our Holy Land pilgrimage: Mass at Calvary; the Via Dolorosa; a visit with the Latin Patriarch; a tour of the Israeli Holocaust Museum, Yad Yashem; and Peter in Gallicantu, the site where Jesus was held prisoner and his last night on earth.

Isn't it ironic that Jesus, who would break the chains of sin and death for all humanity, would spend his last night in a cold stone prison cell, bound and chained? Sometimes it causes me to tremble.

Bishop David Zubik of the Diocese of Pittsburgh presided at Mass on Calvary, the site of Jesus' crucifixion. Because of the shifting of Holy Days due to when Easter fell this year, on the Liturgical calendar, April 4 was the Feast of the Annunciation.

The Gospel for the Feast of the Annunciation contains Bishop Zubik's episcopal motto: Nothing is Impossible with God. This was the response given to Mary by the Angel Gabriel when asked, how is it possible that she would be the Mother of the Messiah?

Bishop Zubik proclaimed at this place of Jesus' crucifixion, where it seemed all was lost that truly, nothing is impossible with God! Every Good Friday is followed by an Easter Sunday.

We were joined at Mass by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. This was totally unexpected for all. He just arrived in the country a few hours before and wished his first stop to be the Holy Sepulchre.

He had no idea there would be a Mass in English at that time. It was truly a coincidence. Speaker Ryan also prayed with Bishop Zubik at the door to the Holy Sepulchre, the tomb of Jesus.

It was a providential encounter. Bishop Zubik had met with Speaker Ryan about a month ago in his role as Episcopal Liaison to Catholic Charities USA to discuss how to initiate legislation to address the systemic causes of poverty in the United States. Too many of our sisters and brothers are trapped in a cycle of poverty and cannot seem to break free in a country so rich in resources.

We then visited the Latin Patriarch, who is the local Catholic bishop. His name is Fouad Twal. It was a great honor to meet with His Beatitude Fouad Twal personally.

We wished to demonstrate our solidarity to him and to the Christians of the Holy Land. We sang to him, shared a donation and hugged and encouraged him.

He shared with us that the way of the cross for Christians in the Holy Land continues. Many live under military occupation in Israel and in Jordan, many are working hard to support the millions of refugees from Syria and Iraq. Sometimes it causes me to tremble.

It was then time to walk the Via Dolorosa, Jesus' way of suffering marked by the 14 Stations of the Cross.

We walked with the struggles of the local Christian community fresh in our minds, as well as the sufferings of family and friends back home. Foremost in our minds was the agony our dear Jesus suffered out of love for us. Our guide Jerry explained that so brutal was the scourging by Roman soldiers, not many survived it. To have to carry a cross after so brutal a beating was torture.

Bishop Zubik led our prayer and provided a very poignant meditation on each of the stations. We softly sang and prayerfully made our way through the narrow streets of the Old City, past shops and people going about their business.

It must have been like that too for Jesus. I imagined Mary and the women who loved and followed Jesus seeing Him in such pain, knowing He was about to die and not being able to comfort Him.

We prayed in silence for a long while. It was a lot to take in—how our inhumanity revealed the fullness of His Divinity: self-emptying love.

More of man's inhumanity was to be experienced at Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum. It was hard. It was sobering. One cannot experience Yad Vashem and not be troubled.

Many of our pilgrims are educators. We paused and took a photo of an amazing teacher who cared for Jewish orphans.

The Korczak Memorial recalls the bravery of Jewish/Polish educator Janusz Korczak. During the Holocaust, Korczak refused to abandon the children of his Warsaw orphanage, perishing alongside them in the Treblinka death camp.

He told his students to take a special doll or toy with them to comfort them on the long train ride they were about to take.

Quietly we made our way from Yad Vashem and New Jerusalem, back to the Old City and the Church of Peter in Gallicantu.

"Peter in Gallicantu" refers to St. Peter and the cock crowing. Jesus predicted at the Last Supper that one of his closest followers would deny him three times that very night before the cock crowed. Peter was the one. As Jesus was being interrogated and then held as a prisoner by Caiaphas the High Priest, Peter out in the courtyard, denied knowing Jesus three times.

How could he?! How could Peter, who said at the Last Supper he would never deny Jesus, deny Him?

How could Peter, who was the first to proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah the Son of the Living God when the disciples were with Jesus in Caesarea Phillipi, deny Him? How could Peter, who witnessed the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor, deny Him? How can I?

We prayed in the Church and witnessed our fellow pilgrim, Vie, renew her vows as a lay Vincentian.

We then descended down to the crypt, to the prison that held Jesus his last night on earth. It was beyond words. There it was. A prison carved from the rock of the cave with the ropes that would have held a prisoner.

There was nothing to comfort Jesus: no bench, no sink, no toilet and no cot. Just a stone dungeon. Jesus stood, with his arms tied above his head until Caiaphas released him to Pilate in the morning.

I could not help but think of all the prisoners who are being held today unjustly, especially the Christians being persecuted in Syria, Egypt, and across northern Africa by ISIS.

I thought of those who are in our prisons in the US and the deacons, religious and lay who serve them. To think our Lord and Savior whose first night on earth was spent homeless, in a cave in a feedbox for cows, would spend his last night held and bound in a prison so that we could be free for all eternity.

(Helene Paharik is associate general secretary in the General Secretariat of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. She is a frequent contributor to The Pittsburgh Catholic, the media outlet of the Pittsburgh diocese. She wrote this while accompanying Bishop David Zubik and a pilgrimage group of the Catholic Press Association in April 2016.)

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