Posts Tagged ‘Mass’

pilgrimage day 9.0 – destination, Jerusalem

January 15, 2009

It’s a well known adage that life is not about the destination, but the journey. This pilgrimage was about Jesus’ journey, but the destination, where Jesus fulfilled his mission, had equal gravity. Even though we had been in Jerusalem a few days already, day 9 we ‘arrived’, everything after this day felt like a winding down of the pilgrimage. Day 9 was also, fittingly, the harshest single day of the whole trip, but, somehow, I felt full of energy and verve. The day was so ridiculously long that I’m splitting it into two posts (which is saying something becuase the posts so far have been way-too-long-for-blog). Anyways, we woke at 5am and left for a 6am Mass at the Holy Sepulcher. We got our Mass in early at the overbooked Christian epicentre, during its Catholic time-slice. We walked a windy, complicated path through the Old City during a grey pre-dawn to get there. The streets were weirdly quiet compared to their regular buzz and clutter. Once we got inside the empty, echoey church we gathered at it’s focus: the enclosure built around Jesus’ tomb. After a while we entered through a narrow entry to a teeny room, the size of a large elevator, for a Mass which contemplated Jesus’ resurrection from the very spot where we were standing. At the end of Mass, one at a time, we walk-crawled through a low arch into an even teenier room at the middle of the enclosure where there was only a large altar built over the rocks of the tomb. Here we knelt and reached into a hole to touch those scared rocks. By the time we emerged from the enclosure, there were already more pilgrims starting to gather.

early morning at the Holy Sepulchre

early morning at the Holy Sepulchre

a glimpse into the sepulchre

a glimpse into the sepulchre

After a quick breakfast nip back to the hotel, we drove off to the Western Wall (a.k.a. Wailing Wall or Kotel), that site of contentiousness between the Jewish and Muslim. The wall’s history is obviously interesting and the fact that Jews are able to pray there freely is a big deal as it is the only part of the Temple that remains. At the commission in which the Jewish sought free worship at the wall, the following argument was made which I think sums up the wall’s meaning and the Jews desperation to hold onto it:

“Being judged before you today stands a nation that has been deprived of everything that is dear and sacred to it from its emergence in its own land – the graves of its patriarchs, the graves of its great kings, the graves of its holy prophets and, above all, the site of its glorious Temple. Everything has been taken from it and of all the witnesses to its sanctity, only one vestige remains – one side of a tiny portion of a wall, which, on one side, borders the place of its former Temple. In front of this bare stone wall, that nation stands under the open sky, in the heat of summer and in the rains of winter, and pours out its heart to its God in heaven.”

There are seperate queues for men and women to enter the site of the wall and very strict rules around maintaining its sanctity. There’s also a seperation at the wall such that there is a part for the tourists  and another for devout (I think Hasidic) Jews. Something else you notice is that, since the wall is so sacred, people do not turn their back on is, so as you leave you walk backwards facing the wall at all times.We got 5 minuts to walk around, and I didn’t walk all the way up and touch wall becuase I thought there wouldn’t be enough time. As we left I instantly regretted it, but Angie, who did touch the wall, did something which really moved me; she saw I was upset, picked up my hand and rubbed it against hers saying ‘Now we both touched the wall’.

rules of sanctity

rules of sanctity

the holiest place

the holiest place

Next we moved onto an even more contested site, the same space is, for Jews, the Temple Mount, where the Temple once stood and, for Muslims, it is where Mohammed ascended into heaven and where he will again appear at final judgement. It is the most holy place for Jews and the third most holy place for Muslims. One thing both agree on is that it is where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac. The space is occupied by two important Islamic places of worship the  Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, (as in the rock on which Abraham prepared Isaac for sacrifice). We walked through a make-shift tunnel with heavily armed soldiers posted along it to get to the Temple Mount.

Temple Mount arch

Temple Mount arch

Dome of the Rock

Dome of the Rock

We left the Temple Mount and walked through the Muslim quarter to see two things: St. Anne’s which is considered the birthplace of Mary and the Pools of Bethesda, where Jesus restored a blind man’s vision. Bizarrely and unexpectedly we were shuffled into a choir formation in St. Annes to sing a hymn becuase the acoustics there are really good. It was odd becuase there was an air of rush, we had to do this thing we didn’t know we were going to do *fast* bacuase there were other groups chomping at the bit for their choral moment. So, it seems, that’s what you do at St. Anne’s, you’re expected to sing; if you ever go, be prepared. At the pools there there was lots of talking by Frank (which I didn’t really process since I was still thinking about the Temple Mount) and a very quick looksee before we had to move onto to the Via Dolorosa.

one of many altars in St. Annes

one of many altars in St. Anne's

We got to do something very special and follow the Via Dolorosa, the way Jesus walked after his condemnation to his cruxifiction. We walked this path carrying a large wooden cross in turns and stopping at each station of the cross to read from the Bible and pray. The streets were narrow and filled with nonplussed shopkeepers who looked like they’ve seen thousands of Via Dolorosa processions. Ultimately we reached a little green door which turned out to be a wierd back entrance to the Holy Sepulchre, where we completed the last five stations and wandered around among the throngs of people. This time we also got to go to the altar above the rock of Calvary and touch that rock.

via dolorossa - the stations

via dolorossa - the stations

walking the via dolorosa

walking the via dolorosa

oddities through the back entrance of the Holy Sepulchre

oddities through the back entrance of the Holy Sepulchre

After that people got to rest for a while in the plaza outside the church before walking a good while through the shop-filled lanes to get to a Maronite nunnery where Frank had organised a lunch for us. The nuns there knew him well since he had grown up near the nunnery and spent lots of time there as a boy getting up to mischief such as hiding from his parents in their bell tower. We were led up a long flight of stairs which has very hard on the older folk. We ended up on a rooftop where we got an awesome view of rooftops used as backyards, statellites, domes, churches. Frank dissected the view, pointing out the different religious quarters and landmarks. Lunch was simple, homey and delicious and our table was filled with rollicking good table mates like Tia, Mae, Luisa, Fr. Chico, Caroline and Veronica.

lots of folk needed helping hands during all the walking

lots of folk needed helping hands during all the walking

rooftop backyard

rooftop backyard

look at this ladys apron

look at this lady's apron

Next, what we did after chilling at the Maronite nunnery…

pilgrimage day 4 – the way to Nazareth

December 2, 2008

Early wakeup call, today we changed hotels and cities which meant luggage had to be packed by 6am and then grabbing our breakfast boxes and getting on the bus for the long drive to Nazareth… eh except there was problem with that plan. At the hotel front desk I discovered there was some debacle with our breakfast boxes. V was telling someone from the hotel that they were unacceptable. Something about them being in bags and not boxes, I really couldn’t see what the fuss was about. The word spreading among the group who were milling around before deciding to nab the chance to have breakfast at the hotel. There was a lot of confusion and, in a sort of panic that there would be no breakfast, people began wolfing down big hunks of the hotel’s breakfast buffet. I hiccuped a lot, which led to lots of people giggling at me. We were rushed along with crumbs practically falling out of our mouths to catch the bus and breakfast boxes were cancelled completely.

This odd morning changed the program for the whole day – we missed our Mass slot at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth and V spent lots of time on the phone rearranging everything. Unfortunately this meant that no one knew what was coming up next and V wouldn’t tell us (presumably because she didn’t know herself). I thought it was rather peculiar that we were constantly being hurried along so as not to miss slots but sub-par breakfast boxes were good enough reason to miss them. We drove for hours with Frank talking a lot about the countryside and the highway that we were driving on which was gashed through the countryside. Our first stop was a petrol station where Isabel and I bought some unidentifiable Hebrew/Arabic water and chocolates and then we drove for more hours. Eventually we reached Cessaria where many of Jesus’ followers lived and preached and where Herod lived for a while and which was very hot and desert like (though there was a very lush golf course there). It was visually spectacular: old amphitheatre, a garden with broken pillars and then walking through a gate which revealed the breathtaking city ruins complete with a hippodrome. Sadly we did not have get to walk through the ruins but were loaded onto the bus and driven to another beach were we saw an old aqueduct and people dipped their feet in the Mediterranean, I would have preferred to walk through the ruins more.

many steps

many steps

aqueduct

aqueduct

We finally reached Nazareth; my first impression of it was that it was rundown but quaint. We started at a Greek Orthodox Church built over a well where Mary used to fetch water a few times a day. We were not allowed to take photos in the church and that was kind of blessing since it allowed us to enjoy it – it was beautiful and intricate with many golden lamps a big heavy chandelier. The well itself was surrounded by a fence but there was a small tap you could drink from, although after we drank we discovered the water was not quite safe (lucky we have tough tummies). We walked the route Mary would have walked carrying water from the well to the Church of Joseph (built over Josephs’ carpentry) and then onto the main event: the Church of the Annunciation. Here is it believed that the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that she was going to have a very special child. The church is amazing, outside there is a courtyard with many mosaics from different countries portraying Mary. It was interesting to see the different cultural portrayals of her. There was even one from South Africa would our tour organiser, V had brought all the way and placed on its spot. When we entered the church we were greeted with high ceilings and a wide open space, no pulpit no pews. This was a bit confusing but then we saw that there was a sunken level with an altar in front of a big black iron gate which fenced off the grotto in which Mary’s house was believed to be located. There was an Italian Mass taking place and later on we got our turn to have Mass – quite a touching one. It was the first time we were able to spend a while at it since we were the last group of the day to do Mass (in this sense the morning-gone-awry worked out quite well). Father Chico’s main message was that we should remember that, in all the madness of the tour, we should remember that we would find God in silences. Our group offered many personal prayers which gave me an insight into the struggles, illnesses and concerns the other pilgrims had.

downtown Nazareth

downtown Nazareth

the Church of the Annunciation in in the background

the Church of the Annunciation in in the background

cultural aesthetics

cultural aesthetics

After Mass we went walking back through downtown Nazareth and were led to – bleh – another souvenir shop. This upset some folks because they thought the shop in Bethlehem was the only shop we would be going to and this shop had some better deals. Isabel and I bought fridge magnets, that girl has a rather adorable obsession with them 😉 A couple on the tour – A (pregnant) and E were not digging the fact that we had been rushed through town only to linger at another touristy place so they went off to explore on their own, wish I had thought of that at the time since there were no other chances to explore downtown Nazareth.

That evening we met our new hotel, which V had told us would not be as nice as the one in Bethlehem. We definitely thought different – there was an amazing view, a huge pool and nice food. Us sisters when for a night swim before dinner. Over lots of hummus and aubergines we had a good chat with A and E. So not the super conservative people I thought they were, we discovered lots of common ground from uncompleted postgrad theses all the way to misgivings about the running of the tour and the bossiness of V. Ah it was nice to not feel like the only grumpy troopers – grumpiness decreased and camaraderie increased 🙂

Tally for the day: 3 churches, 1 ruined city, 2 beaches, 1 tourist trap