A Pilgrim's Notebook - Chapter 8

Pilgrim notes #8 - La Via Dolorosa & the outskirts of Jerusalem
Monday: 03/13/2000

V. We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
R. Because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.

The way of the Cross. It seemed strange to be walking the Via Dolorosa (the way of sorrow) on some day other than Good Friday. But, we're here now, so we do it today.

We were up early again to try to beat the crowds in the old city, crowds which often make getting thru the Via Dolorosa more like a dance than a walk. As we walked from St. George's down Salah ed din street, with the large cross that we took turns carrying, the abundant number of school children rushing off to their classes were most prominent. Since St. George's sits on the East side of Jerusalem and our march took us thru Herod's Gate thru the heart of the Moslem Quarter to its center, what we were seeing were native Palestinian children, mostly Moslem. Looking at them closely, they look just like happy children anywhere rushing off to school. Outside the old city, we saw mostly older girls, but once inside Herod's Gate, mostly younger children, both boys and girls, rushing off in singles, pairs, and small groups, without adults hoovering over them, the children's apparent safety taken for granted. As we approached schools, the sounds of children voices, the same din in any language, became prominent. Passing the schools, it was notable that every school entrance was covered by private guards armed with automatic riffles/carbines. What a contrast.

The first station (Jesus is condemned) is now inside El Omariya School, normally not accessible, in what used to be a fortification, the Praetorium in the Antonia Fortress. Because of this, we, like most Pilgrims, commemorated the first station in the Franciscan Chapel of the Condemnation across the street in the Franciscan monastery.

We were in the lucky second groups with our St. George's College chaplain, Roger Featherston. At each station, Roger led us into the deeper meaning of the place with some remarkable insights. Then we took turns leading station prayers from a thoughtfully developed script.

The second station (Jesus takes up the cross) is in the nearly adjacent Franciscan Chapel of the Flagellation. The sidewalk outside this chapel is the actual pavement stones of first century Jerusalem, 16 feet below the level of the street outside the monastery.

The third station (Jesus falls for the first time) is commemorated at the entrance of the Polish chapel on El Wad street built during World War II underneath a sculpture of Jesus falling under the cross by Thaddeus Zielinsky.

The fourth station (Jesus meets his mother), just a few feet south on El Wad from the third station, at the Armenian Catholic Church.

The fifth station (The Cyrenean helps Jesus carry the cross) is at the Franciscan chapel "Simoni Cyreneo Crux Imponitur" (literally: "Simon the Cyrene, Cross Bearer). Here, as in the first and second stations, we go into the chapel for our devotions.

The sixth station (The veil of Veronica) is at the Church of St. Veronica that belongs to the Little Sisters of Jesus. Veronica is considered to be an icon (a point of connection between the holy and the profane) of helpfulness. The traditions says that Veronica ran from her house with a towel to wipe the brow of Jesus. Lord, help us to help others the best that we can.

The seventh station (Jesus falls for the second time) is at possibly the most incredibly crowded intersections at the corner of Via Dolorosa and Suq Khan Et Zeit street. Because of this and the growing traffic, we did not go into the Franciscan chapel which contains a pillar where the sign of Jesus' condemnation was probably written. At this point, the Jerusalem of Jesus' time ended at the old Gate of Judgement through which Jesus would have exited on his way to Golgotha.

The eighth station (Jesus consoles the crying women of Jerusalem) is at a stone embedded into the walls of the Greek Monastery of St. Charalambos inscribed with a Latin cross and an inscription "Jesus Christ is Victorious." Pilgrims traditionally touch the cross, put their fingers into the center hole, then cross themselves.

From here, we climb the steps, go past the still closed Internet café.

The ninth station (Jesus falls for the third time) just outside the door to the Coptic (Egyptian) church in the shadow of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

The last five stations are in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We enter a courtyard full of crusader period construction, go thru a short doorway we have to duck under, down some very narrow dark stairs, past two Ethiopian chapels, into the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We leave our cross in the courtyard. They are generally safe. We enter the church, turn right, and ascend steep stone steps through a narrow doorway. Here are three small magnificently arraigned adjacent chapels, space shared by Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholics.

The tenth station (Jesus is stripped of his garments)

The eleventh station (Jesus is nailed to the cross)

The twelfth station (Jesus dies). The altar in the chapel of the twelfth station is built over the actual location where it is believed the cross stood. There is a hole under the altar through which pilgrims may reach down and touch the rock of Golgotha, which we all did.

The thirteenth station (Jesus is taken down from the cross). A low altar marks the spot where Mary received the body of her son to be dressed for burial.

The fourteenth station (Jesus is placed in the tomb). It is quieter here now than when we were here a few days ago. We take our turn to enter the tomb in very small groups. The actual tomb itself can only hold perhaps three at a time. There is a narthex in the tomb where we wait our turn. Inside the tomb, a place where we remember Jesus in the empty tomb, is a marble shelf, the walls adorned with icons and flowers and gold and sliver. This is not the original tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. That was destroyed. But here we kneel, say a prayer, and remember.

We gathered outside in a corner of the rotunda outside the empty tomb and sing "Were you there when they crucified my Lord."

Roger then takes us down to the Armenian chapels where at the lowest level one can see the face and the underside of the rock quarry that was Golgotha.

For many, this event has made today the holiest day of pilgrimage.

V. O savior of the world, who by your cross and precious death have redeemed us,
R. Save us and help us, we humbly beseech you, O Lord.

In the afternoon we went to Bethany, Bethpage, Mount of Olives, Garden of Gethsemane. Much of this felt like "tourist" not "pilgrim" but there were two notables.

At Bethany, the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, we do a dramatic reading of John 11. Domenic Ciannella (the elder) plays Lazarus, and he is hiding in the back room. When Jesus calls Lazarus forth, Domenic emerges with a black scarf wrapped around his face, both hands held high, like you might see in the movie "The Mummy." Then Jesus said, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go," and the beaming face of Domenic Ciannella, resurrected again, absolutely made the play a success.

Four delightful Palestinian chatterboxes

Bethpage is about a mile or so straight up from Bethany; well, more like a 45 degree angle up. Twelve of us decided to walk rather than ride the bus. One of them was Domenic (Lazarus). Now, Domenic has a lot of miles on his feet, not to mention the rest of him. So, I hung back there with Domenic for company, along with a few others (the doctor) and we poked our way up the "hill." In the meantime, Fr. Steve Muncie, in the trailblazer group ahead of us, met and talked to a man going in the opposite direction, he said an American schoolteacher living in Jerusalem, that we did not see. Did he vanish into thin air? Perhaps he could only be seen by the pure in heart? In the meantime, we met four delightful little Palestinian chatterboxes (girls) ranging from about 8 to 4 years old, who told us about themselves in pretty good English considering their ages and opportunities. Finally, I asked if I could take their picture (slow of mind as usual). They were delighted. It should be a great picture.

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