Today is not only the sabbath for the Jews but at sundown it will also be the beginning of what is known as Sukkot, the Feast of Booths or aka the Feast of Tabernacles. During this feast which is observed for seven days many observant Jews will build small booths, literally, with palm or other kinds of branches on top to serve as miniature huts or shelters reminding them of how fragile their existence was during the forty years of wandering in the desert. Many will eat their meals inside the booth, and some will even sleep within it, as well.
So, I have had the privilege of being here for several great feasts: the feasts of Rosh Shashana, Yom Kippur, and now the feast of Sukkot. I feel very blessed to be able to be so close to the place where these feasts and will never think about them again in the same way.
Yesterday, Saturday, I went into the Old City, the area within the ancient walls of Jerusalem, just to have another look. First I walked through some narrow streets that were new to me. I even found an old stairway, often not used, that leads to a roof where the Ethiopian priests are. You follow this old staircase around and you end up back at the entrance to the Holy Sepulcher. Maybe it is because I am a Passionist, but for some reason I have been at Calvary and the Tomb more than any other place!! I guess it just kept calling me! I also kept finding myself near Gethsemane, one of my most treasured historical and spiritual places. I also visited the Church of the Dormition and went down into the crypt where it is thought that the Blessed Mother died. Then, it was a long walk around the city walls for another look and then I caught old bus number 36 and headed into Bethany. Later in the afternoon I celebrated the Eucharist with the CTU students who are here on a special study program.
Today is Sunday and this morning I attended Mass with an Italian group that were visiting during their pilgrimage being led by an Italian Passionist. They came from a parish not far from but I did not get the Passionist’s name, sorry to say. Then, after a nice lunch, I began to pack my things for my departure tomorrow. Tomorrow will be my ninth day here at Bethany and it has been a good visit. The whole community has been very hospitable, very kind. It seems to me that this a very tough assignment. The entire cultural milieu is completely different than what any of them are familiar with. Their presence, much like the Friars in the holy places here in the “Holy Land”, make it possible to maintain a Passionist presence but at what cost? It is not easy so please pray for them. Originally I was going to stay for two full weeks but that was based on my somewhat naive assumption that I could revisit some of the special places for quiet, prayerful time. Well, I suppose that could happen but I would have to get into those places around 7:00 a.m. and leave by nine when all the tour buses and crowds arrived!
So, it is time to pack and head for home. Besides, I think I have heard more than enough of the calls to prayer blasting forth from the minarets and mosques that are everywhere in this Palestinian area. I will have to study up on just what is being broadcast (and I am pretty sure they are recordings.) you will hear them near midnight; again around three in the morning; once again at around 6:00 a.m. and then periodically during the day. And believe me, none of these holy voices sound like the Sistine Chapel Choir!
Packing was easy, even including the little wine bottles from Cana and the Diet Coke bottle with water from the Jordan River (although where we met it, it was more like a refreshing stream.). I decided to put the water in a plastic Diet Coke bottle after hearing the story of a rather prestigious priest/scholar/pilgrim who had the same idea of bringing River Jordan home but somewhere along the line got confused and drank it! Ergo the Diet Coke bottle idea! So now I can have some Cana wine and some Jordan water for a few weddings and baptisms. Tina and Jimmy, I am saving some just for you!
I leave early tomorrow and look forward to being home once again. But these three weeks have truly been a blessing. Thank you, Lord! Gratias a Dios!