Friday, January 24, 2014

Last post

We have made it safely back!  Thank you for reading this blog and for all your prayers.  Please keep praying for us.  As a final piece of house keeping, here are the dates for diaconate ordination for the various dioceses in our class. We would love to have you come to as many as you can (though logistically it's impossible).

Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis: May 3rd
Diocese of La Crosse: May 3rd
Diocese of Madison: May 23rd
Diocese of Crookston: May 31st
Diocese of Superior: June 1st
Diocese of Sioux Falls: June 5th
Archdiocese of Anchorage: June 6th
Diocese of Des Moines: June 6th
Diocese of St. Cloud: June 7th
Thank you, and please pray for us!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The penultimate post (hopefully)

If you have been keeping a mental checklist of sites associated with the life of Christ, you'll have noticed that I haven't mentioned one big one: the Upper Room.  Now Biblical scholars like to argue back and forth about whether there is only one Upper Room or many, because a lot happened there: the last supper, the appearance of the risen Lord to the disciples, the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but you still think there should be something.  

The Fransican chapel
Today we finally went there, and there is not much, only a crusader church that has been converted into a mosque and then nationalized right next to Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion.  According to the Jews and Muslims the place we hold as the site of the upper room is the site where King David is buried, so they want to commemorate David there.  There is no real proof for either site being correct,  but both were in the general region.  There are two chapels, one Armenian and one Catholic (run by the Franciscans per usual), on either side of the site, and we had mass at the Franciscan site.

After that, I stopped by the upper room site, which has a synagogue in the lower part, and nothing really in the upper room site. It has nice crusader arches, but no art as befitting an ex-mosque. I didn't get any pictures because there was a large eastern European Catholic group there at the same time as me.  Then I went back, packed, and spent about an hour at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and did the route of Golgotha, anointing stone, and the tomb one last time. 

We start traveling tonight very, very late (at about 12:30) and will hopefully be back around 4 or 5 on Friday.  Hopefully there won't be any delays and hopefully we get through customs well.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The last free day

Today was a fun day.  We started with mass in Dormition Abbey, which is very pretty and has very nice mosaics, especially on the floor.  The floor depicts salvation history (a zodiac calendar with the Trinity at the center surrounded by the prophets, the evangelists, and the twelve apostles), but is also very dark (so my photos turned out poorly).  Under the church is a very cool Marian shrine, with what looks like a tomb, since the Abbey is built over the house of Mary in Jerusalem, so if she fell asleep in Jerusalem, she did so there (I still believe the Ephesus site is better, and I am still not convinced Mary died before the Assumption).  The dome overhead is really cool and shows the Old Testament matriarchs (Ruth, Eve, Esther, etc) but again, it was dark.
Dormition Abbey
The shrine to Mary

A risen savior cross I can get behind.
After praying there, TJ and I went to the Wailing Wall.  It is a very powerful place to pray. What struck me was the feeling of collective sorrow, that this is as close as Jews can get to the Temple.  The closest analogy i can think of is if we were able to attend mass but never receive the Eucharist.  I don't think many of us would last long, and yet for almost 2000 years Jews have come to Jerusalem to pray.

I spent the rest of the day just hanging out, and tomorrow we have a half-day free (but I must pack).  Then we travel for 25 hours, but at the end we are home. I looked at the weather forecast today for the Twin Cities and freaked out, but luckily I was looking at Celsius. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Last scheduled day!

Half of us started today by going to the temple mount. The Dome of the Rock is truly stunning, but I still wish we could have seen the stone it was built around.  We also spent a lot of timing looking at the Golden Gate, where Jews and Muslims believe the Messiah will enter after appearing on the Mount of Olives. Of course, they believe he will do vastly different things once he enters, but either way the gate was walled shut so as to prevent any false Messiahs from entering.
The Dome of the Rock
The site where most of the Second Temple stood
After picking up the other half of the group, we went down the street to the Latin Patriarch's headquarters. Like last year's class, we didn't get to meet the Patriarch but had to "settle" for Bishop William Shomali, one of the associates. He gave us a brief (shorter than today's homily) talk on the Church in the region and we had a very good Q&A session with him.

The group with Bishop Shomali. The antechamber had portraits of
all the Patriarchs of Jerusalem that are saints.  Must be intimidating for
the Patriarch.
After visiting the convent and then the underground complex of the original courtyard of the Antoine fortress, where Jesus stood trail and was scourged, we visited the Ecole Biblique.  As the name suggests, it was founded by French, in this case, Dominicans as a scriptural college to rival the Biblicum in Rome (because it is run by the Jesuits, who fought with everyone).  When they were building their complex, they providentially discovered a Byzantine basilica dedicated to St. Stephen, deacon and protomartyr. They rebuilt it close to the original plan, but may have gotten carried away with the side altars to various Dominican saints.  We had mass in their chapter house, and then got a tour of their complex, which includes a crypt that has the original (although now anonymous) monks from the 5th century monastery. 
The courtyard of the Antoine fortress
The Basilica of St. Stephen
Tomorrow is technically a free day, but we have mass at one of the churches that is still on my list to see.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Ups and downs on the Mount of Olives

My hike up and down the Mount of Olives did not happen.  Sadly the mount is divided roughly in half by the Israeli security barrier, so it takes a half hour by bus to get to Bethany (not Bethel as last post says, that was a typo).

We started as planned at the Church of All Nations (though I don't think most of us were expecting a 52 minute mass), then went across the street to the cave were tradition says the apostles waited while Jesus prayed, and where Judas led the arresting guards (so it's called the cave of the Betrayal).  Right next to it is another cave with tombs, one of which tradition says is the tomb of Mary.  Now we hold that Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven, but the Orthodox and some Catholics hold that Mary died before the Assumption.  We call this view the Dormition, and so Mary has a tomb (actually two, there is one in Ephesus as well).  The definition of the Assumption was deliberately left vague so that we can hold either position that either Mary died or she didn't so long as we hold that she was taken up, body and soul.
The tomb of Mary in the foreground, the cave of the betrayal in the back
After that we went to the top of the hill to Ascension Mosque and then to the Church of the Pater Noster.  The orginal sites were both built by St. Helena because there was confusion over which site was the real place of the Ascension, but a forged- I mean a miraculous- footprint in Ascension Mosque convinced Byzantine Christians it was the place.  Since Muslims believe in the ascension of the prophet Jesus/Isa, they took over the site, and Christians just have the Church of Pater Noster.  It's runs by the Carmelites and is very simple but is nice.
The Ascension Mosque. Trust me, we got the better site.

Finally we went to Bethany.  The actual tomb of Lazarus has a mosque built over it, for much the same reason as Ascension Mosque (namely they think Isa really raised Lazarus from the dead), but to the right there is an Orthodox monastery, and to the left is a Catholic church with very nice mosaics.
The Catholic church on the left, the mosque is on top of the wall to the right

Some of us in the tomb of Lazarus
Tomorrow some of us are going to the Temple mount (there was a lot of drama about going because there is a ban on non-Muslim prayer items, and I think based upon my phrasing you can tell which side of the argument I was on), and then we all have a meeting with his Beatitude Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.  In the afternoon we are touring the convent built over the Antoine fortress where Jesus was condemned by Pilate. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014


We went to Bethlehem today. We started at the grotto of the Shepherds where we had mass. Actually, I should say a grotto of the Shepherds because there are two, both with the ruins of Byzantine monasteries.  They are in the same general vicinity, and the one we went to was the Catholic site.  Bethlehem is part of the West Bank, and both sites sadly have impressive views of the security barricade and an illegal settlement.  We had mass there, and then were off to lunch.  After lunch we went to one of the tourist trap olive tree carving stores, but I successfully resisted the urge to buy things.

From there we went to the Church of the Nativity, which is literally falling apart.  The original Byzantine basilica built by St. Helena was destroyed by the Samaritans, but it was rebuilt by Justinian, and his building still stands.  The grotto of the Nativity under the high altar is very moving.  We Catholics have only one altar there, but we have an adjoining church, St. Catherine's which is well maintained and roughly the same size. In "our" basement (which really cuts back under the main church) there are a series of caves and if you take two rights, you end up in front of the tomb of St. Jerome.   Jerome came to Bethlehem to learn Hebrew and write the Vulgate, and his cell is right next to the tomb.  I and a couple others have a devotion to Jerome so it great to pray there.
The main nave. They are in a two year project to restore the roof before it collapses (more).
The group in the grotto of the Nativity
The tomb of St. Jerome. As the sign says, his bones were here "olim" (once).
Being a popular saint means your final resting placing isn't very final (instead your relics are carried off for devotion).

Finally we stopped by this Milk Grotto place, where according to tradition the holy family stopped hike fleeing to Egypt. Mary feed Jesus there, and a drop of her milk fell on the ground which turned the rock white.  It is an odd legend, but there are many anecdotal miracles, particularly for fertility, from the site.
The church
The icon over the altar at the site
Tomorrow we are going by foot over the mount of Olives starting at the Church of All Nations, then all the way to Bethel, but my blister has closed so it should be fun.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Free Day Deux

So today was our second free day. We started with mass at the Church of St. Anne which is one of the possible spots for the childhood home of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is right next to the old pool of Bethzatha, and there are other better sites that claim the honor, so I don't really buy it.  This morning I worked on my homily then a bunch of us went to get shawarma for lunch.
My homily prep nook. That is an arrow slit in the city wall.
Our hotel's courtyard is back by the wall.

In the afternoon, TJ and I went to the Holy Sepulcher to touch a few rosaries to Golgotha, the anointing stone, and the slab inside the Cenacle, but got delayed because there was a two hour Armenian Orthodox mass at the Cenacle.  While waiting I learned fun things like that Armenian bishops wear two copes while sitting in choir.  In the Holy Sepulcher, the Greek Orthodox monks serve kinda like bouncers to keep the lines moving at the various sites, and the one at the Cenacle nearly took out a guy who was trying to undo the rope blocking the way into the Greek sanctuary after reopening the Cenacle for veneration (the three custodian groups, Armenians, Greeks, and Catholics all have private side chapels framing the Cenacle). I had heard that brawls occasionally break out but I didn't expect to nearly see one.
Since I didn't take pictures I must use old ones
The class of 2015 on the shore of Galilee
Once we were done with that I had to preach, and that went well, though evidently I need to work on my transitions and not speaking to seminarians like they are seminarians (aka providing theological definitions and providing pastoral suggestions and applications) but such is life.  As you can tell, I accept the first critique but the second irks me.
The American dome in the Church of All Nations
Tomorrow we are off to Bethlehem and are having mass at someplace called the Chapel of the milk. I can't wait to find out what crazy story gave it that name.

As a last note, please pray for Archbishop Neinstedt and all those involved in ongoing cases in the Archdiocese.  It has been one month since he withdrew from public ministry, and we want him back.  To be a little selfish and horribly presumptuous, I want to be ordained by him, and so to repeat, please pray for him.