Reporting from the Holy Land…

Following is more from the daily log from Greg Reichert, assistant principal of Everest Collegiate High School, as the seniors from his high school complete the final leg of their pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

I snapped a picture from the top of our hotel in Bethlehem (see photo.)  The view looks southwesterly over the city and Mt. Gillo. If you could see beyond Mt. Gillo, you would see the hills of Judea. Driving through these hills yesterday, we were able to see several Bedouin encampments. The landscape is incredibly unique, barren and deserted, and as our tour guide pointed out, not unlike how one would imagine hills on the moon to appear.

Just like yesterday, we got an early start with a 5 am wake-up and a trip back into Jerusalem for Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We prayed Mass together in the tomb of Christ. What an amazing experience and an incredible privilege! Only about ten at a time could fit into the inner chamber where Fr. Daniel (Pajerski LC) was celebrating, but we were able to rotate everyone in and out throughout the Mass. Standing within Christ’s tomb was beyond sobering, and what an incredible image for the students to have the altar of the Eucharistic sacrifice being the very location where Christ was laid and then rose from the dead.

After Mass we went into the tomb, directly behind the Holy Sepulcher, that is purported to be that of Joseph of Arimathea. All of these sites, from the spot of Calvary where we celebrated Mass yesterday to Joseph’s tomb, are all in such close proximity and all within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

After breakfast we headed back into Jerusalem and walked to the pools of Bethesda. There, Father read to us from the scriptures the account in which Christ healed the man who had been ill for thirty eight years.

Located on the same site is the Church of St. Anne where the Greek Orthodox believe that Mary was born. The church is noted for its beautiful acoustics, which are actually the reason why Saladin chose not to destroy it when he conquered in 1187.  Inside the church we honored tradition by gathering at the base of the sanctuary in song. We sang Hail Holy Queen, Amazing Grace, and one of our students, Christen Ireland, agreed to sing the Ave Maria.  Even our small group filled up the church with song; it was very beautiful.

From there we went to the Antonia Fortress where the first station of the Via Dolorosa is located. We prayed the stations through the streets and the various points along the Way of the Cross, finishing of course at the foot of Calvary.

We ate lunch at the Legionaries’ Notre Dame Center where we also got a rooftop view of Jerusalem, and then we headed toward the Mount of Olives. There we visited first the church of Pater Noster. This is the site where Christ taught his disciples how to pray. We paused there to pray the “Our Father” together in the cave which rests below the church.  Next, we visited the church Dominus Flavit, which overlooks Jerusalem. This is the location where Christ shed tears lamenting the pending destruction of the city.We then visited the Basilica at the Garden of Gethsemane. Here, rising out of the floor in front of the altar lies the rock upon which Christ wept and sweat blood as his Passion began. After dinner we will have the opportunity to pray a holy hour in the Basilica, and the priest there agreed to open the actual garden area for us to enter as well.

We’re continuing to send home our prayers…

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The group was happy to sleep in today until about 7:00-7:30 am. After breakfast we packed our bags for the trip home tonight; then, we drove a few minutes to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  This church, under which lies the cave of the nativity, is the second oldest Christian church, second to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It is under the shared care of the Greek Orthodox and the Armenian Catholic churches. After listening to our guide Amer, we all gained new insight regarding what consisted of the ancient ‘ inn’ that Joseph and Mary sought.
On the same property and connected to the Church of the Nativity, sits the Basilica of St. Catherine of Alexandria. This church is owned by the Roman Catholic Church, establishing a Roman Catholic presence at the site. This is where thousands gather outside the Church on Christmas Eve for Midnight Mass.

A quick stop at Shepherds’ Field, where the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds grazing their flocks on the outskirts of Bethlehem, and then we headed back into Jerusalem to see Mt. Zion.  On Mt. Zion, our first stop was the Church of Mary’s Dormition. Here we prayed a decade of the rosary in the lower level where, in the Greek Orthodox tradition, Mary’s ‘falling asleep’ is commemorated prior to her Assumption. From there, on the same site, we walked a small way to the Upper Room where the sacraments of Eucharist, holy orders, and confirmation were instituted.  Two special events occurred for us there today. We read from the scriptural account when Christ ate His Passover meal with His apostles; we also ran into Fr. Gomez and his group of students outside the doors of the upper room! (Fr. Lorenzo Gomez LC has taken a group of Everest boarder students on their own pilgrimage to the Holy Land.)

Upon leaving the Upper Room we headed downhill a short piece to the Church of Peter in Gallicantu. This is the place where the home of Caiaphas the high priest was located and where Christ was tried in front of the Sanhedrin. Right outside this beautiful church, that has a rooster perched atop the steeple’s crucifix, is also a statue of Peter that commemorates the location of his denial.  In the lower level of the church is also a holding pit, into which criminals were lowered and held overnight in chest-deep water. There are not a large number of these pits on the site, so conceivably this pit could have been the very pit in which Christ was held for the night after his trial. We read from the Psalms inside this pit, the account that foreshadows Christ’s passion.
Also, ascending the hillside right next to the church are the Sacred Stairs upon which Christ was led during his Passion. From there we made our last stop in Jerusalem. Entering the old city again, we were very near the Western Wall. We stopped at the wall to take pictures and to leave our prayers.  Then we walked once more through the narrow streets of the city on our way back to the Notre Dame center where we had Holy Thursday Mass in the church there. We were blessed also to have the Papal Nuncio of the local Patriarchate as the main celebrant of this Mass.

We are presently heading for the airport in the bus, and the students are recounting their stories and experiences from the trip one at a time over the bus’s speakers. What incredible depth our students have! I am so happy for them and proud of them. They have fully embraced this experience, and their faith has been so bolstered and enriched through all of this.  God has truly blessed these students and our school!

We’ll soon be in Tel Aviv and on our way home. All are excited to see family again, but the Holy Land will certainly be missed!


About Jim Fair

Jim Fair is a writer and consultant. He lives in the Chicago area and has a wonderful wife, son and daughter. He enjoys fishing and occasionally catches something. He tries to play the piano and sings a little. In addition to writing for Regnum Christi Live, he blogs at Laughing Catholic. And you can follow him on Twitter: Jim Fair (@fishfair).
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