On each pilgrimage to the Holy Land, our week in Jerusalem climaxes with the Way of the Cross—for seven hours we weaved through the Old City in and out of little chapels, before finally exiting from the Holy Sepulchre, this most hallowed of all Christian churches. For your Lenten meditation, I have put onto our website the deeply Theological and spiritual text of the Stations of the Cross we use and that we have continued to improve and edit. I put it into a format that is good for your cellphone. If you'd like a pdf, just ask.
Here below is an account of our adventure through the Via Dolorosa of the Old City. I hope it will help your imagination as you do Stations on Fridays or when you listen to the reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. I will have my parents, their friends, and 26 Steubenville students walking the path with us for Holy Week. Pray for young hearts to be transformed, and for Christians to give a coherent, sincere, and courageous witness on the Holy Sites in this land of conflict, encounter, and grace.
Please also consider a gift for our ministry and our Holy Site of Emmaus. Know that we are an independent site, community, and ministry, so we don't receive any aid from the Vatican, the Archdiocese of Jerusalem/Terra Sancta (where the parish Good Friday collections go), or any other dioceses or parishes. Here is the link for giving.
St. Peter the Cock Crowing monastery is the site of Christ’s imprisonment at the hands of the Sanhedrin. Here one can see the staircase from which St. Helen took the Santa Scala that pilgrims venerate in Rome. For all of our week in Jerusalem, we lodged here, but we waited until Thursday night to step into the church. We descending four stories down into the depths of Christ’s pit and meditated on the Gospel words. We then joined the Assumptionist brothers and sisters for adoration in the crypt. A foreboding silence set the tone for the next day's path of Good Friday.
Waking to the crowing cocks and the Muslim muezzin, we kept this melancholy silence as we had coffee and pita and then left St. Peter’s, descending to Gethsemane along the ancient walls and ruins of the Temple precinct. We paused at the corner of the Temple esplanade, the highest point, where Jesus would have been tempted by Satan during his desert fast. Jesus defended himself with the Word of God, and we likewise walked with Bible in hand, our comfort as we began this trail of trials.
Through the garden of ancient olive trees, we entered the large church of Gethsemane, grave and dark, but the ceiling mosaic glistening like stars of hope. We approached the rock where Jesus kneeled in supplication. As we knelt down to touch it, his heart seemed to reach our to touch ours. It was for us that He prayed in agony.
We entered the Old City gate onto the Via Dolorosa at rush hour. Muslims were streaming through the narrow gateways onto the Temple Mount for Friday prayer during this holy month of Ramadan. The reality of this history, this story, hit home as we passed under one of the archways of the Roman Antonia fortress where Pilate presented Jesus and Barabbas to the people. Another of the same arches forms the apse of the church called Ecce Homo, “behold the Man.” Our meditation read:
“Love put on our humanity because humanity fell short of love, and such a fault leads to death. He took upon Himself the condemnation that was upon us. That is why Pilate said: ‘Here is the man.’”
We continued along, stepping into little chapels along the way for each Station, alternating in between Stations chanting of the Lord’s mercy and reciting decades of the Sorrowful Mysteries. At the Sixth Station, where Veronica wiped the face of Jesus, we were welcomed for Mass into a small chapel, like a cave, beside the icon workshop of the Little Sisters of Jesus. Two discreet sisters dressed in blue and white gave us their witness—a life of joyful offering. Celibate life, in love with their Savior. As our meditation read:
"This cloth that she is holding, is it to hide her pain? She unveils herself and unveils her love. She demonstrates that her allegiance is to You before men. She knows that You will not be ashamed of her before the Father.She does not fear the soldiers, for perfect love banishes fear. Maybe she had been following You for days, and it is at this terrible hour that her passion encounters Your passion. From from now on she is simply Veronica: true image, true icon. She shall bear the name of your countenance forever."
Winding our way further up the streets, onto the roof of the Holy Sepulchre, we meditated the Ninth Station within a luscious chapel closed off to the public, in St. Anthony's Coptic monastery. Stepping into one of the oldest Christian traditions and into the oldest line of monastic life, we felt at ease, at home, and close to Christ as we neared the place of his Sacrifice.
Next, we wandered through the huts of Ethiopian monks to the spot that marked Abraham's sacrifice of the ram in Isaac's stead. Finally, we went back to the streets full of secular tourists and hawkers, along with Muslim pilgrims on their way from the Temple Mount.
Amidst so many Muslim women, in fact, we made our way into the Holy Sepulchre. With curious eyes, they watched us kneel down before the foot of Calvary and then kiss the slab of the Pieta. For them, Jesus is a prophet, born of a Virgin, and so many of them also showed reverence. Our meditations led us on around the chained-off Greek Orthodox domed sanctuary, around to the back side of the Tomb.
For the rest of the story, I'll pass the pen to Kathie:
"We entered into the Holy Sepulchre for the final Stations. As we found corners where we could mediate on the final moments of Jesus’ Passion, we made our way around the back of the church, near several side altars. The Holy Sepulchre is such an interesting blend of sounds, with Byzantine chant, organ music, and various other chants and songs, along with the normal sounds of people praying, taking pictures, and explaining the significance of the site. But amidst the noise, there was an impression that this place is sacred. So many groups revere this site, and the different ways of worship display the universality of Christ’s death and resurrection.
We noticed that the line to go into the Sepulchre, which is normally very long, was at that moment only a few people, so we took the unexpected opportunity and were able to go into the Sepulchre. We were ushered four at a time into a small room inside the rock, where we waited a few moments for our turn to kneel at the Sepulchre. When the group before us was gently ushered out, four of us went in to a tiny space, truly only big enough for four people to kneel at a time. The power of the Resurrection in that tiny space was incredible! We had just walked with Jesus through his Passion, his death, and seen the sorrow of Mary at His burial, and in that moment in the Sepulchre, God’s answer, of resounding victory, was so clear and powerful.
After a short time, we were very kindly and gently asked to make way for the next group, and each of us left touched in a different way. When we left the Sepulchre, all of us naturally wanted to be as near as we could to that little room, so, in silence, we all ended up kneeling by the outside of the rock, crying, laughing, praying. We stayed there for a long time.