David Flynn, Contributing Writer
Looking back now, it is hard to imagine that we actually made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I mean, we were just a foursome of 19- and 20-year-olds traveling around Israel.
We knew why we were there at least: We wanted to see where God walked upon this earth, to walk where He walked and to touch where He touched — a “touching” pilgrimage, as Rome campus chaplain Fr. David Brown called it.
Certainly, the other cities in Israel had important places pertaining to Jesus’ life, but Jerusalem was where His most important actions were centered — as well as the location of many major holy sites of the Jewish tradition.
Jesus was a practicing Jew, following the ordinances of the Jewish Law in order to completely fulfill it. So we naturally did our best to follow in His footsteps.
The Western Wall (the remaining wall of the Jewish Temple) was unforgettable. We walked up, placing our newly acquired yarmulkes on our heads, and looked in awe at the immensity of the single wall. What made it more impressive were the devout Jewish men on one side, some chanting prayers, others rocking back and forth in prayerful meditation.
We carefully chose an unoccupied spot along the wall, set our hands and rested our heads on its ancient stone blocks, and prayed. What kept coming to my mind was the fact that Jesus saw this very same wall when he came to Jerusalem; these same stones were familiar to him.
Later in the day, we ventured out to the Garden of Gethsemane, where we would begin to follow the same path that Jesus took to His Passion. After the Garden, we went along the Via Dolorosa, which translates to the “Painful Way.” It begins where Pilate tried Jesus and had Him scourged and given His cross to begin His way to Calvary. Being the good Catholic men we are, we tried desperately to meditate on his Passion while simultaneously rushing to reach the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Mass.
Interestingly enough, the Via Dolorosa starts in the Muslim Quarter of the old city. After briefly stopping by a couple of Stations of the Cross and doing our best to focus, a pair of Muslim children strolled in front of us and spontaneously clasped hands and started skipping.
I paused to take my tourist photo of the cute moment and returned to my meditation. But no matter how hard I tried, I could not get the children out of my mind. Then it hit me like a sack of potatoes: They are why Jesus suffered and died. Even if they were the only two on the face of the earth, He still would have given His life for them. What love!
Finally arriving at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (a name which means “resting place” or “tomb”), we quickly discovered there was no Mass at the time we were told (because why would things work according to plan?), but there were hundreds of tourists and pilgrims filling the church.
We maneuvered from religious spot to religious spot, starting with the site of the Crucifixion. Packed together like sardines with no airflow, we found it difficult to handle the stuffiness. On top of that, we had to play the oh-so-tricky line-holding game with competing tourists. To put it simply, it was tough to focus on the religious significance of the spot we were about to touch with our very hands.
Before I knew it, I was already at the very spot where Jesus shed his Blood. Beforehand, I had imagined a profound thought or some sort of divine revelation coming to me, but in that brief moment, kneeling before the dark hole, nothing came to mind but the two Muslim children and the love that Christ has for them and for me. “I love you,” flashed through my mind, and I kissed the spot and rose to my feet to allow the next pilgrim to kneel.
Jesus loved the city of Jerusalem, and by the end of our short time there, I can honestly say I loved it, too. What I loved most about it was its testament to those events of true love. Christ died for every last one of us so that we may have life with Him. What greater love is there than that?