||A huge olive tree is seen in the Garden of Gethsemane. Some trees date back to the time of Christ. (Joy and Bill Exner photo)
Editor’s Note: Lady Joy, LCHS, and Sr. William, KCHS, Exner are section representatives for the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. in the Diocese of Madison. They are members of St. Mary Parish in Pine Bluff, where they are both lectors and involved in marriage preparation. Bill is a parish trustee, Rosary leader, and sacristan.
Our pilgrimage to the Holy Land last year was truly a life-changing event. In fact, we continue to experience it especially when hearing Sacred Scripture read during Mass, in the various liturgies, and in reciting the Holy Rosary.
If we close our eyes, we see images of the places where Jesus taught, prayed, and walked. Many of these sites remain clearly visible in our minds, and yet we sometimes experience them through a mist, so we will have to go on pilgrimage again soon.
A highlight of the pilgrimage was saying all 20 mysteries of the Rosary at the actual site where each mystery occurred. It is these memories that we share with you now as we walk through some of the mysteries of the Rosary on a “spiritual pilgrimage.”
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to Nazareth to a virgin named Mary . . . and the Holy Spirit came upon Mary and she conceived a son . . .”
We walked up a long path to the Basilica of the Annunciation, built over caves where it is believed that the annunciation took place. Entering the caves, we could sense the presence of Mary and the Holy Spirit and we reflected upon Mary’s “Magnificat.”
Retracing our path, we walked across a valley and up a high hill to Ein Kerem to the Church of the Visitation.
“And when Mary greeted her cousin Elizabeth, the baby John leapt in her womb and she greeted Mary saying ‘Hail, full of Grace, the Lord is with you.’”
What a long and arduous climb for Mary with child, and for us pilgrims.
While modern Bethlehem has obliterated most of the old countryside, there was enough remaining of the rocky hills of the ancient town that we could visualize the shepherds gathering to adore the new-born Jesus.
What a long distance that Joseph and Mary travelled from Nazareth in the north to Bethlehem south of Jerusalem! Visiting the Church of the Nativity, we viewed the caves located in the lower level of the church and remarked how austere and how humble a place for Our Lord to be born.
The Baptism of Jesus
We were surprised at how narrow is the River Jordan, and how steep are the banks. While the banks are covered with green foliage, the surrounding area is stark desert, the place where St. John the Baptist prayed and proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.”
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. And when Jesus had been baptized, a voice came from heaven saying: ‘You are My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.’”
The Wedding at Cana
Travelling to Cana, we renewed our wedding vows in the Franciscan Church of the Wedding Feast. It was very significant for us since we just celebrated our 50th anniversary. And there in the narthex is an ancient stone jar, perhaps like the one used when Jesus worked His first public miracle.
Proclamation of Kingdom
The Sea of Galilee is actually a lake, a very large lake, and as we walked along the shores, we visualized Jesus as he proclaimed the Gospel saying “The kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
Nearby is Mount Tabor, rising some 1,500 feet above the plain below. The paths leading up are steep and winding and it isn’t surprising that Jesus with Peter, James, and John travelled six days to reach the summit.
At the summit, one can view the plains below, the mountains in the distance, the sea, and all is quiet and peaceful. It is here that Jesus was transformed and with Him appeared Moses and Elijah, and from a bright cloud coming to rest over them a voice said to them, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.”
We reflected that in today’s world with all its distractions and noise, it is next to impossible to listen to Jesus. We need that silence, peacefulness, freedom from our smart-phones so that we too can listen to God’s voice. He calls to all of us — we only must listen.
Institution of the Eucharist
We visited the upper room in Jerusalem and contemplated the institution of the Eucharist. We were struck by the great distance from Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley to Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives.
Agony in the Garden
A portion of the garden remains with ancient olive trees, some dating to the time of Christ. Again here is silence. We visualized Jesus praying, alone, anticipating what is about to happen.
Scourging at the Pillar
Back in Jerusalem, at the site of the Preatorium, we placed our hands on the scourging pillar and could feel the power, the sorrow, and the strength of Jesus. The Via Dolorosa is a winding, steep uphill path with very uneven ground.
Carrying of the Cross
We had difficulty making the ascent and could barely imagine the agony Jesus suffered in carrying His Cross, but He bore it without complaint. How do we bear our crosses?
Calvary and the tombs were outside Jerusalem city walls at the time of Christ. Today the city has expanded to surround these sites.
Crucifixion and Death of Jesus
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre encompasses both of these sites. Climbing stone steps, we found an altar, and beneath the altar is the rock that bore the Cross of Christ where He was crucified.
There is a floor covering the rock of Calvary, and a hole in the floor where one can place his hand and touch the rock, and again feel the power.
The Holy Sepulchre is located down a series of steep and winding stone stairs, and is enclosed in a chapel. The tomb is entered through a narrow opening scarcely five feet high.
The tomb accommodates four persons at a time and we were allotted 15 seconds to pray there. We will never forget the experience, to touch the very stone slab where Jesus was laid after being removed from the Cross, the very slab where Jesus rose from the dead as he had foretold.
Good Friday collection
Many of the sacred places in the Holy Land are under the custody of the Franciscans, who are charged with the preservation and upkeep of the sites. They do a truly remarkable job.
The Franciscans rely solely on contributions from the Church through the generosity of Christians like us. One very important source of these funds is the collection taken up in our parishes during the Good Friday service.
Please keep in mind the importance of maintaining these sites as well as the significance of keeping a visible Christian presence in the Holy Land. Be generous in your contribution.
If you are unable to attend the Friday service, then place your donation, in a marked envelope, into the collection basket during Sunday Mass.