Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Day 9: "But did you get to see the Pope?"

The most simple answer to that question is "No."  No, we did not get to see Pope Francis while we were in the Holy Land.  We didn't even get close, actually.  The security was that tight.  What we did see were signs of the Pope's anticipated arrival and presence.  And those signs were absolutely everywhere:  banners and streamers in the narrow, cobbled streets of the Old City.  Twinned Israeli and Vatican flags along major thoroughfares.  Catholic churches, schools, and shrines festooned with the characteristic yellow-and- white of the papacy.  There were also numerous posters (above) announcing the appearances of the Holy Father with the leaders of Israel and Palestine, as well as his scheduled meetings with Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew.

It's not that we didn't want to see the Holy Father.  We would have loved to have done so.  And it's not that we didn't try, either.  The free tickets which were available were generally restricted to members of parishes and to groups of religious women and men living in the Holy Land.  It makes sense.  Pope Francis was coming to the Holy Land to visit the peoples of the Holy Land.

One of our group members, however, did manage to get a single ticket from one of the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land who was unable to attend the Mass in Bethlehem's Manger Square.  She braved every obstacle, arriving in Bethlehem the night before in order to be at the morning service on time.  When she got to her seat, she realized that she had a ticket for the clergy section!  Undaunted, she thoroughly appreciated the privilege and enthusiastically shared with us her impressions of the Pope's talk to the Palestinian Christian community.

So,  we spent our Sunday (not a holiday, but rather a work day in Israel) "pilgrimaging" around Jerusalem.  Our stops included the Pater Noster church, the White Fathers'  shrine at Bethsaida (whose beautiful Crusader chapel has wonderful acoustics), St. Anne's, the Via Dolorosa (our attempt to pray the Stations of the Cross was frustrated by the presence of security barriers in the proximity of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre), Dominus Flevit, the Garden of Gethsemane (closed at noon), Mount Zion, and St. Peter in Gallincantu. Frankly, a lot of it was a blur.  There was just too much to see at one time.

What does stick out in my mind as memorable, however, was our experience of Franciscan hospitality at the small shrine of Dominus Flevit ("Jesus wept").  Friars Leo Gonzalez (of our own Province of St. Barbara in California) and Fr. Sebastiano Eclimes had us all sit down for refreshments on the terrace of the "convento." They chatted amiably with us, sang for us, and offered us their blessings.  We were home!

We celebrated Mass in a conference room in the basement of our hotel.   It seemed totally appropriate for us as pilgrims.  All of the other places in the city were off-limits because of the papal visit (!).  No matter; we gathered around the Lord's  table in prayer and in His Presence just the same.

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