The day started with a visit to the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site. Our bus retraced our path from yesterday all around the northeast corner of the old city toward the southeast corner. We entered through a minor gate that led us quickly to the site in the Jewish Quarter bordering the Temple Mount complex which would have been the outer wall of the temple that dates back to Herod the Great. Women and men pray at the wall at separate locations, women to the right, men to the left. People are accustomed to leaving written notes in crevices in the wall. So we brought written prayers to leave in the wall.
In the men’s section of the wall we were required to wear a yarmulke which was lent to those without one, but which people are permitted to keep. I got mine a few days earlier from one of the shops close to our hotel. Most noticeable among the men at the wall are strict observant Orthodox Jews who wear prayer shawls and other religious garb.
Recent proposals before the Knesset (Israeli parliament) from ultra-conservative legislators include restrictions for worship that criminalize all but their manner of prayer at the wall. The prime minister indicated the status quo will remain for now.
On the way back to the bus I observed areas of construction and continued excavation.
A short bus ride from this site, we made our way to the Abbey of the Dormition on Mount Zion administered by the Benedictines which was unfortunately closed for renovation. The abbey stands just outside the walls and is built on the site of an early 5th century byzantine basilica commemorating the “sleeping” or death of the Virgin Mary. I had caught sight of the same structure on a walk the previous day but did not know what it was. Now I know.
We walked next to the Cenacle or Upper Room, the location of the Last Supper, one of the post-resurrection appearances, and the Pentecost event. Currently administered by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, it is the site of an early church, a synagogue, and a mosque at various times. There is evidence of its significance to Christianity, a capital (top section of a column) depicting pelicans which is a symbol of Jesus Christ in Christian iconography, and a medallion at the junction of one of the groin vaults depicting a lamb also a symbol of Christ.
Then back on the bus to St. Peter in Galicantu where a church stands that commemorates Peter’s denial knowing Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest’s house. We celebrated Mass here at 11:00 AM before visiting the pit where Jesus was held between trials on the night of his arrest. He probably didn’t get any sleep. He felt most alone and abandoned by his friends. They had all run away when he was taken by a mob from the religious leaders in the Garden of Gethsemane.
A thought from Mass. Peter denied knowing Jesus for fear he would suffer similar treatment. We deny knowing Jesus whenever we turn away from God by selfish or sinful action. But Jesus is always eager to extend forgiveness. In a land so divided and troubled, where anything can turn into an international incident quickly, everyone learns to be respectful and willing to accommodate and overlook each other’s insensitivities. Would that we would make a similar effort on a larger scale and in our personal lives?
A short drive from here we take lunch at St. Andrew’s Scots Memorial Church administered by the Church of Scotland in remembrance of the Scottish soldiers who died fighting the Turkish army in the Sinai and Palestine campaign of World War I bringing an end to Ottoman Rule over Palestine.
Finally we visit Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center some 17 minutes east of the old city, but actually much longer to get to in rush hour traffic. Similar in content and purpose to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, Yad Vashem is Israel’s official memorial. We weren’t allowed to take photos in the museum, and there is simply so much information to absorb in one hour’s long visit. You can visit their website here: Yad Vashem. We are witnesses constantly to human disregard for the rights and dignity of our fellow human beings from the scourge of racism to abortion to gun violence to slavery to every manner of hatred and discrimination toward those on the margins of society. Will we ever learn?
Tomorrow is our last day on this pilgrimage. (Update: We have another day before heading home on Friday.) We begin early walking the Way of the Cross through the streets of Jerusalem, culminating in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where we celebrate Mass to conclude our journey of Holy Week.
Rolo B Castillo © 2023