Last night I led a 30 strong group down to the Western Wall – to sample the atmosphere of it. It was floodlit, its was reasonably busy, it was loud, and it was Purim. We all prayed at the wall, and we all made it back to our hotel – which was a positive!
This morning we left the hotel at 5:45am to walk the “Via Dolorosa” or “The Way of Sorrow” which winds along the Old City of Jerusalem, leading from the Ecc Homo Convent to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is the traditional route followed by Jesus from Pilate’s Judgment Hall in the Antonia Fortress to Calvary, the place of the skull. The tradition of following this route is a very old one, and it is unlikely it is the exact route, especially as the streets in Jesus’ day were many metres below the present ground level. Nevertheless it is an incredibly evocative prayer walk with Jesus to Calvary and beyond: a pattern of prayer and meditation on the Passion which Christians of many traditions have long found helpful.
It is normally a busy and noisy route, so to avoid this we set off very early. At each point we read, prayed and reflected.
Many found the experience to be very moving. As the time wore on, and we got further into the morning, many more people were about, especially in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We discovered that God can be found in the midst of the hubbub, as well as in the tranquillity of Galilee.
We arrived at our hotel and had breakfast at about 9am. As well as arriving having met with Jesus, we also arrived very wet due to the heavy rain. And it was Cumbrian rain – cold and plenty of it!
The hill of Mount Zion, the highest point in ancient Jerusalem, is dominated by the Church of the Dormition. The location is identified in Christian tradition as the place where the Virgin Mary died — or “fell asleep”, as the name suggests. Accounts of Mary’s death in Jerusalem appear in early sources, these books are described as apocryphal (meaning “hidden” or “secret”). Their authenticity is uncertain and they are not accepted as part of the Christian canon of Scripture.
It is a beautiful church, with wonderful artwork.
We walked to the Cenacle. It is considered the site when many of the events described in the New Testament took place, such as: The Last Supper, some resurrection appearances of Jesus, the gathering of the disciples after the Ascension of Jesus, the election of Saint Matthias as apostle, and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples on the day of Pentecost. Since the fourth century a structure identified as the Cenacle, the site of the Last Supper has been a popular Christian pilgrimage site. Here we read from Acts 2, sung and prayed.
We then made our way to “Saint Peter in Gallicantu”. The Church recalls Peter’s triple denial of Jesus and his subsequent remorse. It was erected in 1931. The Catholic tradition positions the palace of the High Priest Caiaphas on this site, it is possible that Jesus was imprisoned in an underground cell here. Some archaeologists suggest that it is more likely Caiaphas lived further up the hill in the Armenian quarter of the city.
“Gallicantu” means “Cock-crow” in Latin. It was so named by the Crusaders when they built their church on this site. We prayed, read the Bible and sung around the site, and also gathered in the ancient cave/cell.
Outside the church are the ancient steps that came from the site of The Pool of Siloam. They would probably have been their at the time of Jesus’ trial, and many Christians believe that Jesus followed this path down to Gethsemane on Maundy Thursday and after his arrest by the guards.
We were given the afternoon off for shopping or rest – I chose the latter!
In the evening we had a visit from three people involved with the Eritrean Women’s Community Centre in Tel Aviv – Helen, Michael and Angela. The Centre is an initiative set up and run by a group of Eritrean refugee women. Established in November 2011, the centre aims to provide Eritrean women with a safe space as well as access to important services.
About 36,000 Eritrean asylum seekers currently live in Israel. Labelled “infiltrators” and “migrant workers” rather than being recognised as refugees, Eritreans, and particularly the isolated population of Eritrean women, are unable to access education, employment, healthcare and social services. It is estimated that the number of Eritrean women living in Israel is around 7,000.
Eritrean women in Israel travelled through the Sinai desert in Egypt in order to reach the border with Israel. This journey is notoriously dangerous as many refugees are held hostage by traffickers for extended periods of time until they are released in exchange for large sums of money. Many women are raped and the majority of individuals experience violence, torture, and a severe lack of basic needs along the way.
Therefore, many Eritrean women arriving in Israel are dealing with trauma, injury, a break down of family structure as well as severe emotional pain. The trauma experienced in the Sinai has collectively influenced the Eritrean community in Israel and especially the community of Eritrean women.
We found their story to be challenging and inspiring. As well as promising to pray for them and giving them money, a number of us promised to tell their story and express our concern for their situation. After all, these are are brothers and sisters.
A special day!