Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

STAUROS USA SUSPENDS OPERATIONS

September 15, 2010

 Dear friends:

This is the final Stauros USA BLOG. You are free to leave messages as the BLOG will remain active until January 1.

Blessings to all: 

Deacon Don Grossnickle,  Executive Director, Stauros USA

Stauros USA Board of Directors Announce Decision to Adopt Inactive Status

 (Chicago) The Stauros USA Board of Directors and corporate members announce that, due to financial pressures, the Stauros U.S.A. Center for Compassion and Healing has adopted an inactive status for the indefinite future.  A decrease in both funding and benefactor support in the current economic climate were cited as reasons for the decision.

Stauros USA was founded in 1973 by Passionist priest Father Flavian Dougherty, C.P.  Since that time, Stauros USA had largely operated with funds obtained from Passionist subsidies.  Additional revenue was provided through donations and income generated from Stauros  publications.   Unfortunately, due to current financial constraints on the Passionists, Father Donald Webber, C.P., Provincial Superior, notified the Stauros Board of Directors in June that the Passionists of Holy Cross Province and St. Paul of the Cross Province would not be able to provide their annual subsidies for the upcoming fiscal year.

Stauros USA (Stauros means “cross” in Greek) is a non-profit organization committed to helping people find meaning, hope and peace in the midst of suffering. They seek to further educate and dialogue on issues of suffering, create opportunities for prayer, retreat and reflection, advocate with and give voice to persons with live with disabilities and suffering, and build bridges of compassion among all who suffer, their caregivers and the helping professions.

A centerpiece of Stauros USA was the pilgrimage to the Holy Land for persons with disabilities, a biblical study trip initiated by Reverend Dougherty and undertaken eight times, most recently in August of 2010. Another program hosted by Stauros USA in recent years was a conference on Suicide: its prevention and coping with loss when tragedy occurs. For many years Stauros USA published Suffering: The Stauros Notebook, which was available both in print and on CD. The current Executive Director of Stauros USA, Deacon Don Grossnickle, increased the internet presence of Stauros with its web-based “Seeds of Light” newsletter, along with the on-line Stauros Suffering Notebook, and the Stauros BLOG which all are available at no charge.

Stauros USA will suspend operations as of September 30, 2010. President of the Board, Alan Melkerson, says that, “It is the prayer of the entire Stauros USA community to celebrate the past and present, and ask the providence of God to continue the mission of attending to those who reach out in need for encouragement, healing and love.”

The corporate members of Stauros USA have taken steps to preserve the ministry with the hope that when economic conditions improve, the operations of Stauros USA could resume. For the present time, the Stauros USA web site: http://www.stauros.org will be maintained, providing access to archived journal articles and other resources. The web site will carry the announcement of the inactivation of the ministry at this time.

“Tragedy often has a way of visiting those who can bear it least”

September 11, 2010

Rob and Rocky Rallying Help for Paralyzed

 

Reflection: “For it is in giving that we receive”…………..(Francis of Assisi)   

I recently picked up a nice brand spanking new book called: Time: Haiti-Tragedy and Hope (Time Inc 2010) The opening lines of the book jacket struck hard like a hammer to my head: Check out these words-that shake like an earthquake? “Tragedy often has a way of visiting those who can bear it least”….. ….”And on January 12, 2010, that is exactly what happened to Haiti, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere….. Immediately, the scale of the tragedy was apparent, a nation already so often on its knees had been knocked to the ground…….” Reflection: So often we hear the empty unreassuringly shallow words of well-meaning bystanders,–“God only gives a person as much suffering as he or she can bear”………….   

I have often heard a response by those who receive this advice shake their heads and wonder, “Can God really somehow help me sustain the strength I need to go on?” How can I go on? I really don’t know the way. So many ask,–“Can God give more than shares of tragedy to the weak”? Yes, I believe so, God gives Community, a spirit of solidarity with brothers and sisters. And more, God inspires some an ability for the embracing of misery with compassionate forbearance. The Holy Spirit is connected and reaches out in humble dignity from the despair to connect upwards with the wonderful and beautiful gift of hope upon hope. Beyond platitudes, beyond token gifts of a few dollars, solidarity of standing beside the struggling and suffering is the great gift that counsels more than words and gestures can offer. My lament in discovering the inner workings of tragedy of football catastrophic injury and paralysis is that–the deeper tragedy of the boys and families–who wallow in a position of poverty, disconnect from community…yes…..can bear it least…….is being alone!   

In fact for 11 years I have seen the tears, the struggle, of those who could bear it least, too often alone, distanced by safe- seeking others. We who take the time to witness the plight of the tragedy—deeply appreciate and admire how some mightily and quietly bear up…..(in their lives of quiet desperation) We notice the effects of refreshment like a drink of water for the thirsty living in the desert are boosted by small little rays of sunshine because a very few ones on occasion demonstrate some amount of care…..   

Who will rally from the comfort of apathy and complacency and cynicism and skepticism and hear the calling to move paralysis along? Who is not intimidated by overwhelming obstacles and sure and certain pathways of more despair without relief?   

“Tragedy often has a way of visiting those who can bear it least”……….   

Tragedy is being alone in the midst of a community.

Entering the final day of our journey…

August 25, 2010

"Access to the Land" Pilgrims, 2010, with Passionists Fr. Paul and Fr. Marita, who serve the Passionist Church in Bethany outside of Jerusalem

Dearest Friends,

Tomorrow we board our plane for home, anxious to return to our loved ones but with hearts that are full and grateful for all that we have seen and experienced together.

We gathered to share some feelings about the trip this evening, knowing that they will only deepen, change or reveal themselves in new ways over time. Person after person spoke of the power of this journey as we came together in friendship, faith, and as students and teachers of another. We have learned from and with each other. We wondered how we can take the learnings of this trip home and use them to serve others. We wonder where God will point our pilgrims’ feet next?

We are so truly grateful to Fr. Donald Senior for his incredible leadership, spiritual gifts, humor, patience and amazing good will no matter what the obstacle, human or divine. We cannot thank our bus driver, Riad, enough for caring for us so lovingly. He is a man of enormous heart.

This has been a transformative journey as we came to know more personally the place in which Jesus was born, lived, preached, loved, died and overcame death. We will never experience Scripture in the same way. A special thanks to Stauros USA and Don Grossnickle for his work in bringing together this wonderful group of pilgrims who opened their hearts and minds to the enormous power of this land, its history and people.

Finally, thanks to our loved ones who supported us from afar. You were never far from our thoughts and prayers. Please pray for us as we make our way home. See you soon! ~Nancy Nickel 

Here is the  final blog entry from Sr. Pat Connolly, written late Wednesday, 8/25:

On Tuesday, 8/24, we had another terrific day–awesome, breathtaking views on top of the mountain at Masada. After a cable car ride we climbed or were “pushed” further the mountain. We saw the remains of Herod, King of Judea’s, palatial fortress, theatre, hojuses, cistern and other objejcts of their self-contained enormous city. We all survived 110 degrees, plus humidity.

Susan and I skipped dinner and the optional gathering talk with the group. We slept from 7:30 p.m. to 7 a.m.

On Wednesday, 8/25, we had another “Can you top this day?” One of the many stops was a return to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We were able to see the slab that they laid Jesus on in the tomb. The exterior of this was 19th century but the resting place of Jesus was authentic. Awesome experience. I prayed for my family, friends and the Grey Nuns there. I placed my Grey Nun crucifix on the part of the stone where Jesus’ head laid.

Another highlight was Mass at the Church of the Dormition. It was built and staffed by the Benedictine Monks from Germany. They came there after WWII in reparation for the Holocaust, setting up a peace center. They have an annual peace concert which is well known and draws crowds of people from all over.

Fr. Don was the celebrant with many of us being ministers of the liturgy. One highlight was a very quiet, paraplegic Down’s syndrome teenager being the Eucharistic minister. He and his mother are part of our group.

I’m sure after reading this and the rest of this “blog” you would agree this was another “can you top this day.”

Barb K – I’m “going with the flow” and trying to absorb everything in.

 This trip has been worth it and I would definitely recommend it to others. I would say even for the able-bodied it is not for the “faint of heart.” The only reason I am doing so well is due to Susan Gibson and all the other able-bodied people in our group. Everyone pitches in to either relieve the attendants and/or come forth when 4 or 6 are needed for a wheelchair lift.

Tomorrow is our last day and then home on Friday.

Blessings and peace,

Love, Pat

P.S. Nancy Nickel has been telling me when anyone leaves me a message on the blog.

The Holy Land around and within us

August 24, 2010
 

 Please enjoy this wonderful reflection from pilgrim Martha Hennessy:

Our small group of 24, traveling through the Holy Land for the past eight days, has followed the footsteps of Jesus and His disciples on a journey of astounding beauty in this often stark landscape, and of a tortuous human history haunted by God. The timeline is mind boggling in its stretch into the distant past, times of antiquity and the beginnings of human culture. Jericho claims itself to be the oldest city at 10,000, when people began to settle down to cultivate the rich volcanic soil, provided with abundant spring waters.

We have seen where Jesus was conceived and born, where he walked, worked, gathered, encouraged, healed, suffered, died and was resurrected. I can now see and feel more clearly the Jewish world and the geography of mountains, rivers and sea (lake) that combined in His time to create the setting into which the Word was made flesh.

Our Mass at the Holy Sepulcher early on in the trip left me weeping in sorrow and gratitude. The reading described Mary Magdalene’s joy going to the tomb to tend the body of her beloved teacher. Her encounter with Him as he spoke the words, “Do not cling to me for I must go to my Father who is Your Father,” gave me incredible comfort and yet utter desolation. He was among us, we loved Him, he tried to teach us, we killed Him, yet He rose again.

            We visited the South Wall, the steps to the Temple Mount, where Jesus, His family and friends entered for prayer and offerings. As I walked up, the call to prayer began and we could still hear the celebration of the Bar Mitzvahs by the Western Wall. Horns and drums, droning recitations of prayers, the mixing of Hebrew and Arabic, “God is great,” all become a heady brew of religious fervor and celebration. I had to ground myself by focusing on the tiny sound of the doves cooing in a recessed arch above the bricked-up entrance to the Temple. So much history, so many players, the beauty and the horror overwhelm me.

I was able to swim in the Sea of Galilee as the group made its way to the Boat Museum near Caparnaum.  With six of us in wheelchairs, the on and off loading after our arrival on the boat took some time. I felt guilty taking the opportunity when the others could not, but what a lovely experience. The water was soft and warm with gentle waves that are known to rise up quickly without warning, causing fear and caution among fishermen of old and today. In Jesus’ time this was a very formidable body of water. “Oh you of little faith” came to my mind as I dodged the waves. As my eyes fell upon the cliffs called Arbel I couldn’t help but think how this was the beloved and familiar landscape of Jesus and His disciples. Their eyes looked upon these views! I recited the prayer “Star of the Sea” while swimming. “Mother, the Star of the Sea, pray for the wanderer, pray for me.”

            I can’t write about this trip to Israel without expressing my reflections on the State and the energy that I feel here. Empire continues to haunt us, taking large bites out of the earth for highways, new buildings, displaced peoples, creating huge cement walls that snake across the hilltops. The anxiety is felt everywhere, from ancient exiles, to the siege of Masada to the siege of Gaza, in the halls of the Holocaust Museum. We are a traumatized people on all sides, perpetrators and victims; an endless march of strong men and their armies, taking and storing up the gifts of the land. My refuge comes with the sharing of this experience with others, in the study of the Gospel teachings, in the love I feel that God has for all of His beloved people. Oh Jerusalem, He wept for your beauty and your ignorance!

 And more wonderful thoughts from pilgrim Marie Smith:

Capernaum Israel

August heat rises off dark stone ruins in this former fishing village near the Sea of Galilee. To the left are the remnants of an ancient synagog. To the right is the Church of the House of St. Peter, an octagonal building suspended over the crumbled house where Simon Peter lived.

            After looking at the stone walls for a while, I shut my eyes and listened intently as the centuries fell away. In the distance fisherman hauled their nets in for the night. They spoke to one another about their catches and the one that got away. A dark haired child laughed as he toddled to meet his father who scooped him up in one arm. Sandals scuffed along well worn trails. Cooking fires burned outside the houses and the smell of baking bread and cooking fish filled the air.

            Simon looked up from repairing his cousin’s net as he noticed a familiar figure leave the synagog. The man walked toward him with a gentle amused look on his face that always captivated Simon. The Teacher greeted Simon’s neighbor Leah with a wave, and clapped Joseph on the shoulder. A kitten wandered past his feet, followed by a swift moving child who wasn’t watching where she was going. Rachel tripped on a rock and almost tumbled into a tree. Instead she landed in the Teacher’s arms. The Teacher laughed as he lifted her up. Though he couldn’t hear it, Simon could tell The Teacher asked if she was all right. Rachel nodded. The Teacher tapped her nose and she laughed. He reached in his satchel, found something and nodded. What was it? Oh, a date. The Teacher handed the sweet fruit to Rachel. While the little girl nibbled the date, he carried her back to her mother and set her down. Spying Simon, he grinned and quickened his pace.

            After a warm greeting, The Teacher sat beside Simon and helped him repair the net. When he first met The Teacher, he said Simon would be a fisher of men. And he had been. Simon thought about this while he tied a small stone weight on the net. He had seen such wonders since his travels with Jesus. His mother-in-law looked over from the bread she was baking and saw The Teacher. She smiled at him and invited him to supper. The Teacher accepted her offer. He also accepted her scolding that he needed to eat more. He gave Simon a look that made them all laugh.

            Simon’s cousin came by, carrying his newborn son. David retrieved his net, grateful for the repairs. The Teacher stood and blessed the baby before following Simon inside the house. They sat together and enjoyed their evening meal. Together they shared smoked fish and wine, bread and dates, and a calm peace that centuries cannot erase from the tiny house in Capernaum.

Disability and the Dead Sea 

My disability, myasthenia gravis, is a rare neuromuscular disease. I could give you a long winded medical explanation, but I will spare us both. The end result is what matters. The words myasthenia gravis mean “grave muscle weakness” in Greek and Latin. It is an apt description for a disease that has weakened every skeletal muscle in my body, from the muscles that control my eyelids, to the muscles that control my toes. I can feel my body. I cannot always make my body move. All 244 skeletal muscles do not work as they should. The disease is thankfully painless. The medications to treat it cause uncontrollable muscle spasms leaving me in chronic pain. When I move I feel as if invisible weights are tied to my body. The longer I move, the heavier the invisible weights get, until I simply cannot move. 

            On this trip I have alternated between walking and using a wheelchair. Walking wears out muscles involved in walking. Sitting weakens muscles involved in sitting upright. When you have myasthenia gravis you learn quickly you’re fighting a battle you cannot win.         Hauling around a weak, floppy, cramping myasthenic body makes me feel like I come from a planet with three times the gravity of earth — a planet where a fork feels like a cast iron frying pan and a toothbrush feels like a bowling ball. I have felt this way for years.

            Then I came to the Dead Sea. Having heard warnings about not splashing and not getting the water in my eyes, I was a little nervous as I waded into the warm water. The mosquito bites on my legs burned for a moment as I sloshed forward. Then I tripped in a hole on the sea floor and fell. Only instead of falling, I was suspended. I was caught by the water and lifted off my feet. Suddenly I was weightless. It was like being an astronaut on a space walk. My feet rose up and I leaned back, stretching out fully for the first time in my life. My arms were held up, my spine lifted. For a moment, nothing hurt, nothing struggled to stretch. The water simply held me in a warm salty embrace.

            As I drifted on my back, I was amazed by how effortlessly I floated. I stretched out my arms and rested in the water. All the strenuous effort to move my body evaporated. Freed from my body for a few blessed moments, I rejoiced under the blazing Israeli sun. It is said there is no life in the Dead Sea. This is not true. There is much life in the Dead Sea because as I floated in the water I never felt more completely alive.

 

“The only way to know what this experience is like is to be here.” ~Pilgrim George Bettinger

August 23, 2010

Hi Friends,

A quick travel update before hearing more from our pilgrims. Each day brings new challenges, new triumphs, new insights, many highs and some lows when our energy flags. But that doesn’t last long. We continue to be amazed by the beauty and richness of this land we are encountering. We are truly in a rhythm with one another and continue to form a wonderful spiritual community.

Today we began the day by wending our way through a narrow covered market in the town of Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. We visited the Church of the Annunciation. Covering the Church walls were beautiful mosaics donated from countries around the world depicting the Blessed Mother. The church is quite modern unlike other churches in the Holy Land but has a very impressive design.

Next we visited Bet Alpha where archaeologists have uncovered an intact mosaic floor from the town’s synagogue dating to the 6th century. We have learned that with the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, synagogues became more prevalent – people could worship locally rather than traveling long distances. After a brief video about the mosaic floor, we travelled for lunch which provided a view of the Bet Shean site, where there are extensive ruins of a Greco-Roman city. The heat requires that we make adjustments to the schedule at times, but be assured that we are looking out for one another and pacing ourselves. Currently we are headed to Jericho and then on to our hotel in Jerusalem.

Now read posts from pilgrims Sr. Pat Connolly and Ramona Gillette:

TO ALL GREY NUNS—

Happy Foundation Day! August 24th is my 44th anniversary of my first profession. Oh happy day!! I will be remembering all of you in my prayers and possibly Mass if we are able to have it. We have had Mass at many historic religious sites. They have been moving experiences.  We have been taking turns being lectors, Eucharistic ministers and song leaders. Sunday evening, while at the Kibbutz Lavi, we had an optional talk on the life of a kibbutz. The presenter was a young middle-aged family man from England. It was an excellent talk. Many of the principles that they live and operate by are the same as our community way of life and governing.  So we have a good ecumenical connection with the religious people of a kibbutz. I shared our similarities with Morris, our presenter.

Hope and pray all are well.

Shalom, Pat

And from Ramona:

Mazel tov from Israel! You could cook biscuits and eggs today on the sidewalk in Jericho. The interpretations of the Blessed Mother in the Church of the Annunciation intrigued me, especially the USA. But you have to see it to believe it! Another falafel for lunch. It’s the hamburger of Israel. Well, that’s it for now. We’re on a hot journey back to Jerusalem, sweating all the way. It’s water in and water out. 

Shalom and peace,

Ramona Gillette

Amazing Grace-Stauros In Action:Holy Land Reflection

August 22, 2010

Greetings to all from Deacon Don:

Amazing Grace: No Limits-God for All Sea of Galilee Preparing to Accept all Persons to Enjoy Access to the Land of the Bible

Our journey is now about half over, and the community that has been built during this time is so beautiful. Teamwork is joyful, and when we work together and help persons using wheelchairs transfer into tough places we all clap and feel a great sense of solidarity, love and accomplishment. For me, I thank God for each of the phone inquiries that led to this marvelous group of 24 strangers from all over the United States bonded together now in this challenging and remarkable pilgrimage. Stauros Board of Director: Alan Melkerson encouraged and prodded and guided this journey all the way to Israel. (Thank You Alan-we owe this trip to your vigorous encouragment and support)

The love that we feel for each of us walking and rolling in the footsteps of Jesus moves us often to tears. Each day we encounter 105 degree heat  and go up against many inacessible stairways that are obstacles we have had to overcome. We have become quite fearless and it can be said, “nothing can stop this group when we set our mind to it-wow! Father Don’s brilliant daily lectures deepen our understanding and appreciation for the Bible and the context for Christianity coming to life in the early days of our Lord. Sharing Communion together each day at Holy Places allows each of us to reflect on the Gospel and the challenges to pray for one another and use God’s gifts to “love one another” and change the world for better. Today on the Sea of Galilee the wind picked up a bit as we crossed.  I refelected on the Gospel story where the disciples awakened Jesus because the were afraid because of a storm there at sea. This group is not afraid as we are bonded together in faith. We turn to God in prayer and offer thanksgiving for this enriching experience.

In Capernaum today we saw the Holy place where the four friends and a man paralyzed was lowered to the feet of Jesus seeking a miracle. This is most certainly one of my most favorite passages of the bible. The story  can create miracles. Teamwork undertaken collaboratively by friends on behalf of those in need of healing, overcoming obstacles via entrepeneurial efforts and faith in God can change the world one person at a time. We learn lessons from the bible and by looking around see that by trusting in God and forming a strong and supportive community of encouragment miracles come to life. This is Amazing Grace.

Our group has learned to sing this beautiful Gospel acclaimation which becomes the cornerstone of our mission ahead:

“God has spoken to His people: Alleluia” And His words are words of wisdom: Alleluia”

We pray each day for all who have asked for prayers in joyful hope.

Shalom: God’s Blessings to all touched by Stauros and this wonderful journey. Deacon Don Grossnickle-Executive Director: Stauros USA

August 22, 2010

Hi Friends,

Couldn’t post last night — due to Shabbat (Sabbath), we weren’t able to check into our hotel in Galilee until 8 p.m., after sundown. Please know that we are all well — if dealing with some pretty hot temps. Yesterday we visited the magnificent ruins of Caesarea Maritima, where Herod the Great built an impressive seaside palace which includes a hippodrome and theatre, still in use.  We loved our lunch! — at a local restaurant in Dalyiat Karmiel where we got to make our way through lots of local merchant life (aka shopping), and then had Mass at Mt. Carmel. We had dinner at a seaside restaurant in Tiberias and were pretty pooped by the time we got to Kibbutz Lavi Hotel.

Today, a bit weary around the edges, we were restored by a beautiful boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, which included hoisting the American flag as we belted out the National Anthem, a demonstration of how fishermen traditionally cast their nets, and then a bit more singing of traditional Israeli folk songs. That was followed by a trip to the spiritually serene Mount of Beatitudes, outdoor Mass at the Church of the Primacy of Peter where Peter was asked to lead the future church, and a visit after lunch to Capernaum, the site of many of Jesus’ miracles and the intact foundation of Peter’s home. Our journey is tiring, exhilarating, fascinating, jovial and reflective; we are indeed on a spiritual journey in so many personal and collective ways.

But enough from me. It’s been tough to pass around the laptop, but what follows is a blog from Sr. Pat Connolly. Enjoy!

Hi! Family, Friends,  and the Grey Nuns,

I’m typing on the bus on a very small laptop(first time experience). This is an amazing experience. Each day I say this is the best yet but then our experience of the following day seems to top that one. Fr. Don Senior is fantastic.  He has so much to share.  Everyone is so helpful. It’s teamwork,  especially when lifting wheelchairs and transferring people to a sling in order to lower them into the cave of Jesus’ birth or to ascend the steps of the Temple  Mount.

We were able to walk on the ruins that revealed the same road that Jesus walked on, and ascend and pray at the Temple steps, where we are sure Jesus also walked.  When we had Mass at each different site, I prayed for you—my family, my friends and all the GNSHs. I could have never accomplished this trip without Susan Gibson, my assistant, and the help of all the others. Susan and I pinch each other every day because we can hardly believe we’re here.

The countryside has been magnificent, the food delicious, the weather hot but fun, and all participants wonderful. This trip will be something for me to treasure for the rest of my life. Enjoying everything. Will be in touch again either on the blog or when I’m home.

Be sure to read the blog for each day’s update.

 Shalom, y’all,

 Pat

Deacon Don: Mount of Beatitudes-Loving the Trip/Group

Sea of Galilee: 24 Pilgrims Become Fishers of Men and Women

Jesus asks: "Do You Love Me?" Site of Seaside Breakfast Offered by Jesus

Capernaum: Peter The Fisherman's House-("Amazing to Experience!)

Baptism of Jesus-John the Baptizer: Jordan River

Bethlehem-Birthplace of Jesus-Photos To Enjoy

August 20, 2010
 

  

Some great photos to help you come along  on the Stauros journey to the Holy Land.  

Enjoy: Shepherd’s Field Mass, Site of the birthplace of Jesus and the Dome of the Rock back in Jerusalem. We are offering prayers for loved ones and concerns for the world.  

Deacon Don,Nancy and the 24. Enjoy  

Church of All Nations-Site of the Agony in the Garden

 

Dome of the Rock-We Share our Pilgrimmage

 

Bethlehem:Site of the Shepher's Watching Their Flock-Mass in a Cave

 

Bethlehem: Birthplace of Jesus-Moved to Tears

 

Praying at the Western Wall for Loved Ones and Hope for the World to Come as Pilgrims On a Journey

 

David and Deacon Don Praying for the Mission of Stauros USA and for Many Intentions and Prayers Requested

Pilgrims are we!

August 20, 2010

Hi friends,

We are at the end of another glorious–if very hot!–day in which we have seen our faith and our teamwork fully alive. We began with a beautiful Mass in an ancient cave at Shepherd’s Field in the city of Bethlehem, located in the West Bank. Our entrance hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” never seemed so fitting! In Fr. Don’s homily, he shared how the shepherds were considered very lowly members of their contemporary society, and yet they have so much to teach us about caring for one another and the compassion that is central to our Christianity.  We are living witnesses to that truth.

We drove past the newly discovered site where Herod’s tomb has recently been discovered, Herodium, nestled on the side of the hillside. During the afternoon we visited the oldest Christian church in Bethlehem, the Basilica of the Nativity, dating to the 6th century. To access the site within the church where the birth of Jesus is venerated means negotiating a very steep and narrow flight of steps in which it is necessary to carry those pilgrims who cannot walk. It was an effort of great devotion, friendship and spiritual power to be one of a group that makes sure all teammates share the experience. This is our faith made real and made personal. It was a gift to all of us to partner with one another, whatever the obstacles. A special note of gratitude to Fr. Don who was an advocate extraordinaire for our group! He would be embarrassed by this mention, so keep it a secret…

Hugs to our loved ones. Keep us in your prayers.  Tomorrow we are on to Galilee and Caesarea Maritima!

Visiting the Western Wall and other sites

August 19, 2010
A few of the intrepid souls at the Southern Wall

Dear Friends,

We began our day with a visit to the Dome of the Rock, which is an Islamic shine located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  It stands, it’s golden dome gleaming in the sun with thousands of beautiful blue hand-painted tiles, on what is believed to be the sacred rock where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son, Isaac, and where Mohammed is said to have ascended into heaven. It is also believed to be directly over the site where the Holy of Holies and Herod’s temple once stood. It is sacred ground indeed, for the people of many faiths.

Then we visited the Western Wall (or the “Wailing Wall”), men on one side of a divide, women on the other, and said a prayer or placed our prayer request on a tiny piece of paper which is traditionally wedged between the stones of the great and sole remaining Wall of the ancient temple complex. Strangely, the atmosphere is prayerful near the Wall, but also chaotic, with joyful groups arriving who are chanting jubilantly, hundreds of people milling around, bar mitzvahs being celebrated, children crying, and a great sense of humanity coming and going.

We then walked to the Southern Wall where steps remain that once led to the temple and upon which we can surely say that Jesus climbed. The heat was blistering but many of the group made the trek to this site, wheelchairs bumping over the ancient stones so we could get to the place where we could confidently say, “Yes, Jesus was here!” And so were we. It’s a reality that was both exciting and pretty unbelievable.

After lunch we celebrated Mass at the Church of All Nations, a  church built in the area where scholars feel confident that the Garden of Gethsemane was situated and where Jesus prayed before he was taken into custody.  Group by group of pilgrims files in, to pray or celebrate Mass. It is an international spiritual gathering place!

We continue to meld as a group — beginning to get into a rhythm and intuit one another’s needs. And we’re laughing a lot! Always a good sign on a journey of this sort…

We are praying for our loved ones back home. Please continue to keep us in your thoughts and prayers. Hopefully we can get the laptop passed around and other pilgrims will be able to post their blog regarding their experiences. Please don’t hesitate to leave your comment! You are missed.