Before I left for my fellowship, I had resolved that I would walk the road to Emmaus at some point before my time here was over. For those unfamiliar, the twenty-fourth chapter of Saint Luke will enlighten about Emmaus:
“That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?’ And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’ And he said to them, ‘What things?’ And they said to him, ‘Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.’ And he said to them, ‘O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:13-27)
Last week, I had the great opportunity to walk this road, which our Lord and the two disciples walked. Now, first off, Emmaus is not so easy to locate. The Crusaders thought it was in a village called Abu Ghosh. Why? It’s about 6 miles away from Jerusalem, so it nearly fits what Scripture says (the Crusaders were really quite rational archaeologists). There is another candidate, however, that is more likely, and that tradition favors—this one is in a village considerably further away from Jerusalem called Latrun. Today there is a Trappist monastery located near the site. This Emmaus is about 16 miles away from Jerusalem. So, I chose to walk from Abu Ghosh to Latrun, which, since the way is by no means straight, is about 13 miles give or take a mile. I met my friend Leonardo at 6:00 in the morning last Wednesday and we headed in a cab for Abu Ghosh. Leonardo, who studies here in Jerusalem and attends Mass at the Austrian Hospice, was in the U.S. Army, so he came fully prepared with everything you could need to get from point A to point B through the wilderness.
We set off on the trail/road at 7:30, and we quickly realized just how secluded the path was; “wilderness” is no exaggeration. I mean, through nearly all of the walk, the only sounds we could hear were the birds and the wind in the trees—no cars, no highway, no planes, nothing. For the first couple of hours, we were mostly going downhill, so it wasn’t too bad. However, there were thousands of bees buzzing around in the bushes that lined the dirt path, which had us on nerve; there were also the most annoying black flies the entire time. The sun was also shining very hot in the morning. The trail then became tougher as we had to hike up and down hills and valleys. Leonardo and I shared carrying his pack with all our supplies, food, water, etc. that weighed about thirty pounds. We talked about a lot of things: conspiracy theories, the Fathers of the Church, science, Islam and Judaism, and, most of all, Scripture. After five hours hiking, we came to a fork in the road. Actually, it wasn’t so much a fork, unless the fork you are picturing in your mind has seven prongs on it. With no signs and no one in sight, we were truly at a loss about which way to turn. Then, out of nowhere, a car pulled up on this dinky dirt path, miles away from any paved road. We asked the driver, slightly annoyed at us, for the way to Emmaus/Latrun, and he pointed us in the direction. Now, when I had told him I would be walking the road to Emmaus, Fr. Anthony had told me, “If you meet someone on the road to Emmaus…” (the silence insinuating it would be Christ). I guess Christ chose to appear that day as a crabby, old Jewish man in a beat up Mitsubishi, because his directions led us straight to Emmaus. After six and a half hours of walking and ~20 kilometers later, we arrived at Emmaus-Nicopolis. It was closed. *Sigh* Nonetheless, the walk was why we had come, and we profited from it.
On Thursday, I woke up at 4:45 A.M., even earlier than the day before. I walked down Nablus Road a a little ways to the hotel where my friends I went to see in Galilee were staying. I tagged along with the pilgrims as they walked the Stations of the Cross at 5:30. We arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre just as the sun was coming up. We had come to the church so early because Fr. McQuaide had been given permission to celebrate Mass inside the Tomb of our Lord at 7 that morning. While our group waited to go into the Tomb, I happened to see a priest friend of mine from New York, Fr. Sean Connolly, who was in the church with a pilgrimage group he was leading. Seeing someone you don’t expect halfway across the world is a real different level of joy, and it was good to talk to him in the few minutes I had to spare. Mass in the Sepulchre of our Lord was an experience that can’t really be described, so I won’t even try. Suffice it to say, one could tell by watching Fr. McQuaide that it was the most humbling Mass he had ever offered.
Later that day, I went back to the church with Mahri, a friend of mine I made at the École. Those from Providence College reading this might remember her (Dr. Mahri Leonard-Fleckman), for she taught theology at PC for a couple years before leaving to teach at Holy Cross last year. She has been to Jerusalem a dozen times and Thursday was her last day this time around and she hadn’t been to the Holy Sepulchre yet on this trip. I accompanied her and we venerated the holy sites and joined in the Franciscans’ procession at 5:00. After that, we met a couple other researchers at the Notre Dame visitor center outside the Old City for dinner. Notre Dame has a rooftop restaurant for pilgrims and the views are some of the best in all of Jerusalem. Finally, I met up with the pilgrims one last time that evening to say goodbye.
On Saturday, I ventured over to the Kidron Valley for the first time in a few weeks, near the Garden of Gethsemane. I wanted to see the Tomb of the Virgin, the place where the Orthodox churches believe that our Lady “fell asleep” before being assumed into heaven. Being a Catholic and believing Dormition Abbey is actually the place this happened, I was skeptical. It was a beautiful place, though, and, at the end of the day, the Orthodox need somewhere to venerate, don’t they? One must hold these convictions of “THIS is where this thing happened and I’ll die believing that” with a grain of salt. Later that day, at Vespers, as the Dominicans chanted the Salve Regina, the Muslim call to prayer began up. The sound of the friars chanting loud enough so as to not be drowned out by the much louder sounds of Arabic was an unforgettable memory. The symbolism was not lost on me—Christians often struggle to be heard in this society in which their numbers are dwindling and being pushed to the peripheries.
On Sunday I went to Mass here at the École—the first Sunday I’ve done such. Right before Mass began, nearly 200 pilgrims from Martinique walked in. These French-speakers were the most joyous pilgrims I have seen and their singing added to the beauty of the Mass.
The beginning of this week has been relatively quiet and uneventful, save something I did on Tuesday. The Benedictines of Dormition Abbey organized a conference that took place these last few days. The subject of the conference was the Psalms and how they are understood in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. On Tuesday, they arranged for a walking tour of the Old City, with a scholar acting as guide to place the psalms in a physical setting within the history of Jerusalem. For example, when the second Psalm reads, “I have set my king / on Zion, my holy hill,” we went out and looked at what the Psalmist meant in writing that, where the hill he might have had in mind would have been. It was a very informative walk/lecture and gave me a physical context in which to read the psalms.
I entitled this post “God Provides” because, since I have been in the Holy Land, I have seen in a million small ways how God provides, whether in teaching moments, moments of joy, or signs of clarity. God bringing me into contact with this year’s diocesan pilgrimage group that, last year, was so pivotal in where I am today; God placing that crabby old man who knew the directions on the road to Emmaus; God intentionally crossing the paths of two people from Providence College on the other side of the world; God giving me the grace to see in striking clarity how I am lowly and sinful and unworthy of His love, and yet bestowing on me that love anyway and in such superabundance. With only a week left here, it is hard to be gloomy or sad, because God has made my time here so bright already.
I have also begun to name the cats. A full list to come soon.
Please continue to pray for my fellow Smith Fellows and me. Saint Christopher, Saint Simeon, Saint Stephen, Saint Dominic, and Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.