Last Saturday, I visited the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu. This church, located near Mount Zion, is the site where Saint Peter denied knowing Christ three times, thus fulfilling Christ’s prophecy to him that he would deny Him thrice before the cock crowed twice (Gallicantu literally means “the cock’s crow” in Latin). This church was special to me since Saint Peter was my patron when I was confirmed.
On Sunday, I went to Bethlehem for the last time. I visited the Shepherds’ Fields, where the angel appeared to the shepherds, telling them of Christ’s birth. I then went to venerate the place of our Lord’s birth for the last time here. It was nice, because there was no line this time to see the Grotto and the church was nearly empty. Before I left Bethlehem, I met a man from America named Ben. He has lived in Bethlehem for the past ten years. He just decided to move there one day after visiting. When pushed for a reason why he stays there, he said it’s ultimately the people that keep him there; the people are just so nice and welcoming. I have seen that for myself: amidst so much poverty and hardship in Bethlehem, for Christian and Muslim alike, they are very kind. It’s not very surprising. The small town that welcomed the most humble Birth in the history of the world is bound to be a place of humble and kind people. It is its legacy.
On Monday, at 7:00 in the evening, I walked over to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Now, a few weeks ago, I arranged with the Franciscans to spend the night in the church, a privilege allowed to only a few pilgrims each night. So, at 8:30, the handful of other people granted this honor and I waited by the doors to the church for them to be locked for the night. Each night at 9:00, a Muslim man who lives nearby (whose family has had the outside keys to the church going back a dozen centuries) locked up the church from the outside, while the various Christian sects inside locked their own locks (the doors are enormous and there are several locks). The church, though not bustling, still had plenty of activity. Various bearded priests and stern-faced Orthodox nuns spend the first couple hours of the night cleaning the church—sweeping, mopping, dusting, and washing all the floors and the places most touched by pilgrims. At about 9:30, I went into the Sepulchre for nearly ten minutes (most pilgrims visiting during the day get less than 30 seconds to spend inside the Tomb). For the next two and a half hours, I walked around the church, praying, reading, and frequently returning to Calvary. I read the Gospel of Mark throughout the night. It was amazing how the priests and nuns in the church never seem to go to sleep. There was always someone cleaning, or some service being conducted, or Mass going on somewhere. At about midnight, the doors of the church were opened for Orthodox pilgrims to come in. At about 12:45, I joined the Franciscans in praying Matins and Lauds, which took about 45 minutes. We sang the Magnificat in front of the Tomb. At 1:30, the Greek Orthodox began Mass inside the Tomb, with two-dozen Orthodox pilgrims attending. It lasted for about two hours. At 4:00, the Armenian Apostolic began some sort of service in front of the Tomb, and their singing lasted another two hours. By 4:30, I was nearly at my tether’s end from hunger, exhaustion, and stomach pains. Nonetheless, I stuck around in the courtyard of the church another hour; it was very nice outside in the late night/early morning air, hearing the Armenians’ singing coming from inside the church. At one point, a very short, elderly woman with a walker wandered out of the church and basically forced me to help her up the quarter mile of stairs to her home in the Christian Quarter. It was really amusing. It also was nice to see that the elderly here expect the young to help them. At 5:45 in the morning, I walked back through Jerusalem in the near dark to the École, where I had a bite to eat and went to bed for a few hours.
I didn’t do much Tuesday or Wednesday besides work in the library and scan any materials I haven’t been able to look at yet or want for reference in writing my thesis this semester. Today, I will be packing and seeing the city for the last time.
Today, August 8th, is the feast of Saint Dominic. For Dominicans, this is perhaps the holiest day in the calendar after Easter and Christmas. As is custom, a Franciscan friar visited Saint Stephen’s today for the noon Mass, just as a Dominican visits a Franciscan church on the feast of Saint Francis. At the end of Mass, the celebrant gave a benediction with a relic of Saint Dominic. There was a festive lunch that followed. Saint Dominic founded the Order of Preachers in 1216, having been inspired to by years of preaching to the Albigensian heretics in the south of France. From then to now, Dominic’s friars have reached nearly every corner of the globe in their mission to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Being here in the Holy Land this summer with the Dominican friars, who come from all over the world and are the evidence that Saint Dominic’s mission has been successful, one thought has stuck in my brain: Saint Dominic never saw what I’m seeing. He never made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land—indeed, he was far too busy converting the masses of Europe. He never gazed out over the Sea of Galilee. He never set foot in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He never prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. And yet, Saint Dominic’s life might as well have been spent in the Holy Land. He knew of Christ’s preaching on the shores of Galilee better than anyone who’s visited Capernaum. He believed in the Empty Tomb more so than anyone who has knelt inside it. And he experienced the Agony in the Garden more so than any other in his incessant, worried prayers to God every night: “What will become of sinners?” While I have loved my time here and am extremely thankful to have spent time in the place Christ walked the earth, Saint Dominic remains the model of holiness more so than any devout pilgrim can, because he lived his life always modeled on Christ’s. Right before I began my fellowship, a certain friar from Providence gave me this piece of advice: “Be gentle with yourself, and ask Saint Dominic to be your father.” I thank him for that advice, and I thank Saint Dominic for being my intercessor these past six weeks.
I leave for America tomorrow. It was a very blessed time here, and one that cannot be contained to this blog. I learned a new love for the Bible, the living, breathing Word of God. I saw firsthand how nearly every Dominican, after hours and hours in the library each day, did not rest until he had visited the Blessed Sacrament for nourishment each evening—what he was learning was not for a purely scholarly purpose; it was for the glory of God. I’ve learned and seen and felt so many other things this summer, so if you’re reading and would like to talk about them, feel free to reach out. I could not be more grateful to the friars here at the École, especially to Fr. Anthony Giambrone, O.P., Fr. Paweł Trzopek, O.P., Fr. Martin Staszak, O.P. (the prior), and all the others. I also have to thank all the friends I’ve made here, the Smith Fellowship donors and committee at P.C., my family, and any others who helped me this summer.
Thank you for praying for me, and please continue to pray for my fellow Smith Fellows still abroad. Saint Christopher, Saint Simeon, Saint Stephen, and Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us. Saint Dominic, Light of the Church, Teacher of Truth, Rose of Patience, Ivory of Chastity, and Preacher of Grace, pray for us.