LAND OF MEETING BETWEEN GOD AND A MAN
The Holy Land is the holiest land in the world where the heaven met with the earth through the Incarnation of God’s Son. This is a home of Christianity, a witness of salvation events. Here the Church was also born, and so was the community of believers in Christ
In the Holy Land we see three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Pilgrims arriving in the Homeland of Redeemer, walk on stones, which ‘saw’ miracles and ‘heard’ the teaching of Jesus Christ. The Holy Father Paul VI, who was the first pope to have visited the Holy Land in 1964, called it the Fifth Gospel. The biblical land was also visited by blessed John Paul II in 2000 and Benedict XVI made a pilgrimage there in 2009.
On the occasion of the 850th jubilee of bringing canons of the Holy Sepulcher to Poland, and building ‘Polish Jerusalem’ in Miechów, on days 4-11 April 2013 there was a pilgrimage of Polish Order of the Holy Sepulcher to the Holy Land. They followed the footsteps of Jesus, with the Holy Scripture and the Rosary, touching biblical relics. I will try to present the most important stages of our pilgrimage in order, not so strictly with the plan of reaching to next places, which was connected with the logistics of moving around, but according to the chronology of biblical events in next mysteries of the Holy Rosary.
Everything started here
The guides of the Franciscan Commissariat of the Holy Land, Father Celestyn Paczkowski OFM and Father Nikodem Gdyk OFM often repeated during the pilgrimage of the members of the Knights Order of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, to the holiest places for the Christians: ‘Everything started in this place, this all was fulfilled here’.
First we saw venerable souvenirs of joyful events. We visited Nazareth in its mystery of the Visitation. Wearing religious costumes, we participated in an Marian evening procession, organized every Saturday in the Basilica of Annunciation. The music was prepared by a group of young Palestinian Christians. Among common prayers and reflections there were also texts in Polish. In the solemn procession with lanterns, the statue of Our Lady was being carried by the Polish members of the Knights Order of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. We heard opinions that nobody had remembered such a significant of presence of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher. It is worth knowing that in the Basilica of the Visitation in Nazareth, there are pictures of Our Lady worshipped in various parts of the world. Among them there is a Polish image, on which Mary joins the features of the picture of Jasna Góra and the picture of Ostra Brama in herself. The images of Mary are also in the church cloisters. We can see a plate there, funded by Poles, who had reached to the Middle East, with the army of Anders. The plate presents Mary with the baby, surrounded by Polish coats of Arms and characters of scouts. The whole is finished with the prayer: ‘Bring us back into the womb of our Homeland’.
Looking for other traces of the events written in the Gospels, we reached to Ain Kar, where two mothers met – Mary and St. Elizabeth. We were contemplating the text Magnificat, engraved in Polish on the wall. This is a Song of Mary, repeated in evening prayers every day, and beginning with the words: ‘My soul adores the Lord…’ Near the sanctuary of Annunciation there is also a place of birth of St. John the Baptist, who was preparing people for the arrival of Jesus and straightening paths to Him. We participated in the Eucharist celebrated in the sanctuary of St. John. During visiting, we came across, among the others, a stone, behind which – according to the tradition – John was hidden at the time of the innocent massacre and in this way he saved his life. We stopped at a plate with a song of Zechariah for a while, which is also said in the Liturgy of Lauds, only every morning, during the Lauds.
And the Word became the body
During the pilgrimage we had a special grace of a longer stay in the Cave of Jesus’ birth, because we were staying in a hotel nearby. The place of the birth of God’s Son is indicated by a 14-pointed star (the symbol of 14 names of David’s pedigree of Lord Jesus). This part of the cave belongs to the orthodox Greeks. Another part, belonging to Latin teachers, is a stony cradle, where Mary laid her new-born Baby and wrapped him in nappies, and the Altar of the Adoration of the Magi. At this altar every day the Holy Mass can be celebrated, at a time decided by the Catholics, after which the altar is closed with a grille, and remains unavailable till the next morning.
Each of us could kiss the place in the Basilica of Christmas individually, where Jesus Christ came onto the world, from Mary the Virgin. One evening we were even taken by the Franciscans to the Cave of Birth through a side entrance, so as to undertake an evening prayer vigil for an hour. We were singing carols - because here throughout the whole year, carols are sung – we were saying the Rosary prayer. At the time of Jasna Góra Appeal prayer we were giving our intentions for Homeland to Mary the Queen of Poland. Our songs and prayers were audible also outside the church for a long time.
And that night was very short for us, because in the early morning, at 5.55, we were on our way back to the Cave of Birth. For, only once a day, just at this time, the Catholics can celebrate the Holy Mass at the altar of the Adoration of the Magi. Let’s note that at the time of giving out the Holy Communion, priests had to be careful not to cross a step separating this part of the cave from the part with the Bethlehem star, which does not belong to the Catholics.
Next to the Basilica of Christmas, there is the Church of St. Catherine, from which every year the Midnight Mass is transmitted. In this church the Order of the Holy Sepulcher participated in Holy Masses, wearing the Order religious costumes and had an occasion to adore Jesus in unusual conditions, because the statue of Baby Jesus had been brought to the altar especially for them on the occasion of this Liturgy.
Our pilgrimage route also comprised a Field of Shepherds, where an angel announced the news about the birth of God-Man. We also visited the Milky Cave, situated a few meters away from the Basilica of Christmas, a place connected with motherhood of Mary and with human motherhood. Both Muslim women and Christian women from all over the world, who want to become mothers, make pilgrimages to this cave engraved in white tuff. The tradition coming from the first Christians says that the Holy Family had been there for some time. And when Mary was feeding her baby in haste, because she had to leave Egypt with Joseph, some drops of milk dropped onto the rock which became white – hence this is its name milky cave. At present there is a church with a chapel of perpetual adoration above the cave. In 2009 Polish highlanders placed a replica of the statue of Our Lady of Ludźmierz. Podhale highlanders also here found their place of adoration. We had an occasion to pay a tribute to Her.
From the baptism in Jordan to the Lake Gennesaret
On other days we reflected deeper on the Rosary mysteries of the light. We could reflect on the baptism which was given to Jesus by St John the Baptist, at the Jordan river, which flows along a deep tectonic ditch, the biggest cavity in the world, flows into the Gennesaret lake, and later it flows into the Dead Sea, situated in the lowest point on the globe, that is, 398m below the level of the sea. In the waters of the Jordan every pilgrim could renew his baptism vows, connected with pouring holy water on head.
Following the footsteps of the Redeemer, we got to the places of his public activity. Certainly, in the beginning we visited Cana, situated about 8 km away from Nazareth. This is a place of the first miracle, where today the sanctuary of the Christian married couple is. Spouses participating in our pilgrimage renewed their marriage vows and received special blessing. Commemorative photos were taken at the altar and stony jars, reminding about the miracle of changing water into wine. And in the evening spouses served a wedding cake.
At the Gennesaret lake, called lake of Jesus, and on its waters there were also many events described by Evangelists. Being there, we were reflecting on biblical events concerning preaching God’s kingdom and callings for conversion, and we were thinking about miracles done by Jesus. There was, certainly, a journey by boat on the lake planned, which started with singing our national hymn. In the occasional comment, the guide reminded us about parables about Jesus walking on the water, calming a storm on the lake and the miraculous fishing. Sailing slowly by boat towards kibucu Ein Gev, where a fish of St. Peter had already been being fried for us, we were admiring the strand of Hermon, from where the Jordan river flows and in the far horizon we saw the Golan Heights, where the Polish battalion had stationed not long time ago, within peace forces of the UNO. It is worth reminding that the Golan Heights were occupied by Israeli armies in 1967 at the time of a six-day war and are an area of a conflict between Syria and Israel. There are still a lot of minefields there.
Through places of the public activity of Jesus Lord to Judean desert
In the program of the pilgrimage of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher there were also evangelical places situated near the Gennessaret lake. In Capernaum, called a city of Jesus, God’s Son appointed his disciples, taught and did miracles, among the others, he cured mother-in-law of Peter in whose house he had lived for three years. We also got to Tabghy, a place commemorating the first multiplication of bread by Jesus. Another important stop was the church of the primate of St. Peter. We should know that the door to this church was funded by Danuta and Stanisław Dyrdów, members of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher from Cracow, and made by prof. Czesław Dźwigaj. We participated in the Holy Mass celebrated at a field altar near the church.
In Tiberias we were amazed by the church in the shape of a boat turned upside down – devoted to Peter the Fisherman. On the courtyard we saw a replica of the statue of St. Peter from the Vatican Basilica. And, after the Second World War Polish soldiers left their trace nearby - they placed the monument of ‘Polish Cities’, with the image of Our Lady of Częstochowa and coats of arms of Polish cities. This was another sign of wandering of our soldiers during the war.
Before we reached to Jerusalem, the main destination of our pilgrimage, there had been Jericho – the oldest city of the world, over which the Mountain of Temptation rises. We were contemplating the events which had taken place on the Carmel Mountain, The Mountain of Eight Beatitudes, the Tabor Mountain, from where Jesus was to set off directly to the Holy City.
We also heard a calling on the desert, imagining life of hermits (anchorites) living there in caves. We were travelling through hot sands of the Judah Desert by air-conditioned coach, equipped with drinking water. And Jesus was walking there on foot or was riding on a donkey….
‘Entering’ the City on the Hill
Approaching Jerusalem, we were entering the Rosary painful and glorious mysteries. Finally, we ‘entered’ Jerusalem, called the City on the Hill. On Palm Sunday, Jesus was walking there through the Mount of Olives, from where the panorama of the whole Holy City is visible. We visited the most important sanctuaries. We reached to the church ‘Peter noster’ in whose cloisters it is possible to read plates with the prayer ‘Our Father’ in 143 languages and dialects, among the others, in Polish and Kashubian. We even found plates in the Hebrew and Roman languages. Next we went to the church in the shape of a tear – ‘Dominus flevit’, which means: Lord has cried’. We mentioned that Lord Jesus was regretting that Jerusalem was sinful and predicted that its inhabitants would crucify Him soon.
We were reflecting on next events connected with the end of the earthly wandering of Jesus in the Basilica of Agony, called the Basilica of Nations. We went through the Olives Garden, in which old olive trees grow of twisted trunks and roots reaching the Getsemani Garden from the times of Jesus. But there is also an olive tree planted in 1964, by pope Paul VI. In the church of Jesus’ prayer in blood sweat, we saw a stone, on which he had been supporting himself in Gethsemane. The Order of the Holy Sepulcher were participating in the Holy Mass there, and when they left the church they looked at Jerusalem from that place from which Jesus had been looking when he had cried.
In the plan of the pilgrimage there was also Zion. We visited the Upper Room, a place where during the Last Supper Jesus established the Eucharist and the sacrament of priesthood. At present, the Upper Room belongs to the Israeli authorities. Not long time ago, pilgrims have not had an access there. It changed in 2000, after the visit of the Holy Father John Paul II, who could even celebrate the Holy Mass and he also signed ‘The letter to priests’ there.
Reflecting on the last moments of the earthly life of Jesus, we also visited the Church of Denial of St. Peter – ‘In Gallicantu’ (‘where a rooster was crowing’) and we were reflecting on the Evangelical recording about Peter’s denial of the Master. Next to the church there are Holy Stairs, on which Jesus walked down from the Upper Room to Getsemani, and having been captured, he was led to the palace of Caiaphas, where he was sentenced to death, later scourged, crowned with thorns and he carried his cross onto the Golgotha.
Along the streets of old Jerusalem to the empty Grave
In deep silence, we set off with the pilgrimage cross to the Road of the Cross, indicated by narrow alleys of old Jerusalem. It runs through the street noise, among bazaars. Our prayer was disturbed by noise, we stumbled over people of various nationalities and shouting hawkers. We were walking with the awareness that the world around us did not understand that we were following the footsteps of the Savior, reflecting on His painful torture.
On the Road of the Cross we found the traces of Homeland again. The third station is called the Polish station. Thanks to the attempts of Fr. Stefan Pietruszka-Jabłonowski and the gifts of Polish soldiers and refugees in the years 1947-48, the chapel was rebuilt where the cross is kept, which was funded by Polish soldiers. The presentation of the Road of the Cross of Poles is there, and the Polish eagle is looking from the dome. The next station was built from the gifts of Poles in 1957, where two eagles were placed to support the altar. At the fourth station Poles visit the Armenian chapel, as their duty, which shines with amber, gold and silver. The Jerusalem Triptych, made by an amber jeweler Mariusz Drapikowski, a member of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher from Gdańsk. It is a setting of the altar of exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, where there is still a prayer for peace in the Holy Land.
Here Christ opened heaven for us
The Road of the Cross finishes in the Basilica of God’s Sepulcher, which is also the Basilica of Resurrection. We visited Calvary there, a place of the crucifixion of the Savior of the world, and Lord’s grave. It was the most important point of the pilgrimage of the Polish Order of the Holy Sepulcher. Before that we had an ingress, that is, a solemn entrance the Basilica of God’s Sepulcher. From the Stone of anointing with the Franciscans Fathers, we went to the entrance of the Holy Sepulcher, in the procession. Later, individually, in silence and prayer, each of us could reach inside the Grave, in order to state that it was empty and pray in silence in the Blessed place for the Christians. Next day, the Order of the Holy Sepulcher, wearing the Order religious costumes, could participate in the conventual Holy Mass of the Franciscans, celebrated every morning in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher.
It is a special celebration, because priests celebrate the Holy Sacrifice on the grave plate of Savior and with the transformed Lord’s Body, they come out from the grave to believers waiting in front of the entrance. The empty grave proves that the Savior resurrected, and it is time to sing the joyful Alleluia! Here Christ opened Heaven for us.
The Basilica of God’s Sepulcher belongs to the communities: Greek, Armenian and Latin. An Arabic family have the keys to the church, and its representatives open the main door every morning and close them in the evening.
In the program of the pilgrimage there is usually a road to Emmaus which was walked on by God’s Son, after his Resurrection and a place on the Olive Mount, where Jesus ascended Heaven. It is also worth visiting Zion, to the Basilica of the Dormition of God’s Mother where her earthly pilgrimage ended. This is another place, important for Poles, because at the stony statue of God’s Mother overtaken by sleep, Our Lady of Częstochowa is in vigil, surrounded by the Polish saints: Wojciech BM, Stanisław BM, Albert and Queen Jadwiga. The icon was made by a Polish monk from the Benedictine monastery on Zion.
The whole year in a few days
During its jubilee pilgrimage, the Order of the Holy Sepulcher, was following the footsteps of Savior for a few days, and visiting biblical places, experienced a rapid going through the whole liturgical calendar: from the Annunciation and God’s birth to Calvary and Ascension. And in some biblical places, it look as if time even stopped: in the Basilica of Birth in Bethlehem carols are sung throughout the whole year, on Calvary and Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem we can always hear Passion songs, and at the empty grave of Lord, we can hear joyful Easter songs.
One of the stops ending our pilgrimage was the con-cathedral of the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem, where we participated in the Holy Mass, during which there was a prayer said for the casualties of the Smoleńsk aircrash - as on 10 April there has been the third anniversary of this tragedy. After the Holy Mass there was a solemn ceremony of giving ‘Pilgrim’s shells’ with certificates to the members of the Order who had visited the Holy Land for the first time.
We said goodbye to the Homeland of Savior in the church of St. Peter in Jafa, near the airport in Tel Awiwa. The Pauline Father Albert Szustak, our guide from Jasna Góra, celebrating the Eucharist there, who was helping to find footsteps of Mary in the Holy Land, helped the members of the Order realize the fact that our pilgrimage after the physical contact with Christ’s relics in the Holy Land does not finish, but starts. Indeed we are the same but somehow different. At that time some members noticed that there was a picture of Our Lady of Częstochowa in the church. Father Albert explained that it were Polish soldiers of gen. Anders who had left the picture there. However, not long time ago it was stolen and the Pauline Fathers placed its new copy. So, we took Mary in our heart from there, for further pilgrimage towards Heavenly Jerusalem.
Help to the Christians in the Holy Land
In relation to the pilgrimage of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher it was important for them to manifest their faith among the local Christians – they had a few occasions to participate in celebrations, while wearing their Order religious costumes, with the Jerusalem cross on their coats. It is an important testimony as there are few Christians in the Holy Land. Living among the Jews and the Muslims, they are only 2 percent of population. They experience many difficulties, especially the Christians living on the occupied areas. We support the local communities through pilgrimages to the Holy Land, not only spiritually but also materially, by starting the whole pilgrimage-touristic machine.
Members of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher always help the Christians on the Homeland of Jesus, according to the constitution of their Order. Apart from that, they are undertaking particular works. It turns out that in the recent time, thanks to the members of the Order, it has been possible to carry out a complex modernization of lighting in three places of those churches: in the church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem, in the church of St. Joseph in Nazareth and in the church of the Blessed Salvatorin Jerusalem, which is the main church of the Custody of the Holy Land. The works were done by the Elektronistal Company of Stanisław Osmenda, a member of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher from Miechów. During the meeting with the members of the Order, the custodian of the Holy Land, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa OFM expressed his gratitude and gave ‘The Gold Cross of a Pilgrim’ to four commanders: the superior Karol Bolesław Szlenkier, the chancellor Janusz Kawecki, a secular ceremonial master Stanisław Osmenda and the organizer of the First and the Second Days of Jerusalem in Miechów Jan Włudarczyk, as well as to the cavalier Aleksander Piotrowski, who had done conservatory works in the church of Blessed Savior. Father Custodian thanked Poles that they had always been and were close to the Holy Land. Whereas, Father Jerzy Kraj OFM gave details concerning the decoration of the church, including the contribution of the members of the Order in its appearance and functioning.
The members of the Order, present at the pilgrimage in the Holy Land, gave their donations intended for the help to the Christian and Muslim children from the House of Peace on the Olive Mount. They met personally with the Polish nun of St. Elisabeth’s convent, in order to give their gift. There were also individual donors who supported another orphanage materially, which is in Bethlehem.
‘I must kneel down’
‘Oh, a place of the land, a place of the Holy Land – what place are you in me! Therefore, I cannot just walk on you, I must kneel. And I confirm today that you were a place of meeting. I am kneeling – and I am leaving a mark on you. You will remain here with my mark – you will remain, remain – and I will take you and change you into a place of a new testimony. I am going away as a witness, who has been giving a testimony throughout milleniums’.
These are the words from a poetic meditation entitled: ‘Wandering to Holy Places’ about the sense and meaning of the places, in which Jesus Christ walked. The poem was written after a pilgrimage of bishop Karl Wojtyła to the Holy Land in 1963, that is, 50 years ago. He spoke clearly to the participants of the pilgrimage of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher.