My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Our Holy Land Pilgrimage: an Introduction to Jerusalem

Today, the first full day of our pilgrimage, is described as “an introduction to Jerusalem.” And what an introduction it is! To some it seems like a whistle stop tour. But there really is so much to see and a balance has to be struck somehow between the number of days in hotels which of course ramps up the costs considerably, and making sure that we visit the most important sights on our pilgrimage. One thing is certain; every morning we have to make an early start, partly I think to avoid so far as possible the crowds who flock to this hugely popular pilgrimage city in their bus loads.

across the Kidron Valley
First we drive to the Mount of Olives, or Mount Olivet, from where we have a panoramic view of the walled city across the Kidron Valley. From our vantage point looking across the Jewish Cemetery we can see the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Golden Gate, in the wall of the old city, sealed, it is said, until the Day of Judgement when the righteous will be accepted into the Holy City.  All the Jewish tombs in the cemetery are covered to some extent by stones. This all looks very untidy, but we are told that the stones are put there as marks of respect. I do wonder. The tombs definitely do suffer from vandalism which is very sad indeed.
This is Jerusalem’s most important and most ancient cemetery, with around 70,000 or 150,000 tombs (depending on which source of information you use!) dating from some 3000 years ago to more recent times. Jews like to be buried here as in Jewish tradition the resurrection of the dead will start here when the Messiah comes. Here also is the place where Jesus ascended into heaven according to tradition. 

The man with the donkey is annoyed I think that I did not give him any money, but others from our party did, so I thought another photo was not too much to ask of him! He didn’t agree!

Our first church to visit is the Paternoster Church, so called because by tradition this is where Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer. The environs are already bustling with other coach parties and it is almost impossible to find any quiet space where we can say the Lord’s Prayer as a group.

The prayer is inscribed on tablets on the walls of the cloisters and the church in over 60 different languages and of course it is fun to find the one in your own language!

I should mention here, in case anyone is wondering how our leaders keep tabs on us all, especially in such crowded places, that we each have a very nifty bit of technology – an ear piece through which we can hear our guide talking to us over a reasonable range, at a wavelength unique to each group. Wonderful! It means we can stroll around while listening to his talk and be called to regroup at any time when we are due to move on.

And move on we do; to Dominus Flevit, the Lord Wept, the church which commemorates the occasion when Jesus wept and foretold the destruction of the city below him…

Dominus Flevit

The Dominus Flevit is tear-drop shaped and has a “tear cup” at each of its four corners. This place speaks powerfully to me of the vulnerability of Jesus, the Wounded Healer. 

At the same time I am disturbed by the litter, the peddlers or hawkers, and the crowds, all of which we must somehow get used to as the week progresses...

This is only just the first morning of our pilgrimage so for some the transition has not yet been made from tourist to pilgrim - a process that will be different for each and every one of us. Who knows at this stage which experiences will move us most, which memories will be most important to each of us ...

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