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Pilgrimage to the Holy Land – Day 4 (4 May 2017)

 

Day 4, May 4, 2017

We rose early this morning to get to two places that, by 9:00 AM, have endless lines. The first was the Western Wall, known by many of as the Wailing Wall. Usually there are people lined up halfway back. But as you can see (Pic 1), I was able to stand close to the wall and touch it I stayed for about 20 minutes and asked for guidance for our Catholic Church Reform movement and prayed for my family and friends one by one. I don’t mean to sound like a mystic but I felt an aura around me – a Presence there that was unmistakable. 

A little history: When Rome destroyed the Second Temple in 70 C.E, only one outer wall remained standing. The Romans probably would have destroyed that wall as well but it must have seemed too insignificant to them; it was not even part of the Temple itself, just an outer wall surrounding the Temple Mount. For the Jews, however, this remnant of what was the most sacred building in the Jewish world quickly became the holiest spot in Jewish life. Throughout the centuries, Jews from throughout the world made the difficult pilgrimage here and immediately headed for the Kotel ha-Ma’aravi (the Western Wall) to thank God. The prayers offered at the Kotel were so heartfelt that gentiles began to call it the “Wailing Wall” but this never won a following by traditional Jews. I did see the Jewish women around me bowing, rocking their bodies, and placing their head on the wall while reading prayers in Hebrew. Of course, men and women are segregated at the Wall so I was only with women. (History taken from the Jewish Virtual Library)

From there we walked to the Dome of the Rock which is very close by (Pic 2). It has been difficult for me to get my head around how so many religions consider Jerusalem their sacred place. Jesus was born, died, and resurrected here. Doesn’t that trump everything else? I ask. But not to them. Christians hold sacred their spots, Jews the Wall, and Muslims the Dome. And, after many centuries of warring, they’ve resolved the matter by granting each religious group possession and control of what is most sacred to them. I’ve learned how important it is to respect the traditions of each. To a Jew, we say Shalom. To a Muslim, we say Salaam. To a Christian, we say Peace. All mean the same thing but it is disrespectful to intermix the words. Out of respect, I dressed for the occasion of visiting the Dome on the Rock (Pic 3). It was essential that my head and my body be well-covered. We were allowed to walk around the Dome but not to enter inside. At the risk of sounding airy fairy, I felt the same Presence at the Dome that I felt at the Wall. There is no question in my mind that these are very sacred places.

A little history: The Dome of the Rock (Qubbat as-Sakhrah) is the most famous Islamic site in Jerusalem. An impressive and beautiful edifice, it can be seen from all over Jerusalem (Pic 4).  It is the crowning glory of the Haram es-Sharif (“Noble Sanctuary”), or Temple Mount. The Dome of the Rock is not a mosque, but a Muslim shrine. Like the Ka’ba in Mecca, it is built over a sacred stone. This stone is believed to be the place from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven during his Night Journey to heaven. It boasts the oldest surviving mihrab (niche indicating the direction of Mecca) in the world.

 

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