Holy Land: ain’t no party like a Holy Land party

6:00 pm (ish) – Israel Time – 3/29/2015
I am sitting in the courtyard outside my hotel again. If I look down the driveway, I see people gathered around the New Gate in the old city walls of Jerusalem. Jerusalem! A band is playing music in Arabic. I hear a man singing, a drum, a keyboard and saxophone. The only word I have heard and understood was “Jesu” and when he said “Allright” between songs.
If yesterday was the spiritual culmination of this trip, today has been the celebration. We began the day with Palm Sunday Mass in the church inside our hotel….
Now, it’s 6:30 in the morning on March 30th. My heart is both heavy and light. My suitcase is just plain heavy. I am sitting in my room and the birds are again chirping. A base note of snore from my roommate acompanies them. I will miss both noises dearly. Sunlight lazily roams through the a tree outside our third floor window. “Lord, it is good that we should stay here.” I can feel my heart trying to break a little, but it can’t. This pilgrimage has made it too strong.
Like I said last night, yesterday was the celebration that wrapped this pilgrimage up, like a last bow tied around a present. I can say with certainty that no one celebrates Palm Sunday like the Christians of Jerusalem. It was a paaaartay!
Mass was at our hotel, but started in the courtyard and processed around the hotel and into the church inside. The priests had sculptural creations of palm fronds and we all carried olive branches.
This is the chapel where we had Mass. You can see Debby, my roommate praying there before the blessed sacrament a few days ago. She liked to go to benediction each day when we had a break before dinner:P1060943
After Mass, was an experience that I don’t think I can ever ever top. I will post the video when I get home, but for now I will have to describe it. So Palm Sunday is the day that Jesus walked in to the city of Jerusalem. He came in knowing his death was imminent, but still his entrance was triumphant, riding in on a female donkey. Well what is a triumphant entrance of not a parade!? The Arabic Christian Scouts put on a parade like I have never seen. It was also my favorite parade that I have ever seen. There were drums and drums and bagpipes! And they were reeeealy good! I seriously can’t wait to show you the video. Not only were they good, they were also adorable. The parade started with the oldest and ended with the youngest, the companies of drummers, marchers, and bagpipers alternated between boys and girls. The older ones stood proud and tall, with sweat dripping from their temples. The younger ones.the younger ones played with their curls and struggled mightily to stay in a straight line. From the little ones, you could tell they had been marching for a while before they arrived at our hotel. It was an irreplacably special moment, a snapshot in time that I won’t forget.
Here they are arriving in front of the hotel with the papal nuncio (the pope’s representative to the country) greeting them:

Here I am after the parade wrapped up, with some of the girls who were in the “medium” aged group:

Our next stop was the old Western retaining wall of the Jewish temple of the time of Jesus. Jesus prayed in the temple that was above it. Jewish people revere it as the holiest place on earth, since it is the only remnant of the temple. They talk in scripture about losing Jesus in the temple? Yeah, this is the one. I felt a profound connection with Mary at this place. Mary would have gone here to this temple to pray every year. She came here with her family, walking all the way from Galilee. I could feel her there, woman to woman, relating in our concerns and struggles, letting her comfort me. I left my prayers there with her to give to her son. These are the prayers I left:

Here is where I left them:

Here is me praying with them at the wall:

Here is the women’s side of the wall. The five women in the center are five fantastic ladies that I have spent the week with (from left to right, Jamie, Stephanie, Jackie, Jacky, and Debbie):

Here is the whole wall through the railing:

Here is the wall overall:

All the young ones you can see down there getting off the bus were Jewish boys going to a camp for the week of Passover, which they get off school:

And then, after the praying, the celebrations just kept coming! We ate lunch outside in a restaurant in the Jewish quarter. While we were eating, a girl came by, with a tent over her head, men drumming behind her and a loudspeaker announcing music and chants for the crowd around her to sing. It was a Bat Mitzvah, the Jewish ritual that celebrates the start of adulthood. They were parading their way down to the wall. Only here. Only in Jerusalem 🙂
After lunch, we went down into an old Christian fourth century road/walkway. It connected several places important to Christians. Here is the map of what the city looked like then (it’s pretty, but I couldn’t tell you what’s what!):

This is a reconstruction of columns like they used to be, the space to the left was for shops and to the right was for walking:
P1070927We then did a little shopping in some Jewish shops in another section of the same former fourth century underground road:

This whole day was spent wandering (with purpose) in the city and Tabitha and I hadn’t had enough of it. So we did some more during some afternoon free time. We were on a mission to find candy for her little four year old who is home with his dad. We found the candy and we also discovered the experience of being immersed in a great city like this one. I have loved walking through this city with our whole group, but walking through with just Tabitha, talking about life and seeing snapshots of life was my favorite of all:P1070972 P1070979 P1070994 P1080001 P1080003
Just a block away from our hotel we came across this celebration at the New Gate. I will post video of it later, but for now you can see the pictures. There was Palm Sunday decorations, and a band, and papal flags, and children, lots of children. They even had an Easter Bunny and a Winnie the Pooh handing out Jesus themed coloring books! Of course they were in Arabic. We got one for both of Tabitha’s boys. She was so excited! P1080014 P1080013 P1080008 P1080021 P1080018
Tabitha and I saw the start of the celebrations at 4:30 in the afternoon. A few hours later, when we were walking to the bus for dinner, the same street looked like this:
After the Western Wall and that parade in the morning, and the celebrations in the afternoon, it was pretty hard to top the celebration. Our dinner did a pretty great job of trying to, though. It was its own kind of celebration, a celebration of the community that we had formed on this trip. This dinner said: We are Catholic Christians. We are in love with Jesus. We are in love with this place and this culture. These people are forever family to me.
My table at dinner (from left to right Laura, Melissa, Tabitha, Karen, and Steve):

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