Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Vio Doloroso and Bethlehem

Today was a day of experiencing many cultures, many of the world's religions and many mixed emotions. We began the morning at the Temple Mount on the Jewish Sabbath. We were not able to go into the Muslim mosque with the golden dome because it was closed. Our guide, Doran told us that he can never promise that a group will see the mosque, because it's often closed to the public. We did go to the Western Wall - the Wailing Wall and saw all the Israelis praying there. They have many different styles of dress. It's based on which rabbi they follow as to how they dress. The most conservative is the Hasidic Jews who wear the round flat brimmed hats with the curls at the side of their ears. The women and children and the men are in separate areas. We got to go down to the wall and see all the people praying. They rock back and forth as they pray so they will be able to focus better and not be distracted by the many people going by. They all had Torah's and were praying from them. The women had prayer shawls over their heads. We really felt like tourists walking up to the wall because everyone was dressed in their best clothes for church. The men had to put on yarmulkes.

An interesting side note about prayer shawls - the two lines of the Israeli flag on either side of the star of David are to signify a prayer shawl - to indicate the spiritual side of their life.

Next we walked under the temple mount to get to the Via Dolorosa and walk the stations of the cross. Some of us tried to remember the beautiful duet Mark and Lisa did for our musical as we walked along the real Via Dolorosa.

Walking under the temple mount took us through the markets on a very narrow cobblestone street. What an amazing mixture of cultures and sights, sounds and smells that was. The Via Dolorosa was also along the market place. Our guide told us that during Jesus' time, the road was much wider and it was filled with people as Jesus was carrying his cross up to Calvary. We stopped at each staion of the cross and it was just like that - people all over and merchants trying to sell us things all the time. It made it hard to focus on what we were learning about. for most of the people there, nothing much important was happening - almost like it must have seemed to the masses of people, during Jesus' walk up to Calvary - some people were watching Jesus, others were making fun of him and throwing fruit on him or even ignoring him.

By the time we got to the 9th station, we were at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which is another location that archeologists believe might hold Jesus' tomb. Eight different denominations have built chapels in that church to commemorate the last part of Jesus' life. We stood in line for almost an hour to see that tomb. During each day, each of the 8 denominations is allowed time for a short service before they go into see the tomb. While we waited, we were able to see 2 of those ceremonies - one by Greek Orthodox and one by Coptic priests. It was fascinating to watch the mix of cultures there.

We heard the story of the origin of why people "knock on wood" today. Ask us when we get back. I don't have much time left now to explain the story. We also heard about how the Byzantine Christians took pieces of the rock that was rolled away from the tomb and sent it out to many of their churches because they felt their people would never be able to come to see it for themselves. So today, many churches in Turkey have pieces of rock in their crosses that comes from the stone that was rolled away from Jesus' tomb.

The last half of our day was spent in Bethlehem at many unplanned and very eye opening stops. We actually had lunch in the home of a Palestinian Christian named Michael who was related to Fuad Mansour, a Palestinian from Rochester who pretty much started our outdoor soccer program. Larry had arranged this lunch as well as a tour of the Shepherds' Field and the Church of the Nativity. We heard all about life in Bethlehem as a Palestinian Christian and the many difficulities they go through. In the '50s the Christians were 90% of the population of Bethlehem and now they are only 25% of the population.

Michael and his family were gracious hosts and fed all 25 of us a delicious lunch of chicken and rice and salad and yogurt which is a very traditional lunch. We had good strong coffee and a final course. They have 6 children and in an amazing coincidence, two of Michael's sons will be going to Green Lake Bible Camp as camp counselors for this summer. That's the same camp where Pastor Meiers' son Chris will be a counselor! He took down their names and they plan to make connections in Rochester sometime during the summer.

One of Michael's sons took us to the Shepherds' Field and then to the Church of the Nativity. We saw a funeral and a wedding being conducted while we were touring the church that has a Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic Section. As a special side trip, Michael's son took us to see the ELCA church in Bethlehem. It was a long walk up to see a beautiful church that is offering hope in the midst of hopelessness to Palestinian Christians all around the West Bank.

Our last stop on this long and emotion filled day was to the Olivewood factory where we saw the making of the Bethelhem Olivewood that we actually sold at Hosanna just before Christmas. It's a main part of their financial support and all of us bought quite a bit of it to bring back. It was fascinating to see the process first hand.

We definitely saw the other side of the story today. We were happy to get back across the border to Jerusalem. There is definitely tension going both ways.

Tomorrow we go to church in the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem and then we'll be going to the Holocaust Museum- for the other side of the story again. It will be another emotional and exciting day. We'll even have time to shop at the big market place near the temple mount.

Then it's a short night as we start our 24 hour trip back to Rochester beginning at 2:30 am on Monday morning. This has not been a trip for the faint of heart both physically and spiritually.

Hopefully we'll have time tomorrow night to do a final post before we leave. If not, we'll have lots of pictures and stories to share when we come home.

Blessings to all. We look forward to getting home and seeing you all soon.

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