Tag Archives: Jordan

In Christ’s footsteps

Patrick Novecosky traveled to the Holy Land for Pope Benedict’s visit in May. . .

Patrick Novecosky

Patrick Novecosky

As the pea gravel crunched beneath my feet, I couldn’t help but think of the Last Supper where Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The chalky dust not only coated my shoes, but permeated the air as we walked the path to the spot where tradition says Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River.

Just an hour outside of Amman, Jordan, my group was about two hours ahead of Pope Benedict’s arrival at the site, part of his four-day visit to the country in May. It was mid-afternoon as the crush of media covering the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land arrived.

I scoped out the best vantage point to see the Holy Father, who was to stop at a platform overlooking the spot designated as the place where John the Baptist christened Our Lord. It wasn’t impressive. Scraggly bushes surrounded the area, a small pond fed by a tributary from the river because the Jordan has narrowed over the centuries. Archeological experts have determined that early Christians built a church to commemorate the spot as the place of Christ’s baptism. When the area flooded, they came back and built again. That resolve has convinced many that this was the biblical site of Bethany Beyond the Jordan described in Jn 1:28 and Jn 10:40.

It was the only time during my nineday press tour of Jordan — which coincided with the Holy Father’s visit — that I stood in the footsteps of Christ. Despite the fact that the site had changed over the centuries, it didn’t take much imagination to see St. John the Baptist with Our Lord as he emerged from the muddy waters only to hear the voice of the Father saying, “This is my Son with whom I am well pleased.”

Life often throws us curve balls, and sometimes it feels like life is nothing but a tangled ball of string. But thankfully the Gospel message — walking in Christ’s footsteps — is radically simple. In scripture, the last recorded words of Our Lady were: “Do whatever he tells you.” And at the Jordan, God the Father said much the same thing.

Listening to Christ means more than just memorizing the words he spoke during his short 33 years. It means cultivating a real relationship with him. It means surrendering to him so completely that we live as St. Paul who said, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” With the help of the Holy Spirit, that kind of intimacy is not only possible, but necessary because at the end of our earthly life He wants it to be our permanent reality. Heaven begins here in this life when we walk in Christ’s footsteps, and it continues when we pass through the veil to our eternal destiny.

Patrick Novecosky is the editor of Legatus Magazine. You can read more about his visit to Jordan at his blog: http://patricknovecosky.wordpress.com

Pilgrim of peace

Pope calls for Palestinian state during Holy Land pilgrimage to Jordan & Israel. . .

May 10 Papal Mass in Amman, Jordan

May 10 Papal Mass in Amman, Jordan

Pope Benedict XVI stepped into the fray of Middle East politics by endorsing a Palestinian state during his recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

During his May 15 farewell speech at the Tel Aviv airport, the Pope stressed the need for universal recognition of Israel’s right to exist and the Palestinians’ “right to a sovereign independent homeland.

“Let the two-state solution become a reality,” the Holy Father said, noting that six decades of bloodshed in the Holy Land has distressed him.

“No more bloodshed! No more fighting! No more terrorism! No more war!” he pleaded. “Instead, let us break the vicious circle of violence. Let there be lasting peace based on justice; let there be genuine reconciliation and healing.”

A model for peace

The impassioned speech was one of the many highlights of Pope Benedict’s May 8-15 pilgrimage to the Holy Land, which began with a four-day stop in Jordan. In many ways, his visit mirrored that of Pope John Paul II, who visited Jordan and Israel in 2000.

Pope Benedict began his journey with a stop at Jordan’s Mount Nebo, where tradition says Moses gazed out upon the Promised Land before his death.

“It is appropriate that my pilgrimage should begin on this mountain.” This holy place, he said, should remind all Christians to “undertake a daily exodus from sin and slavery to life and freedom.”

The Pope visited a mosque in the Jordanian capital of Amman before participating in vespers at St. George Melkite Cathedral. It was inspiring to see the Jordanian Christians’ affection for the Holy Father. When he entered the cathedral, their applause was almost deafening.

More than 30% of Jordan’s 109,000 Catholics piled into Amman International Stadium on May 10 for the papal Mass. The youth presence was impressive. Thousands of young people cheered and sang long before the Holy Father’s arrival. A song written especially for the papal visit — “Benvenuto Benedetto in Jordania” (Welcome to Jordan, Benedict in Italian) — rang through the crowd dozens of times throughout the morning.

In his homily, the Pope exhorted the Middle Eastern Christians to stay in the Holy Land and give testimony to Jesus in this conflict-plagued region.

“Fidelity to your Christian roots, fidelity to the Church’s mission in the Holy Land demands of each of you a particular kind of courage: the courage of conviction, born of personal faith, not mere social convention or family tradition; the courage to engage in dialogue and to work side by side with other Christians in the service of the Gospel.”

In his farewell address in Amman on May 11, the Holy Father hailed Jordan as a model for peace and religious tolerance in the Middle East.

“I would like to encourage all Jordanians, whether Christian or Muslim, to build on the firm foundations of religious tolerance that enable the members of different communities to live together in peace and mutual respect,” he said.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II has gone to great lengths to foster interreligious dialogue, the Pope said. “This spirit of openness … has contributed to Jordan’s far-sighted political initiatives to build peace throughout the Middle East.”

Two-state solution

The Holy Father wasted no time getting down to business after touching down in Israel. He called for a Palestinian state in his first speech. He went on to meet with other religious leaders, visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and celebrate Mass in Nazareth for about 50,000 pilgrims.

Together with Israeli president Shimon Peres, the Pope planted an olive tree at the presidential palace as a sign of the close relationship between Jews and Christians. He called this gesture, along with meeting with Holocaust survivors at the Yad Vashem memorial, the most memorable of his pilgrimage to Israel.

“So many Jews … were brutally exterminated under a godless regime that propagated an ideology of anti-Semitism and hatred,” he said. “That appalling chapter of history must never be forgotten or denied.”

The Holy Father also met with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the Palestinian territories. He called the security wall separating Palestinians from Israelis “one of the saddest sights for me during my visit to these lands.” Acknowledging how hard it will be to achieve lasting peace, the Pope said said he had prayed “for a future in which the peoples of the Holy Land can live together in peace and harmony without the need for such instruments of security and separation.”

Patrick Novecosky is the editor of Legatus Magazine. He was in Jordan for Pope Benedict’s four-day visit to that country.

Journey of faith

Pope Benedict  XVI’s May 8-15 visit to Jordan and Israel will hold deep significance. . .

Pope Benedict XVI will visit the Holy Land in May

Pope Benedict XVI will visit the Holy Land in May

Pope Benedict XVI will see many contrasting images on his first papal trip to the Holy Land — the soft hills of Israel’s countryside and the security wall cutting through Palestinian territory; ancient churches built over biblical sites and bullet marks on the church of the nativity.

It’s a reminder of the deep spiritual heritage of this land as well as the ongoing strife between Palestinians and Jews. Against this backdrop, the Pope’s every word and gesture during his May 8-15 visit to Jordan and Israel will hold deep significance.

Christian minority

One of the primary reasons for any papal visit is to strengthen local Christian communities — and the Holy Land’s Christians are in dire need of support. Israel is home to about 150,000 Christians — less than 2% of the population. About 35 years ago, Christians made up 80% of Bethlehem’s population; today they are 9%. The decades-long conflict has caused a mass migration.

Additionally, unemployment in Gaza and the West Bank tops 85%. Besides poverty, Christians also face harassment by Muslim neighbors.

“They can’t baptize anyone but their own children, and they can’t build churches,” said Sandra Keating, theology professor and interreligious dialogue expert at Providence College. “They cannot live as Christians where they are, just as martyrs. Many have simply left, and those left behind are in a worse situation.”

The security wall in the Palestinian territories was built to keep suicide bombers from entering Israel, but it has also trapped innocent Palestinian Christians.

Steve Ray, a registered tour guide in Israel and At Large Legatus member from Michigan, knows its effects firsthand.

“My friend Raji’s brother had a heart attack,” he said. “They went to a checkpoint and were held up for three hours before they could get to a hospital. The brother ended up dying. If the wall hadn’t been there, it wouldn’t have happened.”

Papal journey

During this trip, Pope Benedict will visit sites that are sacred to Jews like Mount Nebo and the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site. He will also meet Israel’s two chief rabbis.

Pope John Paul II prays at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on March 26, 2000

Pope John Paul II prays at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on March 26, 2000

Like John Paul II, who visited the Holy Land in 2000, Pope Benedict will lay a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and meet with Holocaust survivors. However, his stop will avoid the memorial’s museum, which includes a controversial placard denigrating Pope Pius XII’s efforts to aid Jews during World War II.

“The placard is a huge problem and scandal,” said Ray, a best-selling author and evangelist. “It presents Pope Pius as being silent at best or collaborating with the Nazis.”

The Vatican’s relationship with Jews was strained in January when the Pope lifted the excommunication for a Lefevrite bishop who was later discovered to be a Holocaust-denier. Since then, the Pope has clarified the Holy See’s position on the Holocaust and apologized for the lack of a better background check.

“Though this caused a ruckus with the Jewish community, enough good will already existed from years of dialogue,” said Keating. “This issue has really passed.”

Muslim dialogue

Besides Jews and Christians, Pope Benedict will also meet with Muslim leaders. He will visit mosques in Jordan and Israel, including the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem — the third holiest Muslim site after Mecca and Medina.

“This is a major event for the Muslim world,” said Keating. “It is the place where Muslims believe that Mohammed made a night journey to heaven by the help of angels.”

The Dome of the Rock is one of the most challenging issues for Israel because it forms the basis for Muslim claims to the Holy Land. It’s built on the site of the Jewish temple destroyed during the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

“Our Holy Father has done an outstanding outreach to the Muslim world,” said Steve Colecchi, director of the USCCB’s Office of Justice, Peace and Human Development. “He invited Muslim scholars to the Vatican in response to an open letter written by Muslim leaders to the Christian world in 2007. They met in the Vatican in November 2008. The Pope will be well received by Muslim leaders.”

The open letter written by 138 Muslim scholars to Christian leaders was the first time a group of high-profile Muslims united to call for peace. The Pope’s visit to the Holy Land is expected to help build the Church’s relationship with Islam.

Call for peace

Another relationship on the Holy Father’s mind will be the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Pope Benedict continues to call for peace and dialogue despite talks being at a standstill. In his Urbi et Orbi message on Easter Sunday, he said that “reconciliation — difficult, but indispensable — is a precondition for a future of overall security and peaceful coexistence” in the Middle East. His trip should give renewed energy to the peace process.

The Pope is also expected to reach out to the Israeli government. The Vatican is asking for protection of Church lands, a clear juridical status for Church entities in Israel and tax exemptions for property. Discussions on these issues have been at a standstill since 1993 when the Fundamental Accord between the Vatican and Israel was established.

Pope Benedict will carry the weight of these troubles as he travels the land where Jesus walked. When Pope John Paul II traveled to Israel in 2000, he won over both Israelis and Palestinians. He is especially remembered for slipping a prayer note into the crevices of the Wailing Wall.

If the past few years are any indication, Pope Benedict will certainly win over the region’s heart with his humility and sincere concern for its people.

Sabrina Arena Ferrisi is a staff writer for Legatus Magazine.

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Legatus Holy Land pilgrimage

Steve Ray

Steve Ray

Legatus will host a Holy Land pilgrimage from Oct. 10-19 with expert guides Steve and Janet Ray — the writers, producers and hosts of the award-winning documentary series The Footprints of God.

“The pilgrimage will spend 2.5 days in Galilee, one day in Bethlehem, three days in Jerusalem and one day in the south visiting Masada, Qumran and Jericho,” Ray said.

There will be memorable experiences for participants every day.

“We’ll renew baptismal vows at the Jordan River,” he explained. “Depending on the priest, we may get water sprinkled with a branch — or we may be asked to walk in up to our knees.

“We’ll walk the Via Dolorosa and we’ll all get to touch Mount Calvary. In Cana, we renew wedding vows. We’ll go on a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. In Capernaum, we’ll have Mass at St. Peter’s house where Jesus lived for three years.”

Three must-see sites include Bethlehem, the Holy Sepulchre and Nazareth. “We would not have the Incarnation without Nazareth,” Ray said.

“It was a village of 30 caves — and Mary lived in one of them.”

In Bethlehem, pilgrims will visit the Church of the Nativity, the only major church in the Holy Land that survives intact from the early Christian period. Depending on crowds, Legates may be able to touch the actual spot where Jesus was born.

With regards to safety, Ray notes he has traveled to the Holy Land more than 60 times.

“I have never felt danger,” he explained. “I cannot over-emphasize this. The violence is in Gaza, which is one little corner of this country. Since the security wall was built, there have been no problems.”

To register or for more information, visit legatus.org or call (313) 565-8888 ext 121.