Bernardo M. Villegas
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Following the Footsteps of Christ (Part 4)

          The Sorrowful mysteries coincide with some of the Stations of the Cross or the Via Dolorosa.  Our pilgrim group walked along the Stations of the Cross at least twice.  On the very first day, our guide showed us the fourteen stations in a cursory manner as we trooped to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, which contained the last five stations.  During the second opportunity, we actually prayed at each station, reading the meditations contained in the famous book of St. Josemaria Escriva on the fourteen stations.  I had the privilege of reading aloud these points for meditation as we moved from one station to another.  We had to make a special effort to concentrate on praying with devotion because we were surrounded along the way by commercial stores with very enterprising sales people shouting “One dollar only for 12 rosaries” and other similar sales chants.  When someone commented later that the atmosphere must have been very different from the times of Jesus, someone correctly retorted that it must have been worse 2,000 years ago in the Temple to provoke Our Lord to use a whip to drive the merchants out of the Temple for making the House of His Father “a den of thieves.”

         The first Station, “Jesus is condemned to death”, is not specifically marked.  It is within the courtyard of an Arab school, which now stands over part of the site of the Fortress of Antonia where, according to tradition, Jesus stood trial before Pilate.  In our Lord’s time, the Antonio Fortress was a military garrison built by Herod to defend the northern boundary of the City and to maintain order in the Temple Area.  Fortunately, from here on, each Station is marked by a dark metal illuminated sign with a Roman numeral high on the wall coupled with a semicircle of cobblestones on the road surface beneath it.  Ahead, the arch with the windows above it is known as “Ecce Homo” (Behold the Man).  It is built on the site of the Gateway where, according to tradition, Pilate addressed the crowd.  Station II (Jesus takes up the Cross) is in a courtyard belonging to the Franciscans where there are two chapels, i.e. the Chapel of the Flagellation whose main features are the ceiling above the altar representing a crown of thorns, and the three stained glass windows, depicting Jesus scourged at the pillar, Pilate washing his hands, and the triumph of Barabbas.  The other chapel called the Chapel of the Condemnation has a moving portrayal in relief of Jesus leaving the Fortress of Antonia to receive his Cross.

         Station III (Jesus falls for the first time) consists of a very small chapel, running parallel to the street, above the entrance of which is a stone-relief of Jesus falling with his Cross.  Beside the doorway are two ancient pillars.  Then 25 meters away, Station IV (Jesus meets his Mother) is a doorway above which is depicted in stone-relief the scene which reminded us of the grief of Mary in meeting her Son carrying the Cross.  The doors lead to a small Armenian Catholic chapel which is rarely open to the public.  Another 25 meters to the right is Station V (Simon of Cyrene is compelled to carry the Cross) with the doorway clearly marked with the Roman numeral V.  Behind the door is a Franciscan oratory which is also rarely open to the public.  Ascending the steps up the hill another 100 meters, we reached Station VI (St. Veronica wipes the sweat from Jesus’s face).  This is reputed to be on the site of the home of St. Veronica who, according to tradition, used her veil to wipe the face of Jesus.  The imprint of the face of Our Lord remained on the cloth which is now preserved in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome.  The Station is identified by a wooden door with studded metal bands upon it, with the center panel bearing the Roman numerals VI.  Ten meters further on, up a flight of steps, the Greek Church of the Holy Face and St. Veronica can be viewed through a metal door.

         Climbing another 75 meters, we reached Station VII (Jesus falls for the second time).  On the wall, above a window which is over a doorway, are the Roman numerals VII.  The door is frequently hidden by market stalls and is usually locked.  We were told by our guide that the position of this Station marks the western boundary of Jerusalem during the time of Our Lord.  According to some scholars, the “Gate of Judgement” would have been here.  From this point onwards therefore, Jesus carried his Cross outside the City walls on his way to the hill called “Golgotha” (Place of the Skull) upon which the Crucifixions took place, in full view from the walls.  The next station (VIII, Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem) is the most difficult to identify.  We looked for a small stone set at eye level among others in a wall.  It is distinguished by a cross carved upon it flanked by the Greek letters “IC XC NIKA” which is Greek for “Jesus is victorious.”  Also cut into the stone is a hole in which a small candle is sometimes placed.  Then on to Station IX (Jesus falls for the third time).  It is at a Roman pillar to the left of the gateway with a sign put up on the opposite wall just before reaching the pillar.

         The remaining five Stations (X to XIV) are within the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher.  From the courtyard in front of the Basilica, we entered the main door and once inside, we turned immediately right to walk up 19 very steep steps leading to the chapels constructed above the rock of Calvary.  I needed some assistance from my companions since I have weak knees.  As we reached the top, we were immediately in front of Stations X and XI (Jesus is stripped of his garments and Jesus is nailed to the Cross).  There are two chapels commemorating these events:  One, at the stop of the steep stairs, belongs to the Roman Catholic Church. As I mentioned in Part I of this series of articles, it was in this chapel that four of our priests companions concelebrated Mass very early one morning.  We saw on the wall a mosaic depicting Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac.  Then divided by large pillars, the other chapel is owned by the Greek Orthodox Church and commemorates Station XII (Jesus dies on the Cross).  This ornate altar is built directly over the traditional site of the Crucifixion.  On either side, through glass panels, we could see the natural bedrock of Calvary.  To the right is a small altar placed between the two larger ones.  This also belongs to the Roman Catholic Church.  Upon it, with a glass protection, is a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary known as “Stabat Mater” (Our Lady of Sorrows).  Some of us stayed after the Mass and prayed the Holy Rosary in front of this altar.

         After leaving Calvary, we descended at the rear of the Greek Orthodox chapel, turned left at the bottom and passed the Stone of the Anointing above which hang eight lamps.  According to tradition this was the place where Our Lord’s body was prepared hurriedly for the burial (because it was already the beginning of the Sabbath during which manual work could not be done).  We then proceeded to the final Station (Station XIV, Jesus is laid in the Tomb) beneath the Rotunda.  This area is called the Anastasis (Resurrection) and in the center is a large aedicule built over the site of the Tomb.  There is an outer chamber known as the Chapel of the Angel and a slab at the center is what is reputed to be a piece of the original rolling stone.  The site of the Tomb itself is marked by an inner chamber lined with marble and constructed in 1810.  The space inside is so small that only three can kneel in devotion to kiss the Tomb.  As I wrote at the beginning of this series, one early morning there were 8 of us who, Houdini style, were able to fit into this inner chamber, four priests concelebrating Mass and four laymen attending it.  In those thirty minutes (most pilgrims are allowed only a few seconds inside), we felt the full force of the joy of Easter.  I could only repeat silently “Alleluia, for the Lord has risen indeed!”  

         I cannot end this narration of our pilgrimage to the Holy Land without paying tribute to the guide who helped us most in deriving the greatest spiritual benefits from this unforgettable tour while at the same time entertaining us with his great wit and humor.  His name is Samir Bahbah, a Catholic Palestinian who has a profound knowledge of the Bible, having spent four years studying Theology with some seminarians.  He has a son who is a Franciscan priest.  He could quote from the Bible, both Old and New Testament, the appropriate passages to explain the events that took place in the different sites we were visiting.  He has a very strong personality which served him well to control 42 eager tourists who literally had to be herded like sheep so that we could follow the itinerary strictly, without no one being left behind.  To make us enjoy the rides in the bus, he would pepper his explanations with very humorous remarks.  As an example, when asked how many languages he spoke he said “at least four, but ten when I am drunk!”  We are thankful to him for making this unique journey even more memorable.  For those future pilgrims who may want to share our experience, he may be contacted at samirbahbah@hotmail.com or info@samuelholylandtours.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.