“The Holy Land” has historically been a place of moral inconsistencies. Today, in honor of fear, hate, and ignorance, territories and walls separate families and friends, whose radical representatives clash despite a common heritage. Sacredness is sold for control and profit. Holy sites are desecrated by symbols of darkness, violence, and death. The ones who once were victims now victimize others, with the blessing of powerful nations and religious convictions at their service.
While Jesus’ path to his own execution is symbolized and ritually remembered by pilgrims with praise and gratitude through 14 stations, we are reminded that Jesus’ Passion is not absolutely his own. It is also the painful experience of other victims. The forces of evil still torture and kill innocent people only to be opposed and denounced by those who, out of love, seek justice to retell the Gospel story.
After the temple’s destruction by imperial Rome in 70 C.E., only one wall remained standing: The Western Wall. As the last vestige of the temple that Herod “The Great” embellished, in Judaism, this wall is the holiest place for prayers leaning one’s forehead against the limestones and the reading of the Torah.
Several Gospel stories come to life when we see images of “the Lake of Gennesaret” or “Lake Tiberias:” “The water braces against the bow of the boat as the Disciples press into the middle of the sea. It is dark, but they think that they see something approaching from the distance, across the surface of the water. Amazed, they recognize their Rabbi, Jesus Christ, as he walks across the surface of the water towards them, calling Peter’s name” (Matthew 14:22-33).
North of Jerusalem, in the West Bank, this vibrant, hospitable city is the Administrative Capital of the Palestinian National Authority. To our sadness, on the outskirts of this city is evident the unjust socio-economic gaps resulting from the centralization of power and privileges, neo-colonialism, and marginalization, which we typical in other parts of the world. History repeats itself everywhere while God, known by different names, weeps!
On a dry, hot desert afternoon, a young boy went looking for a lost sheep in the Judean desert. Not wishing to go into the dark caves, he picked up a small rock and tossed it into one of the many caves. Rather than the expected bleating of his lost sheep, he heard the loud crack of a clay jar. To his surprise, this boy had stumbled upon one the largest, and oldest, collection of Jewish scrolls, now known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Sometimes the best things in life happen unexpectedly!
Named after the olive groves that covers its slopes, this beautiful hill facing the old city of Jerusalem is recognized as a sacred setting in light of several, key Gospel episodes in the life of Jesus. Although at the present time this hill is surrounded by Jewish cemeteries and Christian chapels, the Mount of Olives brings to mind the beginning and end of Jesus’ public ministry.
nistry (Matthew 5:1; Acts 1:9-11).
Built by Herod the Great, Masada was a fortress repurposed during the Jewish revolt against Roman authority. The Sicarii settled at this place after Titus’ destruction of the Second Temple. Roman garrisons sieged the fort for months without gaining ground, due to the single-track access road to the top. Recognizing that their situation was hopeless, the Sicarii refused to submit to the Roman justice system and took their own lives. A mass suicide of 960 put an end to the siege, reminding future generations that oppression always finds freedom-seeking resistance.
One of the most iconic sites in the land of Palestine, “the descender river”, flowing from The Sea of Galilee to The Dead Sea, played a significant role in some of the major narratives in the Jewish and Christian traditions. It is the river Israel crossed into “the Promised Land” to violently take and occupy it (Joshua 3:14-16) and where Jesus was baptized (Matt. 3:13-17). Through the eyes of faith, this modest 156-mile river continues to be seen as “sacred.”
Located in a cone-shape hill near Bethlehem, we find a palace built by Herod the Great. The Herodion is believed to be the burial place of this foreign benefactor representing the interests of Roman imperialism. The Herodion was used as a fortress against Rome during the Jewish Revolt. In 66 CE, it was captured by the Jewish Zealot sect who added baptismals and a tabernacle to the structure. Year later, it was one of Simon bar Kokhba’s headquarters, a messianic figure struggling against the Romans.