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29 March, 201229 March, 2012 0 comments The Church in the Holy Land The Church in the Holy Land

In advance of the coming Holy Week, the Religious Tourism Desk of the Israeli Tourism Ministry invited members of the foreign media to a background briefing on Christian tourism and the events of Holy Week, offering some unique interview opportunities with leaders of the Catholic communities in Jerusalem.


The meeting, which took place on March 28 around the Christian Quarter of the Old City, was led by Uri Sharon of the Religious Tourism Desk. He began with a general briefing on Christian tourism in Israel, followed by a short tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


Uri Sharon speaking with journalists in the Christian Quarter of the Old City


Sharon underlined the importance of pilgrimages to Israel, pointing out that tourism in the Holy Land had peaked in the last two years with some 3.4 million visitors in 2010 and 2011, 60% of which being Christians, and half of these coming as pilgrims or spiritual travelers. He emphasized how a pilgrimage to the Holy Land truly enables pilgrims to encounter and discover the "Fifth Gospel," learning the geography of the Bible, experiencing its landscape and nature, and in this process getting better acquainted with the human side of Jesus who lived, died a

9 January, 20129 January, 2012 3 comments The Church in the Holy Land The Church in the Holy Land

On January 8, Travelujah.com arranged for me to to accompany the Franciscans of the Holy Land on their annual pilgrimage to the Jordan River. This "annual" trip was rather unique, because the same event was celebrated at the same place... less than three months ago. The reason: Until recently, the Baptismal Site known as "Qasr al Yahud" was a closed military zone, and pilgrims were allowed to go there only once a year, on the last Thursday of October. But last summer the Israeli authorities opened the site all year-round. With the site now much more accessible, the Franciscans decided to move the date of their annual pilgrimage to the most appropriate liturgical time for it, on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, celebrated on the first Sunday after Epiphany (January 6).


The busload of friars left Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem shortly after 8 AM, with a festive atmosphere on board. The attempts of Fr. Artemio Vitores, the Custodial Vicar, to announce the order of the day on the microphone were periodically interrupted by various jokes and songs. After only a half-hour ride, we made a brief first stop at the Parish of the Good Shepherd in Jericho, where the friars and faithful were welcomed by the local civil authorities. Fifteen minutes later, we were back on the bus and

18 December, 201118 December, 2011 0 comments The Church in the Holy Land The Church in the Holy Land

Fr. Elias is the Benedictine Monk responsible for the Church at the Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion. On the first Saturday of Advent, he shared his thoughts about how his community is preparing for the coming feast of the Nativity of Christ.


"During Advent, we light four candles on the Advent crown, symbolizing the four weeks before Christmas. Every week, we light one more candle. We have special songs, special prayers, and special readings, especially from the prophet Isaiah because he expresses a message of comfort and hope."


Fr. Elias at the Dormition Abbey


Fr. Elias explains that the Benedictine community cherishes a particular German tradition: a special liturgy, every Friday evening of Advent, when they use no electric lights but only candle light to experience the darkness characteristic of the longing for the Messiah.


"Advent is not Christmas" says the Benedictine monk, "it's a time of longing, of hope, of expectation, of desire." For this reason, the community doesn't sing Christmas songs until Christmas itself. Before that, only Advent songs are sung."


"Then, on Christmas Eve, we have a party with all our volunteers and all our guests. At midnight we have our solemn liturgy with Chr

5 December, 20115 December, 2011 0 comments The Church in the Holy Land The Church in the Holy Land

Christmas Eve in Bethlehem and Jerusalem

Advent is upon us!  Even though the days are getting shorter, the atmosphere is becoming more festive in Jerusalem as both Jews and Christians get ready to celebrate their respective festival of lights.  This year, Hanukkah and Christmas coincide, with the celebration of the birth of Christ falling right in the middle of the week of the Jewish holiday. 


Soon Jews will be lighting their hanukkiah while recalling God's Providence and faithfulness (then as now!) at a time of great need in the history of the Jewish nation.  At the same time, Christians will commemorate and celebrate the moment when "the true Light which gives light to every man" came into the world (John 1:9).


If Advent is a non-event in Jewish Western Jerusalem, it is unmistakable in the Old City, where shops of Christmas decorations and artifacts have opened and are already in full swing. Every day, coming out of my home in the Christian Quarter, I am “greeted” by several life-sized Santa Clauses, including a large inflatable one standing alongside another one playing Christmas carols on the saxophone.


Beyond the inevitable Christmas commercialism, the Christian communities are also in full gear in preparing the various Christmas events and celebrations. 


As always, the world’s focus of attention will be on Bethlehem.  On Christm

24 October, 201124 October, 2011 0 comments The Church in the Holy Land The Church in the Holy Land

The Christian Landscape of Jerusalem

Part II: The Latin Catholic Church

Last time, I began this new blog by mentioning the complex and sometimes confusing religious landscape of Jerusalem, and I proposed a short overview of the churches in Jerusalem to help us understand “who’s who,” beginning with the Orthodox Churches.  Today and next time, I would like to give you a quick “bird’s eye view” of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land.


The reality of the Catholic Church in Israel is no less complicated than that of the Orthodox churches, because it includes many communities, orders and rites.  Yet there is a key difference between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches in this respect:


The Orthodox churches are a group of loosely affiliated communities where each one is essentially autonomous and independent from the other, each with their own patriarch and/or bishops.  This is why we speak of the Orthodox churches as “autocephalous” (meaning “self-headed”).  They are usually divided along the lines of their national identity. And so today we have in Jerusalem the Greek Orthodox church, the Armenian Orthodox church, the Russian Orthodox church, etc…


By contrast, the Catholic communities are all members of one Church – the Catholic Church.  Despite a great variety of rites, customs and traditions, all are

3 October, 20113 October, 2011 0 comments The Church in the Holy Land The Church in the Holy Land

The Christian Landscape of Jerusalem

Part I: The Orthodox Churches

As a Catholic living in Jerusalem and as the founder of Catholics for Israel, I am delighted to begin this new blog for Travelujah.  In the coming weeks and months, I hope to share with you some insights on Catholic life in Jerusalem and in the Holy Land. This will include Catholic customs and feasts, liturgy and prayer, ordinary and extraordinary events, encounters with pilgrims and people from the land and the world, and most of it colored with a smattering of theology and insights on the Biblical and Jewish roots of the Catholic faith.


For many pilgrims and visitors to the Holy Land, the religious landscape of Jerusalem is confusing, if not overwhelming. This is hardly surprising, because as the crossroads of the three great monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - Jerusalem is probably the most complex city in the world, religiously speaking.


If we zoom in on Christianity, we find that its three great streams - Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism - are all well represented in the Holy City.  As if this weren't enough, each one is composed of several different groups of churches, denominations, orders, rites, or communities.


The result is that the unsuspecting tourist or pilgrim wandering through the streets of the old

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A blog on Catholic life in Jerusalem by Ariel Ben Ami of Catholics for Israel (www.catholicsforisrael.com)
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