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Photo: Melanie Williams

Overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, where Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Armenians live in four quarters.

A Holy Land Pilgrimage: Pt. 6 — 'I Pray That They Will All Be One'

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Inside the Church of St. Lazarus in Bethany. This mural depicts Jesus saying to Martha, "I am the Resurrection and the Life" (Jn 11:25).

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More murals depicting the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

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Jesus with Martha and Mary saying, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her" (Lk 10:41-42).

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Mural of the Mary anointing Jesus with oil (see Lk 12:1-8; Mt 26: 6-13).

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Church built by the Crusaders in Bethany.

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Overlooking the Dead Sea from the top of Masada.

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Overlooking the Dead Sea from the top of Masada.

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The cave where the Dead Sea scrolls were found.

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The Church of St. Anne, the birthplace of Mary, in Jerusalem.

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Inside the Church of St. Anne in Jerusalem.

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The crypt altar of the birthplace of Our Lady.

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The ruins of the pools of Bethesda, where Jesus healed the man ill for 38 years (see Jn 5: 1-18).

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Entering the Temple Mount area.

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Praying at the Western Wall.

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On the men's side of the Western Wall, many boys were celebrating their bar mitzvahs.

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Overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem from the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center.

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The Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center (Vatican owned).

By Melanie Williams (Mar 13, 2018)
From Oct. 26 - Nov. 5, 2017, staff writer Melanie Williams went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Having walked where Jesus walked, prayed where He prayed, and experienced the current Middle Eastern cultural and political climate, she would like to share some of her pilgrimage and journey with you. Today, in the sixth part of an nine-part weekly series travel from Bethany to the Dead Sea and Masada as well as Jerusalem, to the birthplace of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the pools of Bethesda, and the Temple Mount, the place where three major world religions collide.

Having just experienced four very full days of mind- and spirit-blowing experiences, we had a more relaxed day in store.

We began our day in Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem, at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, the friends of Jesus. Most likely Jesus came here to stay when whenever He would travel to Jerusalem. A peaceful place of rest and gardens, we had Mass in a church built there in the time of the crusaders.

One of my favorite passages in the Gospels happened here:

Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him. Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. Then Judas the Iscariot, one [of] his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said, "Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days' wages and given to the poor?" He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions. So Jesus said, "Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me" (Jn 12:1-8).


What the Lord has spoken to me so deeply before regarding this passage is the extravagance with which Mary pours out all of her oil onto Jesus' feet - a liter of costly perfumed oil. I have a water bottle that holds a liter of water - that's a lot of oil. But Mary doesn't hesitate, she enters into the room full of men and goes right to her Beloved Master's feet and pours out everything she has. She doesn't care about the naysayers. She doesn't even seem to care about the cost of the oil itself. All she wanted to do was pour out her whole heart and her whole life for Jesus.

A lot of consecrated people in the Church get asked a question similar to what Judas asks, "Why would you give up everything - a family, possessions, your will - for Jesus?" Well, because He's worth it. He gave us everything, even life itself. Though many are called, few are chosen to give their lives so radically for Jesus. Nevertheless, we are all called - lay and religious - to break open our hearts like that jar and pour out ourselves to Jesus.

After buying some oil in Bethany to be blessed, in memory of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with oil, we headed on the bus out to the region of the Dead Sea. We visited Masada. It had been a palace and fortress for Herod, the place of the last stand of the Jewish people against the Romans in the 70s AD, and finally a Byzantine monastery. Now only ruins, it's one of the most visited tourist attractions in Israel. For the Jewish people, it is like a national monument and reminder of their ancestors fighting for a true nation of Israel.

We then were able to see the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 and visit the sea itself and float in the hypersaline waters. It actually is shrinking every year since the Jordan River water supply has been cut off from the lake. Over the past few decades control of the Jordan River has been another source of tension and conflict between Israel, Palestine, Syria, and Jordan. As long as the Dead Sea exists, it remains a free spa and mud bath for people all over the world seeking its medicinal properties.

The following day we were also able to see various sites in Jerusalem. We came to the Church of St. Ann - the home of Joachim and Ann, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today it stands in the Muslim Quarter of the old city of Jerusalem. This area of Jerusalem used to be known as Bethesda, which means "House of Mercy." This is also the place where Jesus healed the man who laid ill by the pool of Bethesda for 38 years (see Jn 5:1-18). The ruins of the pool with its five porticos is almost right next to the Church of St. Ann. From this House of Mercy, the Blessed Mother was born and raised, and to this place came the Divine Mercy, Jesus, to bring mercy to the sick man.

We then were able to visit the infamous Western Wall, and its environs, arguably the most controversial place in the whole world. The Temple Mount, the most sacred place on earth to the Jewish people, where the first and second Temples and the Holy of Holies were located, is now under Muslim control. The Dome of the Rock stands upon where the Holy of Holies was, and inside, the founding inscription states in classical Arabic:

O you People of the Book, overstep not bounds in your religion, and of God speak only the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is only an apostle of God, and his Word which he conveyed unto Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from him. Believe therefore in God and his apostles, and say not Three. It will be better for you. God is only one God. Far be it from his glory that he should have a son.

Of course, to us Christians this is not the truth. Jesus is the Son of God, and He was crucified, died, and rose right outside these city walls so to become the New Temple (see Jn 2:19).

The only portion remaining of the second Temple that the Jewish people can access is the Western Wall. Jewish people from all over the world come there to pray. We visited the Western Wall on a day of bar mitzvahs, of boys becoming men. The atmosphere was full of life and joy.

As I stood in this area, where three major world religions collide, I pondered on this division and how I should pray for unity and the salvation of my brothers and sisters around me. Overlooking the Temple Mount, on the western slope of the Mount of Olives, is where Jesus wept over Jerusalem (see Lk 19:41). No doubt, in His divine omniscience, He knew what would take place upon this Temple Mount throughout history.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

"Those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways."

The relationship of the Church with the Jewish People. When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People, "the first to hear the Word of God." The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God's revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews "belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ", "for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable."

And when one considers the future, God's People of the Old Covenant and the new People of God tend towards similar goals: expectation of the coming (or the return) of the Messiah. But one awaits the return of the Messiah who died and rose from the dead and is recognized as Lord and Son of God; the other awaits the coming of a Messiah, whose features remain hidden till the end of time; and the latter waiting is accompanied by the drama of not knowing or of misunderstanding Christ Jesus.

The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day."

The Church's bond with non-Christian religions is in the first place the common origin and end of the human race:

All nations form but one community. This is so because all stem from the one stock which God created to people the entire earth, and also because all share a common destiny, namely God. His providence, evident goodness, and saving designs extend to all against the day when the elect are gathered together in the holy city. . .

The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as "a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life."

In their religious behavior, however, men also display the limits and errors that disfigure the image of God in them:

Very often, deceived by the Evil One, men have become vain in their reasonings, and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and served the creature rather than the Creator. Or else, living and dying in this world without God, they are exposed to ultimate despair.

To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son's Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is "the world reconciled." She is that bark which "in the full sail of the Lord's cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world." According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah's ark, which alone saves from the flood. (839-845)


Let us pray for our brothers and sisters who have not accepted Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the Son of God, so that they may come to know the fullness of joy and life. There are 2.3 billion Christians in the world (31 percent of the world's population), and of them, 1.2 billion are Catholics. For you to be reading this today is already a sign that God has given you a very special gift and blessing - the faith and understanding that Jesus Christ is Lord. By the very nature of the goodness and necessity of this gift, it is your responsibility to share that with others and to pray for those who do not accept God as Trinity and Jesus Christ as Lord.

If you know at all what it's like to know Jesus, to know His love, to know His mercy, pray for those who don't - Christians, non-Christians, Jewish, Muslims, whatever religion or "non-religion" someone might be. Their very human nature, created by God, is made to return to Him. It is God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, whom they long for without even knowing it. Let us join in prayer and ask Our Lady to intercede for the whole world and its salvation. For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

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Jeannette Clark - Mar 28, 2018

Jesus, let us all come to know and place our total trust in You.

Nwamaka Nwabude - Mar 13, 2018

Quite fascinating. Never been to the Holy Land. I pray one day to be able to walk where Jesus walked & pray where He prayed. Am saddened about Temple Mount though. Pls God, take control.