RESPONSES TO QUESTIONNAIRE FROM MR RODNEY LEONARD
1. When you pray on, and for, the Holy Land, what are your main thoughts as you pray and why?
As I pray in the Holy Land I pray, first of all, in thanksgiving. It has been my great privilege to visit the Holy Land on five occasions. Each time my FIRST reaction was that of the Psalms; I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the Lord’s House” and now we are here – standing inside the Gates of Jerusalem.
Soon that prayer is transformed into one of sorrow for my sins as I recall the Garden of Gethsemane and the words of Jesus: “The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me”.
But being present for me in the Holy Land means – seeing more clearly my need to thank God for sending His Son, Jesus, to become one of us and to suffer and die for love of us, to give us eternal life.
2. Can you recall a moment in the Holy Land that really captured your heart or mind and why?
There are so many places in the Holy Land that stir up precious memories and inspire wonderful feelings of joy. It is so difficult to single out one.
I remember, with great joy, the boat trip across the Sea of Galilee as the sun set and darkness of night set in. It recalled Jesus walking on the water, quelling the storm and rebuking the disciples for their lack of faith.
At Cana in Galilee I met a group of spouses who wished to renew their marriage vows. I thought of Mary’s advice to the Head Waiter: do, whatever he tells you”. Always sound advice for all of us.
There are so many others but for me, they all must yield to the visit to the Holy Sepulchre Basilica – where the Hill of Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre are housed under the one roof. For me, the most memorable way to reach Calvary is to follow in the steps of Jesus all the way from Pilates’ house along the Way of the Cross.
It is astonishing to kneel at the foot of the Cross on the place called Golgotha which means, The Place of the Skull, and to se the rock split apart and to take on board that here, on the wood of the cross, hung the world’s salvation. There you meet people of all ages and all nations coming day after day; to stay and to pray. It goes on and will go on until He comes again.
3. When explaining the plight of Christians in the Holy Land to people with no previous knowledge, how would you describe the importance opf the Order in the Holy Land to them?
I would begin by quoting the decline in numbers of Christians in the Holy Land – Christians are under immense pressure from all sides. I will never forget when I visited Gaza and watched the pupils of the local school re-enact the parable of the return of the Prodigal Son – with its pointed lesson that all the children of the Abrahamic faith should come to their senses and unite in the fight against the enemies of all religions. I would also describe life in the Home for abandoned children and in the University and schools helped by the Order to bring home the point.
So, I would describe as accurately as possible, the plight of Christians in the Holy Land. Their numbers are diminishing dramatically each year due to pressure that is being exerted on them from all sides – pressure of many different kinds – financial, social, and religious. It would help to describe, as vividly as possible, the welcome – so warm in the orphanage and in other places – where the Order is involved. The spiritual reason for being involved comes from the words of Christ in St Matthew’s Gospel (25: 35-46).
Also, there is a special joy in helping those Christians in the Holy Land who radiate such joyful confidence and trust in the Lord in the face of adversity. We must do our best to support those on the front line who take care of the Holy Places for the sake of all of us who wish to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.
For me, the greatest gift of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land is the support it gives to the faith of those who believe that the Word – through whom God made all things, really did become a human being and lived among us.
I suppose you could describe the aim of every religious pilgrim as an effort to grow in communion with God and especially with His Son, Jesus Christ. When I saw where the Holy Family lived and where Our Saviour travelled and taught and healed, I was able to identify with him more closely.
Today is the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross – a feast dear to the Order – because it is linked to the dedication of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre and, of course, with what happened on Calvary. I love to contemplate the words spoken by Jesus on the cross especially: “Forgive them, Father….”
Yesterday Pope Francis quoted several times, the words of the First Reading: “Remember the End and cease to hate”. The presence of Christians in those troubled lands is vital to remind their neighbours to give up the senseless bitterness and hatred. One day the call will be answered.
+ Seán Cardinal Brady
14 September 2020