Via Dolorosa, Tour of the Dome of the Rock, Relationship, Back Home.

My sisters and brothers, I returned from the Anglican Communion Pilgrimage late yesterday. This pilgrimage and every pilgrimage has the real possibility of transformation and encountering the holy. I can share that once again, the impact was moving and deeply spiritual.  For this reason, I have made the pilgrimage an essential part of my Episcopacy. Thus, the reason for the first pilgrimage to all the churches during my first months in 2016. The naming of the diocesan magazine as “Camino - Our Road Together.” 

Pilgrimage is not only to the Holy Land, or on the Camino to Santiago in Spain. Pilgrimage can be in our Diocese or the walk with one another as a diocesan family of believers. The spiritual purpose of a pilgrimage is to somehow transcend our human knowing and experience God in new and unexpected ways. You are transformed spiritually and physically.  In much the same way, pilgrimage connects you with your fellow pilgrims; you laugh, pray, cry and help one another along the way.  

Pilgrims are different from tourists. I found the following, which is succinct and beautiful.  The difference between a tourist and a pilgrim is this, that the pilgrim seeks, while the tourist seeks a mirror. For the tourist, the location hardly matters. He could tour New York City or Calcutta, Paris or the Sahara. His name reveals his motive. A tourist is primarily concerned with his experience of the place — not the place itself. The pilgrim takes joy in the journey with the understanding that the journey only exists because of the destination. The destination lights the journey with joy. 

The pilgrim is interested in some thing at the end of the pilgrimage.  “Finding ourselves” by changing our location, experiencing new ideas and tasting foreign cultures is simply a bad replica of religious conversion. Becoming ourselves by real relation to something valued for its own existence — the pilgrim’s way — is worth dying for. Becoming ourselves by real relation to something valued for its own existence — the pilgrim’s way — is worth dying for.

This pilgrimage was new and revelatory.  I was connected to my sister and brother bishops (pilgrims) on a level that is lasting and sustaining. It was humbling to represent not only our Diocese but my pilgrimage also served the Episcopal Church. As I mentioned previously, this was not merely a visit to the Holy Land, this was a real pilgrimage in preparation for Lambeth 2020. The hours were long. We usually ate breakfast at 5:15 a.m., followed briefings and prayers at 6:00 a.m and then we were out the door by 6:30 a.m. We spent the majority of the day at Holy Sites, and when we returned, quick dinner and then briefings, prayers, and our day ended by 9:30 p.m. Did I mention the heat? A shower in the morning and in the evening was a respite and a blessing.

Each morning and evening, we reviewed our “word of the day” that connected with Lambeth 2020. The question was posed in the context of scripture. If we visited the Judean Desert, we read the scripture on the Temptation in the desert. We were challenged to probe the questions facing the Communion.  During these sessions, two Bishops gave a 20-minute overview of their Diocese, and it included the challenges and opportunities. I learned about each Diocese and Bishop.  It was surprising that some have long-standing perceptions of the Episcopal Church. I believe it may overlap with a global understanding of the United States. One Bishop was stunned when I discussed poverty in Philadelphia, the disparity in education, and childhood hunger statistics. They were well aware of the crime and drugs, but poverty seemed to strike a chord. 

Our focus on “Know Jesus, Change the World - Revolutionary” was met with great response.  The Lord set me on this pilgrimage for a reason - building relationships and learning how to strengthen our journey as Anglicans.  

In the last post, I discussed some of the sacred sites visited. I would like to share some of the previous three days. Three visits held great importance. They speak to the need of praying for peace in Jerusalem and peace in the world. I would like to express my gratitude to Archbishop Suheil Dawani, the Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East. In over 50 years of ministry, he has built strong friendships and is respected by the leaders of various churches. As you know, we are developing a covenantal relationship with the Diocese of Jerusalem that will impact our Diocese and the Diocese of Jerusalem.  

Archbishop Dawani arranged a meeting the with Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III. He ranks fourth of the nine Patriarchs in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Theophilos III is also the head of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre, and the religious leader of about 130,000 Eastern Orthodox Christians in the Holy Land. The Patriarchate traces its line of succession to the first Christian bishops of Jerusalem, the first being James the Just in the 1st century AD.

We were told we would only have 15 minutes with the Patriarch since an audience with him is rare. When we entered, I noticed his kindness. In our meeting, we witnessed his openness, laughter, graciousness, and generosity. Instead of 15 minutes, we spent over an hour with the Patriarch. He emphasized the importance of the Anglican Church and honored our Episcopal vows. 

Upon our departure, we were presented with a beautiful icon of the Theotokos. Theophilos is a wise leader with enormous responsibilities in the Holy Land. He asked that we share with our respective Dioceses the need for Christians to work with all people of faith. Work with one another in the Holy Land and throughout the world. He also asked that we pray for his Diocese, and I asked him to pray for ours. Let us hold the Diocese of Jerusalem in prayer. 

Archbishop Dawani also arranged a special tour I did not believe I would have the opportunity to experience. On Sunday, we were shuttled to the Muslim Quarter and informed we were to be the guests of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein. He has  responsibility for all of the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem. We were met by Archbishop Dawani and Shiekh Azam Elkhateeb at the Muslim entrance to the Temple Mount. After waiting for 20 minutes, were escorted by 7-8 members of security. 

After a brief introduction and welcome, we followed the Shiekh and were allowed access (which does not usually happen) to the Al Aqsa Mosque. The Al Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam. The beauty of the interior and architecture are beyond description. We were entered quietly with head coverings and without shoes. While we were allowed to take pictures, we were asked not to share the images because of the holiness of the Mosque. 

After we left the Mosque, we were escorted across the Temple Mount and into the Dome of the Rock. I have always wanted to enter the Dome of the Rock, and this was a profoundly moving experience. Within the Dome of the Rock, one can feel the prayers. As I looked upon the rock, I understood deep within why they call this spot the navel of the earth. This is the site where God gathered the dust to create Adam and where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac to prove his faith. Among Muslims, the Temple Mount is called Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary). They believe it was here that the Prophet Muhammad ascended to the “Divine Presence” on the back of a winged horse—the Miraculous Night Journey. I am still processing this experience. 

On Saturday, we walked the Via Dolorosa, and each took turns carrying a wooden cross and reading scripture from the Stations. One of my favorite places, along with way is the Fifth Station. This is where St. Simon the Cyrene carried the cross for Jesus. The reason for this station holding such a special place is that to the right of the station is a worn stone set in the wall. According to tradition, the imprint was made when Jesus stumbled and rested his hand upon the wall to keep his balance.  The touch of centuries of pilgrims has smoothed out the stone and made the depression deeper. During the prayers, I walked and placed my hand on the stone. Other Bishops asked what I was doing, and then I stood speechless as Bishops from across the world lined up and put their hands on the stone. I will never forget that moment. 

While all these sites have the presence of the divine, I am most moved by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Each time I visit, I lay my head on the stone of Calvary. I am always moved to lay my head on the Anointing Stone. I have touched these places where our Lord shared a deep love for humanity. The power of the resurrection tomb is far beyond any feeling, description, or fleeting thought. It is beyond our simple human understanding. 

During the pilgrimage, I established a close bond with all of the Bishops. Through conversations, there is the possibility of deep relationships with two specific Dioceses. Both Dioceses are indigenous first nation dioceses.  One is the Diocese of Amazonia served by Bishop Marinez Bassotto, the Bishop of Amazon, Brazil. She is the first woman elected in Latin America (+Griselda is in the Episcopal Church). Her Diocese serves a majority first nation population. Often she has to travel over 30 hours by boat for a visitation. Both Marinez and her husband Paulo were joyous. I often served as a translator moving from her Portuguese to my Spanish and then into English.  

I also spend a good deal of time with Archbishop Donald Tamihere, Primate of Aotearoa NZ & Polynesia. He lovingly and faithfully serves his Diocese composed of his people - the Maori. He told a story of the process to become their own Diocese. In short, they were left with little or no resources. Yet, they have persevered and are out proclaiming the Gospel. I could not help but reflect on how the vestiges of colonialism are still prevalent in the Church. Not only in New Zealand but throughout the world; yes, even in the Episcopal Church. There is a strength of the first nations. He sang prayers and shared deep wisdom. I must say his wife is absolutely wonderful. She had a fantastic presence and I know Suzanne will simply adore Kisa.  

These two dioceses are moving forward with faith, courage, and hope. With these two dioceses, I believe we can share our gifts of time, treasure, and experience. In return, they can share their gifts of time, treasure, and experience. We can learn for one another through relationships based on love and in Christ. 

I must mention that I have a new piece of jewelry. The Bishop of Amazonia presented each one of us with a wooden ring that has cultural and spiritual meaning to the people of her Diocese. I cannot fully recount the story with the same beauty as my sister, and please forgive if it does not have the same impact. A Bishop gave his gold ring to an Amazon Chief and apologized for the abuse of the land and people. Returning the gold because of the history of gold taken. In return, the chief presented the Bishop with a ring made of wood indigenous to the region. You cannot purchase the ring, it must be given to you. The ring signifies solidarity and oneness with the poor, disenfranchised, the abused, the marginalized, and the oppressed. Bishop Marinez stated that many people are buried with this ring. I now have a piece of jewelry that signifies something more lasting, and I will wear it from this day forward.  

The impact of this pilgrimage highlighted the importance of the Anglican Communion, we belong to something greater than just ourselves; this is the Body of Christ. We need to continue to deepen our relationship within the dioceses and people from throughout the communion. In much the same way, we need to continue to increase the bonds within our Diocese. We are bound by the ligaments of Christ.

In much the same way, this pilgrimage once again moved me deeper in my walk with the Lord. In much the same way, I realized the gifts we possess as a diocese. We have extraordinary people, churches, and faith. Let us not live in the past and go boldly into the future with the hope of the Lord. We have much work to do.  Let us go out into the world with the fire of the early disciples. The world needs us, and we need the world.  It is good to be home in my diocese. I am blessed to serve as your Bishop and know that I love you.  

Thanks to Archbishop Donald for allowing me to steal some pictures of the Dome of the Rock tour and the quote about pilgrims vs. tourists is from an author named Marc on Bad Catholic blog. 

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