After his itinerant mission in Galilee, Jesus “When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Luke 9,51).
In the description of his “ascent” to the Holy City, Luke shows a resolute Jesus who in a hurry: “he proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem” (Luke 19,28); tense and anguish-filled: “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12,50).
The destination of Jesus’ journey is Jerusalem, the city “who kills the prophets and stone those sent to you” (Luke 13,34), because “it is impossible that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem” (Luke 13,33).
It is the Messianic journey par excellence, the “march” of the Messiah King on the capital of his kingdom to take the throne, a throne of ignominy which will be transformed into a throne of glory with the resurrection.
The disciples, during this journey to Jerusalem with Jesus, were prey to fear: “They were on the way, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus went ahead of them. They were amazed, and those who followed were afraid” (Mark 10,32).
The same tension was also shown by Paul in his last journey to Jerusalem. “But now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem. What will happen to me there I do not know, except that in one city after another the holy Spirit has been warning me that imprisonment and hardships await me" (Acts 20,22).
This was Paul’s last journey to the Holy City and, to those who tried to dissuade him with prayers and tears from his decision to go there because he would be arrested, he answered: “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? I am prepared not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 21,13).
We can say that this attitude has been constant amongst pilgrims in the Holy Land.
For example, for Judeo-Christians, Jerusalem was the place exercising the greatest attraction; the Christians (once freedom for Christianity had been granted, from the 4th century) returned en masse, making it a Christian city; St. Jerome, like Origen, stayed there to live; lastly, the Crusades were above all on a pilgrimage to the holy city and, after its conquest, the Crusaders entered the Holy Sepulchre in tears, singing the Te Deum.
The purpose of St. Francis’s journey to the East, according to some sources, was “to visit the Holy Places, preach the faith of Christ to the infidels and earn the crown of martyrdom”.
Following the example of their Father, the Franciscans, for almost eight centuries, died and suffered the unspeakable to recover the Holy Places and make them accessible to pilgrims from all over the world.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, as soon as he heard the call from Jesus, also set off for Jerusalem in 1523 and would have “liked to stay there all his life” so strong was his love for Christ. Like them, many other men and women decided to live and die in Jerusalem to quench their thirst for God.
During his journey to the Holy Land in 2000, John Paul II was overjoyed at having fulfilled his desire to make a journey to the places of the salvation, following in the footsteps of the countless pilgrims who had preceded him, “it was,” he said, “like a return to the origins, to the roots of faith and of the Church.”
What is it about this city that exercises such a deep attraction on everyone? What is it that makes the Christian pilgrim come to Jerusalem?
Since the start of the Christian era, believers have turned to the “terrestrial” Jerusalem to see with their own eyes and touch with their own hands the Word of the Life that was manifested there. As well as being the place of the encounter with Christ, Jerusalem is the place of the birth of the Church, our Mother, and where the figure of Mary is understood better.
This is where we meet our other Christian brothers, who separated from us and who only in the Holy City feel at home; Jerusalem is the meeting place of all believers in a single God and the heritage of humanity, because God is the father of everyone; lastly, it is a symbol of peace and concord, a living emblem of the great ideal of unity, brotherhood and convergence between peoples which makes us all only one family. It is for these reasons that Jerusalem must stay “a city open to everyone”.
Fr. Artemio Vitores ofm
Vicary of the Holy Land