Jerusalem, Sanctuary of the Condemnation, 28 March 2012
The Christian community of the Holy Land continues the pilgrimages of preparation for the events of the passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus in this week leading up to Holy Week. In the afternoon of Wednesday March 28th at 5:00 p.m., the solemn commemoration of the Way of the Cross turns to the Chapel of the Condemnation, which, together with the Church of the Flagellation, is part of the Franciscan convent on the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem. Since 1923, this has also been the seat of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, the Faculty of Biblical Science and Archaeology of the Custody of the Holy Land.
Christian tradition places in this spot two events in the Passion of Jesus: the flagellation and the condemnation to death. The Sanctuary of the Condemnation was built in 1904 by Brother Wendelin Hinterkeuser, over the ruins of a medieval church which had come to light a few years earlier. The name of the original basilica is not known, but when the new one was built, it was dedicated to the commemoration of Jesus' condemnation to death, which continued in the adjacent convent of Ecce Homo. It is considered part of the Lithostrotos, the place where Pontius Pilate judged Jesus, and from which Jesus carried the cross. The stained glass of the central dome and the artwork along the walls of the Sanctuary recount several of the more dramatic moments from the life of Jesus: his questioning at the trial, flagellation, condemnation, and carrying the cross. It is here that the second station of the Way of the Cross, the imposition of the cross is located, marked on the external wall of the Sanctuary of the Condemnation at the beginning of the Via Dolorosa.
In this holy place, therefore, many of the faithful gathered to participate in the Solemn Mass preceded by Vespers in memory of the Way of the Cross, the path of pain that led Jesus, weighed down by the cross and condemned to death, to Calvary. Brother Gregor Geiger, Professor of the Hebrew and Aramaic Languages at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, presided over the celebration, with Brother Artemio Vitores, Custodial Vicar, and Brother Najib Ibrahim, Guardian of the Flagellation and Professor of New Testament Exegesis at the Studium Biblicum, concelebrating. Numerous members of the Franciscan community took part in the occasion, as well as male and female religious from the many congregations of the Holy Land. Also attending were local Arabic-speaking Christians and friends, volunteers and collaborators of the Franciscan Custody. The small church full, some participants found places outside in the convent’s lovely cloister, participating in the evocative celebration from there.
As the first reading, the liturgy offers the truly moving fourth song of the Servant of the Lord presented by the prophet Isaiah (Is 53:1-10), "spurned and avoided by men [...], pierced for our offenses [...] Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away". But the promise of redemption for all through Christ's Passion is already contained within this mystery of suffering, loneliness and abandonment: "If he gives his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through him." The passage from the Gospel of Saint John (Jn 19:16-22) tells of the moment when Jesus, taking up the cross, started out for Golgotha to be crucified. Here, under the gaze of many, "because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city", and put to death, an inscription was placed at the top of the cross, giving the reason for his condemnation: "Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews".
Jesus placed no limits on his love: "He loved his own and he loved them to the end" (Jn 13:1) and, obedient to the Father, loved God and did his will completely. Pope John Paul II wrote: "When Jesus is mocked and wears the crown of suffering he appears as the true King. His scepter is justice (cf. Ps 45:7). The price of justice in this world is suffering: Jesus, the true King, does not reign through violence, but through the love which suffers for us and with us. He takes up the cross, our cross, the burden of being human, the burden of the world. And so he goes before us and points out to us the way which leads to true life.”
Text by Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Bro. Giorgio Vigna