Wednesday, 21 March 2018

The wider family

As a follow-up to the previous post about the Capuchins who live here in Jerusalem, it makes sense to introduce you to the other people living in the same compound. We Capuchins live in the largest building, which has capacity for about 50 guests; but there are smaller buildings and wings that are inhabited by other religious orders or put to ministerial use.

Firstly, there are the Ursuline sisters, living in a wing on the other side of our church. Sr Claudia (the taller one) runs a centre for immigrant children - of which more in a later post. Sr Sandra works at the offices of the Latin Patriarchate.

Living in a house at the bottom of the garden, a house which was for a long time the friary, are the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist. Sisters Monica, Naomi, and Mary David (left to right) assist a project for traumatised children in Bethlehem, which was founded by their congregation, but they also work for the Latin Patriarchate and the Franciscan Custody in Jerusalem. (Sharp-eyed Coventrians may notice their cross of nails; but apparently it has a separate origin to Coventry Cathedral's cross of nails.)

Finally, in a corner of the property is a small house used by the Josephites (a congregation inspired by Blessed Charles de Foucauld). The current resident is Padre Giovanni Paolo.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

The Capuchins in Jerusalem

Although I have shared a lot about my experience here in the Holy Land, I have somehow omitted one of the most important parts of that experience - the men whom I live with. So herewith I introduce the Capuchin fraternity of Jerusalem.

Br. Kevin is from Tamil-Nadu in India. He has a degree in botany  (hence he is our expert in the garden) and another in information science, and he worked for a pharmaceutical company before joining the Order. During formation he volunteered to be a missionary and soon after ordination he was sent to Zimbabwe. After 15 years there, during which he served two terms as Custos (the minister for all the Capuchins in the country), he agreed to be assigned to Jerusalem as guardian of the friary. He has now been here nearly two years, getting the place well-organised.

Br. Chipaya is from Zimbabwe, where his father was the chief of his home village. His Capuchin life has been almost entirely in Zimbabwe; but last year he agreed to come to Jerusalem to help out Br. Kevin in running the friary. He is currently sweating hard over learning Hebrew.

Br. Yunus (no photo, sorry!) is the longest-standing member of the fraternity here - he has been in Jerusalem for nearly 10 years, studying and slowly working his way towards a PhD in early antiquity archaeology (which he will complete this June). He is originally from Turkey, of Armenian descent, but joined the Capuchins in Italy.

Br. Santosh is from Karnataka Province in India, but ministered for 12 years to tribals in Mizoram in the northeast of India. He has been in Jerusalem about 2 years, working as a chaplain to immigrants of his own language (this ministry means he keeps us supplied with Indian food). He sometimes also acts as a guide for groups of pilgrims to the Holy Land. 

Br. Gian Nicola was born in New York to Italian parents, and the family moved back to Italy when he was 13. It was there he joined the Capuchins, but he oscillates between identifying as Italian or as American, depending on his mood or other circumstances. He is in the early stages of a PhD in Biblical studies at the Hebrew University.

Br. Ebin is from Kerala in India. Unlike the majority of Capuchins from that state, he is of the Latin rite, not the Syro-Malabar rite (this fact is very important to him). He is in Jerusalem to study for a licentiate at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum.

Br. Rakesh is from Andhra Pradesh, India; but while still studying for the priesthood was sent to Switzerland, as part of the reinforcements for the Capuchins there. He is now in Jerusalem to complete his studies for ordination, for which purpose he goes to the Salesian College; but he will eventually return to Switzerland, where he now feels at home.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Earthquake in Papua New Guinea

This is a bit of a diversion from my posts about the Holy Land; but as many people already know, I have visited the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. What you might not know, because it has had little coverage in the news so far, is that the same area has recently been hit by an unusually large earthquake. Many people live in remote villages, some of which have been completely swept away by landslides.

It breaks my heart to think of the suffering of these poor people, who were always so welcoming and friendly. The normal aid agencies don't seem to be involved (as yet); but one way of sending help is to the Diocese of Mendi, which covers the affected area. The bishop (a Capuchin) has provided an initial assessment of the damage. I've been waiting to hear from him about the best way to send funds directly to the diocese; but communications are intermittent, it seems. In the meantime, this page provides some guidance about donating to the diocese.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow...

...they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you...

...even Solomon in all his glory...

...was not clothed like one of these.
(Matthew 6:28-29)

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Is this the actual place?

The sad news from Jerusalem, which has understandably been overshadowed by the ongoing slaughter in Israel's northern neighbour Syria, is that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been closed indefinitely, in protest at changes in Israeli policy that will(intentionally or unintentionally) damage the Christian presence here. Huge claims for tax (arnona, the equivalent of British 'council tax') have been suddenly slapped on the various churches, with some bank accounts being frozen so that the municipality can seize the monies, and then in addition a bill was being proposed that would either enable the government to expropriate some church properties or at least make it more difficult for the churches to sell property in the future (depending on what reports you read).

***UPDATE: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has now been re-opened, thank God. It seems the Israeli authorities have backed down.***

The closure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a big deal for two reasons:

Don't mess with the beards
1. Several different Christian denominations (Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox...) jointly manage the church, so the decision to close it was an example of concerted Christian action from groups that traditionally have found it hard to agree on anything. So thumbs-up to the Israeli authorities for promoting the cause of Christian unity :-{)}

2. For most Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem, the church is the primary holy place to visit, because it contains both the hill (actually just a big piece of bedrock) of Calvary, where Jesus was crucified, and the place of His tomb, where He was buried and then rose again from the dead.

Many news articles will say something like "the church is considered by many Christians to be the site of Jesus' crucifixion, tomb and resurrection" - and in fact most reports, books, and guides will make similar conditional statements, like "traditionally supposed to be" or "reputed", about sites associated with Jesus' story or other Biblical events. Because in most cases we can't know for sure if it is the actual place, after 2000 years of successive destructions and rebuildings, etc. With regard to Jesus' place of crucifixion and burial, however, we can be as sure as one can ever be that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the actual place it purports to be.

The reason for this, ironically, is the Roman empire's attempt to wipe out the Christian faith. When Jerusalem was rebuilt as a Roman city under the Emperor Hadrian, they deliberately built a temple of Jupiter over the place venerated by the Christians as the tomb of Jesus and they likewise set up a statue of Venus on top of Calvary. So, although the first Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built a full three centuries after the death and resurrection of Christ, the places had been conveniently marked by pagan idols. All St Helena (the mother of the Emperor Constantine) had to do was get the temple of Jupiter demolished and the tomb of Jesus was discovered underneath. Some of the basilica that she built still forms parts of the current church.

OK, you might say, but how do we know that the temple of Jupiter was built in the right place? The Emperor Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina a full century after the time of Christ, and some people might be sceptical about how the people would still know where Calvary and the tomb were; but that is only a short time in terms of oral tradition.

To use an example from my own life, I know the house in Coventry where my maternal grandmother lived as a girl. I've never been in the house, because the family moved out before I was born; in 40 years time, if I'm still alive and have my memory, I'll be able to point the house out to my sister's and brother's grandchildren and tell them about how Grandma and her family watched the bombing of Coventry during WW2. And that will be over 100 years after the event.

So if that could happen with something as insignificant as one family's house, how much more likely is it that the Christians in Jerusalem would remember a place of such huge significance as the tomb of Jesus? That is why I tend to be fairly accepting of traditional claims about holy sites, so long as the tradition can be traced back to within a couple of hundred years of the actual events.

It's also worth noting that Christianity is an avowedly historical religion, in that it is based on things that actually happened in particular times and places. Even if we can't always find the exact spot of some event (e.g. Emmaus seems to be hard to identify), we know that we at least have some idea and that we're probably pretty close.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

The Sea of Galilee

Thanks to the hospitality of the Benedictine sisters in Tabgha, I was able to spend three days by the Sea of Galilee. Some things are obviously different from when Jesus walked around (and on) that lake - such as the banana and mango plantations - but the landscape and climate is otherwise much the same. It was considerably warmer than Jerusalem, being about 1000m lower, and the rains of winter made it much greener than my previous imaginings. In many ways it was reminiscent of Wales or the Lake District in summertime. Apart from the palm trees, etc.

The main purpose, of course, was to visit the sites of the Gospel stories. It was fascinating to be in places where I know that Jesus and His disciples walked, talked, and ate. They've even built a church on top of one of their breakfast tables, as well as building another one over St Peter's house.

This is the aforementioned breakfast table,
where Jesus and the disciples ate some fish and bread (John 21:9-14)
The view outside the church (the water used to come up to the rocks,
but years of low rainfall and increasing use of water mean that the level has dropped significantly)

The church over St Peter's house in Capernaum

This rock marks the place where Jesus fed 5000 with five loaves and two fish (Mark 6:35-44)

Not everything had a church built over it: this is the view from the Eremos,
a small cave where Jesus sometimes prayed

This is one possible site of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)

No particular connection to Jesus; but this rock hyrax (Proverbs 30:26)
seemed to be posing for a photo, so I duly obliged

Monday, 19 February 2018

J.R.R. Tolkien sings

Not very well, admittedly. But this example of his singing Galadriel's Lament (Namarie) is of geeky interest for something other than its quality.

The other week we had a dinner guest, Fr Guglielmo Spirito OFMConv., who is part of a research project looking at the influence and role of music in Tolkien's work. He has acquired the music sheets used at the various churches in Oxford that Professor Tolkien attended, and was pleased to discover that in this recording he is singing Galadriel's words to the same tune that the Dominicans in Blackfriars used to sing 'The Lamentations of Jeremiah'.