Pilgrims from ICS Experience Church of the Holy Sepulcher
Seminarians from Immaculate Conception Seminary (ICS) at Seton Hall University, led by Bishop Arthur Serratelli, visited Jerusalem on a nine-day tour. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, identified as the site where Jesus was crucified, was the highlight of the journey. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher commemorates the hill of Crucifixion and the tomb of Christ’s burial. According to information on various Web sites, the church originally was built under the order of the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine in 330 A.D. The Persians destroyed the original Byzantine church in 614 A.D., however it was quickly rebuilt. The Egyptian caliph al-Hakim destroyed the church in 1009 and had the tomb hacked down to bedrock. The Crusaders later rebuilt the church.
The most dramatic moment of the journey came when the group visited The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, traditionally identified as the site where Jesus was crucified and where Christianity literally marks its origins.
Along with 22 other seminarians, John Carlos De Sousa visited historical religious sites in Jerusalem. The seminary organizes trips every few years to religiously significant areas. De Sousa attended the last ICS trip to Greece two years go.
Most Rev. Arthur Serratelli-the bishop of the Diocese of Paterson and a former auxiliary bishop of Newark-led this year's tour: "The Holy Land, the Fifth Gospel." Bishop Serratelli provided historical and scriptural background for all of the sites.
"Since the third century, people have gone on pilgrimages to Jerusalem," De Sousa explained. "We were living the Scripture readings where the events actually happened."
The New Jersey pilgrims visited areas such as Mount Tabor-the site where Jesus was transfigured and where the Basilica of Transfiguration is now located-and the Sea of Galilee.
"When we reached a site, Bishop Serratelli would read the Gospel and lead a spiritual and historical reflection. It was definitely a learning experience for me. I was excited to live Scripture and see what the apostles have seen," De Sousa said.
The seminarians visited two or three locations per day on the nineday trip and would participate in a spiritual evaluation and critical analysis of scripture. De Sousa felt a deep spiritual impact at Dominus Flevit-the site where Jesus cried while overlooking Jerusalem.
"There were two places (in the Gospels) were Jesus cried. Bishop Serratelli explained that He cried for His people who did not see salvation. We were in the spot where Jesus wept and you can see the view of Old Jerusalem as He did. It was incredibly moving for me."
In his second trip to the Holy Land, seminarian Matthew Do-oley appreciated the journey and how it related to his theological education. "All the sites make scripture three dimensional," Dooley said. "The visit brings them to life. It makes them tangible and visible."
Understanding the culture of Jerusalem also was important for Dooley. "The gist for me was understanding the variety of cultures that exist in the Holy Land from Jesus' time-the Aramaic and Palestinian culture and to see the life where Christ came from. It is such a beautiful country."
The highlight of the journey was visiting the Holy Sepulcher- the location of Jesus' crucifixion and death. (See Web sites for background information and photos: www.bibleplaces.com/holysepulcher.htm
Dooley said this site had the greatest impact on the group. "It was powerful to be in the place of the death of Jesus. It connects one to history and a tradition of faith and belief. Bishop Serratelli enhanced the experience. There are many layers to our faith and to have a scripture scholar present it peeled back some of the layers. It was a rare opportunity and I am grateful. "
Even in the politically tense climate of the Middle East, De Sousa and the other seminarians never felt threatened or uncomfortable while visiting the Holy Land. "We were in a secure area and I never felt uncomfortable," De Sousa said. "We had an Israeli guide that said 90 percent of tourists and pilgrims go and see only 1 percent of Old Jerusalem. At night, we walked around the hotel area and felt safe. As tourists, we are the livelihood for the people in that area so we felt protected. The Israeli government is good at controlling the border and investigating. There were no spot checks in the city but checkpoints on the highway coming into the city."
Although most of the sites are considered by scholars to be approximately where the actual Biblical events took place, the Church of Holy Sepulcher has long been demarked as the historical site of the Crucifixion. The spot has been marked since the 1st century. The Roman emperor Hadrian originally built a temple to the pagan god Venus on the site to prevent Christians from making pilgrimages.
"The Holy Sepulcher is the site where Jesus was buried," De Sousa said. "Just to be in a spot where Christ was, makes it so real and vivid. Our faith says Christ lived, died and rose from the dead, but to actually be there makes it more moving."
The atmosphere of the Holy Sepulcher took seminarian Bob McLaughlin aback. "I was surprised by what I saw. It was quite different than what I expected. It was dark, lots of candles and was very Medieval-looking. It was unassuming and unlike anything I ever saw in America. It wasn't a big cathedral."
Being present in the actual locations in Jerusalem provided visual evidence from scripture and deepened De Sousa's faith. "When Jesus was crucified, it is written that His blood spilled and split the rock on Calvary. When I walked there, I saw a crack in the actual rock. They did not just make these things up. It is factual. It is here."