Kathy's and my last Jerusalem adventure (besides making it through Ben Gurion airport security with our fellow St. John's pilgrims in a couple of hours) felt a little like a Dan Brown novel -- with the final chapter yet to come.
Our quest began yesterday morning at the Holy Sepulcher, when St. John's pilgrims DJ and Duane and I met with Rev. Fergus Clarke, a Franciscan priest assigned to that holiest of churches. He told us that in the mid-second century, the Romans desecrated the site of Jesus Christ's resurrection and built a Roman temple on top. To reach the stone of Jesus's actual tomb, industrious Christians dug a tunnel under the temple which, Fr. Fergus said, still exists.
While the Greek Orthodox Church now claims sovereignty over the Edicule and therefore Christ's tomb underneath, some years ago the Roman Catholics managed to acquire a significant amount of the tomb stone. Somewhat opaquely, Father said those who should go to the Christian Quarter and enter the grounds of St. Xavier Church though the entrance on St. Francis St. might be able to obtain a small cross containing a piece of the Real Stone.
That's all Kathy needed to hear. By mid-afternoon Saturday, we had shouldered our way through the human tide at Damascus Gate (it was shopping day in the Arab suk) to St. Francis St. Here's where it gets a little weird. As though she knew exactly where we were going, a small, lively woman in a blue sweater (shown here) motioned toward a door with a smile. We opened it for her and followed her through.
We were now in the vast, hushed domain of the Custodia di Terra Santa, the Roman Catholic Church's Jerusalem HQ. The woman gave us some advice about Arab merchants and went on her way. We made several inquires and learned that the store selling the treasure we sought would reopen at 3:30 p.m. (notwithstanding the sign on the shop door saying it closed at noon on Saturdays).
Kathy wanted to stay; I wanted some coffee. Within ten minutes I had found a cafe and cappuccino and was enjoying a conversation with Rev. Adam Civu, a Roman Catholic priest from Uganda who's been living in Jerusalem for 27 years. He described a tour he'd taken of churches in 17 U.S. states and counseled me about preaching in terms people could relate to personally. "Isaiah says that our sins will be cleansed so as to be 'white as snow,' but we don't have snow in Uganda," he said. "So I would say, 'as white as cotton'."
Just then, in a moment Fellini would've loved, the woman in the blue sweater entered the cafe and asked if I knew where the WC was. I did, as a matter of fact, so I opened the door and turned the light on for her. She smiled and handed me an empty pink plastic bag for safekeeping.
She left, and soon I said goodbye to Fr. Adam. Making my way back to Kathy, I saw the woman once more. I handed her the pink bag, which she had failed to collect when she left the cafe. She asked me about my children, and I asked about hers -- two sons and five daughters, only one living nearby. "I am alone now," she said. By the time I reached the Custodia, Kathy had learned that the only priest permitted to sell pieces of the True Stone had been in the hospital for a month. She managed to obtain his business card. Looks like we're coming back to Jerusalem.