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Holy Places

by Msgr. Robert L. Stern

Monument [from the Latin to remind] 1. A statue, pillar, plaque, etc. erected to perpetuate the memory of a person, event or historical period. 2. A tombstone. 3. Any conspicuous or fine structure surviving from the past. 4. An area or plot of land having some special or historical interest and set aside by a government as public properly.

Shrine [from the Latin a case or chest]. 1. A receptacle for sacred relics. 2. A place, as a tomb or a chapel, sacred to some holy personage or considered as sanctified by the remains or presence of such. 3. A thing or spot made sacred by historic or other association.

Usually once a year I have the happy privilege of leading a group of pilgrims on a journey through the Holy Land. As they visit sites that appear so different from their childhood images, most question, “Is this really the place?”

I explain that not all holy places are the same.

Some holy places are actual historical locations, identified by traditional, documentary and archeological evidence.

Other holy places only serve to focus our reflection on some aspect of our faith or biblical happening.

As we walk from place to place, in our minds and hearts we are journeying through space and time from one event to another, meditating on the mysterious designs of God.

Over the centuries, Jews, Christians and Muslims have built great shrines in the Holy Land to remind pilgrims and visitors of persons and events of the past.

Some of these shrines mask the place they commemorate. For example, the mosque-synagogue in Hebron covers the cave of Machpelah, the burial place of the Patriarchs. The Cenacle, which pilgrims visit in Jerusalem, is but the remains of a church built over the spot where the house of the Last Supper once stood.

Other shrines reveal not only the place they enclose, but even the history of faith associated with it. In Nazareth, the Church of the Annunciation marks the place of the house of Mary and even shows the remains of the successive churches built on the site over the centuries.

“Exactly where is the spot?” pilgrims ask at many shrines. “Was it right here or over there or where?”

What’s the difference! If you’re praying at Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, clearly the crucifixion took place in the immediate area. If you’re anywhere in Bethlehem, Nazareth or Jerusalem, you’re incontestably visiting a holy place.

For that matter, if you’re in Israel or Palestine – or Jordan, Lebanon or Syria – for sure you are in a part of the Holy Land. In fact wherever you are, you’re in the one world made holy by the creation and intervention of the one God, the Lord of all.

Alas, believers often quarrel about the access to, use or possession of monuments or shrines. Would that we would all realize that we live in and share one holy place!

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Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA



Tags: Holy Land Pilgrimage/pilgrims