Lent in Jerusalem

By Kathryn Jean Lopez Published on March 7, 2023

Jerusalem β€” Any day of the week here, the 4:30 a.m. Muslim call to prayer may wake you up. As a Christian in this holy land, it calls me, too. And, sure enough: If you head out the door to the Old City, you will be joining Muslims, Jews and Christians going to their houses of worship.

This is Holy Ground

I think I would find it hard to be an atheist in this city; so much here points to God. For a Catholic, being at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is mind-blowing.

Pilgrims wait in line to touch a stone upon which the blood of Jesus may have fallen. Whether or not the spot is exactly right, this is holy ground.

At my first Mass here, I joined some Spanish pilgrims. I received the Eucharist and I unexpectedly wept. One of the pilgrims offered me tissues. She embraced me, and after Mass, when I thanked her, she assured me in English: “God loves you so very much.” She may have thought I was in distress. But it was more like wonder.

Preserving Tradition

I’m here on a fact-finding trip sponsored by the Philos Project, investigating tradition. How do different Jewish and Christian communities keep that which is most precious to them in the face of all of the philosophical and physical challenges of modernity?

The most striking cultural difference from the United States is the observation of Shabbat. My plane got me in as sundown neared on a Friday night, and as commercial activity ceased in observation of the Jewish sabbath. As a traveler, this practice can be inconvenient, but to focus on that is to miss the point. It’s a time to forget the petty demands and distractions of everyday life, a time to look at the person in front of you and to listen. Enjoy a walk. God’s creation surrounds us, and yet we can miss its beauty as we hurry to our next responsibility. How many American families are way too used to mom or dad traveling for work and not being there? How can we be there more? How can we slow down, even as we make our contributions to our part of the world?

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The Holy Land is a place to stop and reconsider priorities. At the Western Wall, I am moved by the Jews gathered in prayer. Both times I’ve been in the Holy Land, Lent has been in its beginning days. It’s an ideal time to come, a time when examples of faith, tenacity and hope are front and center.

Every community here has a story: Ultra-Orthodox trying to make their way in the midst of resentment; a Druze family that lives differently, even as the man of the household serves in the Israeli Defense Force; Palestinians, many of whom feel like second-class citizens, still managing to lead successful lives and to work for a better future. Israel presents a different model than my native New York’s celebrated melting pot. Here the distinctions are preserved and even celebrated, if only within one’s own community. Identity is life-giving, when it isn’t being used as a bludgeon or as a platform of victimhood.

What can we preserve of our own traditions? How can we make better decisions in a secular society? What is God asking of us? (It’s often different than what we have planned.) You don’t have to travel to Jerusalem to walk in the footsteps of the prayerful and remember the great faith that has supported our ancestors and can be our bedrock, too, if we are willing to let it — and take some quiet days of recollection and reconciliation.


Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author of the new book A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living. She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York, and is on the board of the University of Mary She can be contacted at [email protected].

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