I was in Eugene, OR for the Easter Triduum, and it was a delight to see old friends and to celebrate those glorious three days, which included singing the Exultet at the Vigil. Two friends I visited were the indomitable Patricia Mees Armstrong and her doting husband, Richard. Pat's been living with cancer for as long as I've known her (and longer), while Rich is showing some signs of the onset of dementia (although some would argue he was quite demented when he asked Pat to marry him).
Pat passed on this Easter Exultet, which dovetails nicely with St. Paul's command to
Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, inasmuch as you are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 1Cor5:7-8
EASTER EXULTET Shake out your qualms. Shake up your dreams. Deepen your roots. Extend your branches. Trust deep water and head for the open, even if your vision shipwrecks you. Quit your addiction to sneer and complain. Open a lookout. Dance on a brink. Run with your wildfire. You are closer to glory leaping an abyss than upholstering a rut. Not dawdling. Not doubting. Intrepid all the way Walk toward clarity. At every crossroad Be prepared to bump into wonder. Only love prevails. En route to disaster insist on canticles. Lift your ineffable out of the mundane. Nothing perishes; nothing survives; everything transforms! Honeymoon with Big Joy!
Good morning on this exceptionally lovely spring morning in Colorado:
Welcome to all our visitors from around the world. We're delighted that you stopped by. We regularly deal with international matters that affect the Christian community and faith, so feel free to look through our archives and to come back.
When only 57% of a day's readership is from the US, we're obviously dealing with a topic of wide-spread interest.
However, As interesting as this discussion has been - I must work on other things today. I'm completely swamped.
Will blog as I can.
Perhaps Fr. Mike, who is just hanging around eating bon-bons this week, will be able to pick up some of the blogging slack????
Not to mention other people who would be nameless except their names are featured on our sideboard.
Since a number of other bloggers have linked to my original post on the whole Allam baptism discussion, I didn't want the essential discussion between Abu Daoud and I to get lost in the comment boxes so I'm moving part of here up here..
Because I have reservations about the wisdom of broadcasting Allams' baptism around the world, people have lept to the conclusion that I'm opposed to his baptism itself.
Nothing could be further from the truth. As I wrote to Abu Daoud:
As I have said already several times: I welcome Allam’s baptism. Really. Truly. As an individual, he should absolutely be welcomed with open arms and he and his family supported generously.
But that could have been done lovingly and well a thousand different ways – none of which required that his face and story blanket the globe within hours of his reception. Being baptized did not require that he become the poster-boy for Muslims considering Christianity and there were a number of obvious reasons why he isn’t a great candidate for poster boydom and may actually be counter-productive.
Apart from the geo-religious-political implications, all this publicity could actually hamper his spiritual growth and that of his family. Being a trophy convert is often not a good thing for one’s actual process of conversion.
Here’s the deal. No one, obscure or famous, gets baptized by the Pope during the Easter Vigil accidentally. And I didn’t notice Vatican spokesman offering comments and clarifications about the other 6 adults baptized in the same liturgy. Someone (and I don’t know who it was) decided to use a globally streamed event watched by hundreds of millions to transform an individual act of conscience into a global phenomenon. It is the wisdom of that decision alone that I question.
By now, we all know the power of the wall-to-wall 24/7 media for good and for bad. I was simply pointing out that there were all kinds of “unintended effects” when you do something like this. They were not intended but many were clearly foreseeable - like the fact that jihadists will use this image to spin their myth of the great “crusade” and that can cause a ton of additional grief for various Christian communities in the Muslim world.
And what is the great good to be achieved that out-weighs these very real possibilities for real people? I don't think that question was thought through carefully enough before hand.
". . .the punishment is imprisonment from two (2) years to five (5) years and a fine from 500.000 DA to 1.000.000 DA for whomever:
“ incites, constrains or utilizes means of seduction tending to convert a Muslim to another religion, or by using to this end establishments for teaching, for education, for health, of a social or cultural nature, or training institutions, or any other establishment, or any financial means,
“ makes, stores, or distributes printed documents or audiovisual productions or by any other aid or means, which has as its goal to shake the faith of a Muslim."
This new law is part of a specific campaign by the government to head off the spread of the first small group of native Algerian Christians. Muslim governments are often (like ours) driven to appease public opinion. An easy and very popular way to do that is to get tougher on religious dissidents like Christians. And TV/internet/You tube images enflame public opinion with lightening speed.
Now the die is cast. Zenit has come out with an interview with Allam about his conversion. For good and ill, Mallam, who has been a Christian for less than 48 hours has already become the public face of MBB's (Muslim Background Believers) for the global media and apparently for the Catholic media as well.
Read them to get more familiar with the realities facing MBB's who aren't famous and don't live in Italy. Many thousands of them. They and their families are just as important in the purposes of God as Allam and his family. When making these decisions, we can no longer simply let the urgency of western debates dictate what we do. Catholicism is truly global. We have to hold together the suffering of those persecuted now and the need to work toward true religious freedom in the future.
Since we aren't actively persecuted, it is easy for us to call for a full frontal assault ( Charge!) and "religious freedom now!" and to talk blithely about the blood of the martyrs being the seed of the Church. Cause the chances of it being our blood or that of our children is very, very small. But as I have said before, "charge!" and spineless cowardice are not the only two options available to us.
Meanwhile, someone really sharp, spiritually and theological mature, and prayerful needs to stay close to Allam and guide him through this tumultuous transition. It's hard enough to become a Catholic at age 56 from a non-Christian background. Doing it in the middle of a media and geo-political circus (Imagine if Princess Diana had become Catholic as was rumored before her death!) is full of potential pitfalls.
Allam and his family need our prayers. As do the many unheralded present and future MBB's around the world who are making their journey under often crushing circumstances.
Mike Ray, a proud atheist for 35 years, entered the Catholic Church this weekend with 73 others (Wow - great stuff is going on in Charlotte!)
As the article puts it:
Ray's story mirrors the changing American religious landscape in at least two ways: He's a switcher and a seeker.A recent survey found that nearly half of U.S. adults have left the religion they grew up in for another faith -- or no faith at all.
Ray did both.
When he decided after decades as a nonbeliever to return to church, he didn't choose the homegrown Pentecostal denominations -- Church of God, Assemblies of God -- his mother exposed him to as a child.
Instead, he found a new, midlife home in Catholicism, with its ancient sacraments and liturgy.
But to hear Ray tell it, he was first drawn to the Roman church not so much by its incense and rituals -- "smells and bells" -- than by its long tradition of contemplative prayer.
He craved spirituality, not necessarily institutional religion.
As a baby boomer, Ray belongs to "a generation of seekers," says Sean McCloud, professor of religious studies at UNC Charlotte. "Something has been going on since (they came of age) in the 1970s. ... The spiritual quest has become personal and individual."
Ray's path to becoming a Catholic was paved with books about silent, listening prayer by modern monks such as Thomas Merton and Thomas Keating.
At St. Matthew -- the biggest church in the Carolinas, with 26,000 members -- some people convert to Catholicism because they've married a "cradle Catholic," someone baptized into the faith as a baby.
"But the majority of (the converts) have been on a search," says Monsignor John McSweeney, who pastors the megachurch in the Ballantyne area, where Ray also lives.
Before being admitted to the seven-month-long program that leads to the official welcoming at the Easter Vigil, every conversion candidate has to be interviewed by McSweeney or one of the other priests.
The monsignor talked to Ray.
"A searcher," McSweeney says. "He made no bones about being an atheist (before). Then he realized he might not have all the answers. This thing called mystery and the presence of God hit him right in the eye."
Any encouraging conversion stories from your corner of the Kingdom this Easter?
The most prominent Muslim commenter in Italy, Magdi Allam, was baptized by Pope Benedict at the Easter Vigil in St. Peter's. Via CNN which also has special edited video of the event which has already made it to You tube as you can see below (he is the tall dark young man who is baptized second.)
"VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Italy's most prominent Muslim commentator converted to Roman Catholicism on Saturday during the Vatican's Easter vigil service presided over by the pope.
An Egyptian-born, non-practicing Muslim, Magdi Allam has infuriated some fellow Muslims with his criticism of extremism and support for Israel.
The deputy editor of the Corriere della Sera newspaper, Allam often writes on Muslim and Arab affairs."
Allam has already received death threats and security from the Italian government for publicly taking issue with Palestinian terrorists.
"The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said of Allam before the service that anyone who chooses to become a Catholic of his or her own free will has the right to receive the sacrament. "
"In the Il Giornale interview, Allam explained his complicated relationship with Islam and his affinity for Israel.
"I was never practicing," he was quoted as saying. "I never prayed five times a day, facing Mecca. I never fasted during Ramadan."
Yet he said he did make the pilgrimage to Mecca, as is required of all Muslims, with his deeply religious mother in 1991.
Married to a Catholic, with a young son and two adult children from his first marriage, Allam indicated in the interview that he would have no problem converting to Christianity.
He said he had even received Communion once -- when he was 13 or 14 -- "even though I knew it was an act of blasphemy, not having been baptized.
Egypt's highest Islamic cleric, the Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, wrote last year against the killing of apostates, saying there is no worldly retribution for Muslims who abandon their religion and that punishment would come in the afterlife.
Reaction to Allam's conversion was largely muted from Italy's Muslim community.
The Union of Islamic Communities in Italy -- which Allam has frequently criticized as having links to Hamas -- said the baptism was a personal choice.
"He is an adult, free to make his personal choice," the Apcom news agency quoted the group's spokesman, Issedin El Zir, as saying."
What to say?
First of all, I'd love to welcome Allam into the heart of the Church. There are other Muslims making the same commitment this Easter - all over the world and some in the US, I'm sure. A member of our Called & Gifted team in Indonesia was a former Muslim and I met a priest there who was also from a Muslim background. My friend Natalia, meets many MBB's these days (Muslim Background Believers) in the middle east these days. Some of the children of these converts are now entering into Christian leadership. They all need our personal support.
John Allen points out that Allam has been connected with Communion and Liberation for some time and that some Muslims may have already assumed that he was Christian because he has been so public about his most-Islamically incorrect opinions. Actually, this sort of gesture is beginning to sound like just the sort of thing that Allam would do.
However, there will be consequences for others.
Some Muslims who are seeking will be inspired to do the same thing.
And some will be persecuted and some may well die for this.
Why? Because it is so extraordinarily public. The image of a famous Muslim receiving baptism from the Pope's hand in St. Peter's at the most solemn liturgy of the year was watched live by hundreds of millions and now has already circled the globe. It is being prominantly covered by every major news agency in the world as I write - including in the Muslim world. Allam's personal decision could not possibly have been dramatized in a more-in-your-face manner.
To us it is an important gesture of religious freedom and freedom of conscience. To fundamentalist Muslims, it is an open act of public contempt for Islam and humiliation by the most prominent Christian in the world. This is a jihadist spin doctor's dream come true. It won't matter that Allam was never really a practicing Muslim, married to a Catholic wife (A Muslim man is permitted to marry a Christian woman but a Muslim woman may not marry a Christian man in Islam), and living in Italy for a long time.
Will there be reprisals against the Pope? I don't know. We should be praying for him and everyone else involved assiduously. Might it endanger Allam and his family? Absolutely. Might some Italian by-standers be hurt? Its possible. How about Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan? You betcha. But it will certainly affect the lives of Christians living in the Muslim world for years to come. This kind of needlessly public gesture makes them shudder.
By all means, let us propose the gospel to all and welcome all who desire to follow Christ. But lets also be wise and think of the price that they may have to pay that most of us will never face.
Historically, this sort of gesture has actually hamstrung the cause of the gospel in the Muslim world by exacerbating the enmity against those considering baptism, isolating converts from their natural social network, and making the price of conversion the loss of all family (including children) and friendship ties. The result: only the already marginalized became Christians and many didn't go the distance because the social isolation was too terrible to bear. The breakthrough happened when Christians stopped demanding individuals convert in a way that doomed them to isolation and started to work with whole families, tribes, and people groups.
Quietly. Without fanfare. And with great effectiveness.
Because the west is not the whole world. Indeed, we are now a clear minority within the global Christian community. And much that God is doing in our generation isn't about us: our debates, history, and sensitivities.
I'm dreaming of a white Resurrection - just like the ones I've never known!
And my dream has come true. The Vigil begins at 4 am at my parish and runs to about 6:30 am (only catechumens baptized and confirmed at this liturgy, candidates for full communion were received on Palm Sunday), Then the parish provided breakfast for everyone and we stepped out at 7:30 into a white wonderland.
As a child, I used to dream of someday experiencing a white Christmas (instead of Seattle's famous wet Christmas) but not a white Halloween, Thanksgiving, New Years, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's and Easter.
But I absolutely draw the line at a white 4th of July. Which is fine as long as I don't get too uppity and spend the 4th on the continental divide where all bets are off.
In any case, rain, snow or balmy spring, "Christ is risen!" He is risen indeed!"
The Holy Father recalled this in a homily he gave on Jan. 25 in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls at the end of Christian Unity Week: "Unity with God and our brothers and sisters," he wrote, "is a gift that comes from on high, which flows from the communion of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit in which it is increased and perfected. It is not in our power to decide when or how this unity will be fully achieved. Only God can do it! Like St Paul, let us also place our hope and trust 'in the grace of God which is with us.'"
Today as well, the Holy Spirit will be the one to lead us into unity, if we let him guide us. How was it that the Holy Spirit brought about the first fundamental unity of the Church, that between Jews and pagans? The Holy Spirit descends upon Cornelius and his whole household in the same way in which he descended upon the apostles at Pentecost. So, Peter only needed to draw the conclusion: "If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?" (Acts 11:17).
For a century now, we have seen the same thing repeat itself before our eyes on a global scale. God has poured out the Holy Spirit in a new and unusual way upon millions of believers from every Christian denomination and, so that there would be no doubts about his intentions, he poured out the Spirit with the same manifestations. Is this not a sign that the Spirit moves us to recognize each other as disciples of Christ and work toward unity?
It is true that this spiritual and charismatic unity is not enough by itself. We see this already at the beginning of the Church. The newly formed unity between Jews and Gentiles was immediately threatened by schism. In the so-called Council of Jerusalem there was a "long discussion" and at the end an agreement was reached and announced to the Church with the formula: "It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us..." (Acts 15:28). The Holy Spirit works, therefore, also through another way, which is that of patient exchange, dialogue and even compromise between the different sides, when the essentials of the faith are not in play. He works through human "structures" and the "offices" put in action by Jesus, above all the apostolic and petrine office. It is that which today we call doctrinal and institutional ecumenism. * * * However, experience is convincing us that even this doctrinal ecumenism is not sufficient and does not advance matters if it is not also accompanied by a foundational spiritual ecumenism.
The extraordinary thing about this way to unity based on love is that it is already now wide open before us. We cannot be hasty in regard to doctrine because differences exist and must be resolved with patience in the appropriate contexts. We can instead "be hasty" in charity and already be united in that sense now. The true, certain sign of the coming of the Spirit, St. Augustine writes, is not speaking in tongues, but it is the love of unity: "Know that you have the Holy Spirit when you allow your heart to adhere to unity through sincere charity."
One thing must move us forward on this journey. What is in play at the beginning of the third millennium, is not the same as what was in play at the beginning of the second millennium, when there was the separation of East and West; nor is it the same as what was in play in the middle of the same millennium when there was the separation of Catholics and Protestants. Can we say that the way the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father or how justification of the sinner comes about are the problems that impassion the men of today and with which the Christian faith stands or falls? The world has moved beyond us and we remain fixed by problems and formulas that the world does not even know the meaning of.
From this we see that today there are two possible ecumenisms: an ecumenism of faith and an ecumenism of incredulity; one that unites all those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that Christ died to save all humankind, and an ecumenism that unites all those who, in deference to the Nicene Creed, continue to proclaim these formulas but empty them of their content. It is an ecumenism in which, in its extreme form, everyone believes the same things because no one any longer believes anything, in the sense that "believing" has in the New Testament.
"Who is it that overcomes the world," John writes in his first letter, "if not those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1John 5:5). Sticking with this criterion, the fundamental distinction among Christians is not between Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, but between those who believe that Christ is the Son of God and those who do not believe this.
Five Reasons the Cross was the Most Suitable Way for Our Redemption
In his Summa Theologica, St. Thomas gives the following five reasons for why the Crucifixion of Jess was the most suitable way for our redemption (III. Q.46, Art. 3). They are worth pondering during this Holy Week:
In the first place, man knows thereby how much God loves him, and is thereby stirred to love Him in return, and herein lies the perfection of human salvation; hence the Apostle says (Romans 5:8): "God commendeth His charity towards us; for when as yet we were sinners . . . Christ died for us."
Secondly, because thereby He set us an example of obedience, humility, constancy, justice, and the other virtues displayed in the Passion, which are requisite for man's salvation. Hence it is written (1 Peter 2:21): "Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps."
Thirdly, because Christ by His Passion not only delivered man from sin, but also merited justifying grace for him and the glory of bliss, as shall be shown later (48, 1; 49, 1, 5).
Fourthly, because by this man is all the more bound to refrain from sin, according to 1 Corinthians 6:20: "You are bought with a great price: glorify and bear God in your body."
Fifthly, because it redounded to man's greater dignity, that as man was overcome and deceived by the devil, so also it should be a man that should overthrow the devil; and as man deserved death, so a man by dying should vanquish death. Hence it is written (1 Corinthians 15:57): "Thanks be to God who hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." It was accordingly more fitting that we should be delivered by Christ's Passion than simply by God's good-will.
As St. Augustine says (De Trin. xiii): "There was no other more suitable way of healing our misery" than by the Passion of Christ.
I remember how surprised and relived I was year ago when I came across a statement of Pope John Paul II that Christ did not die to satisfy God's justice but his father's love. I called Mark Shea and read it to him over the phone and he too was surprised but delighted.
Man Knows Thereby How Much God Loves Him.
O happy fault that brought about so great a salvation.
In 1994, one year after Denver's World Youth Day, the archdiocese registered 2,000 converts, more than any diocese in the country. Mass attendance was up 8.05 percent, whereas before it had been falling. Enrollment in Catholic schools increased 7.72 percent. Over this period, the total number of Catholics increased only 1.76 percent, so most of these gains came from pre-existing Catholics more interested in practicing the faith.
I can tell you that I've heard over and over again from Denverites that World Youth Day was the beginning of so many good things for the Archdiocese. My sister went - even though she is not Catholic - and loved it. Like so many, she felt an amazing connection with Pope John Paul II even though she only saw him at a distance,
And there's more:
In Ireland, applicants for the priesthood spiked by 20 percent in 1980, one year after a September 1979 papal visit. French Catholic authorities reported a similar phenomenon after John Paul's August 1997 visit for World Youth Day.
My question: what is the difference between the impact of World Youth Day vs. a more standard issue papal visit?
While the papal presence is hugely important for World Youth Day, what seems even more critical is the experience of being with hundreds of thousands or millions of other enthusiastic young Catholics for an extended period of time. Part of the impact is the joyful, beaming, dancing, welcoming, artsy, praying, make-a-million-new-friends-international Christian "Woodstock" atmosphere of the whole thing. (It was designed for the young. I'm always amazed at the sour comments from some conservative Catholics about World Youth Days past. Its not supposed to be a silent retreat!)
World Youth Day is an exceptionally happy experience of living Christian community, prayer, and life which transcends a million physical inconveniences. It's an experience of evangelization.
Obviously, a standard papal visit doesn't last 4 days nor is it supplemented with hundreds of other events all designed to jump start or enflame one's faith.
In a standard papal visit, the personality, gestures, and message of the Pope is the center in a "purer" way. So the difference in personality and style between John Paul II and Benedict XVI casts a bigger shadow.
You may have seen this before, but it's worth reading again on this day in which we celebrate Jesus' generous feeding of his disciples with his own body and blood. The mandatum - the command to wash one another's feet - also is reflected in this insightful story.
A holy man was having a conversation with the Lord one day and said,
"Lord, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like."
The Lord led the holy man to two doors.
He opened one of the doors and the holy man looked in. In the middle of the room was a large round table. In the middle of the table was a large pot of stew, which smelled delicious and made the holy man's mouth water. The people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles that were strapped to their arms and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful.
But because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.
The holy man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering.
The Lord said, "You have seen Hell.
They went to the next room and opened the door. It was exactly the same as the first one. There was the large round table with the large pot of stew which made the holy man's mouth water. The people were equipped with the same long-handled spoons , but here the people were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking. The holy man said, "I don't understand.
It is simple," said the Lord.
"It requires but one skill. You see they have learned to feed each other, while the greedy think only of themselves."
I have been in Eugene, OR, giving a Holy Week parish mission - rather unusual - and I have been busy visiting old friends and singing Tenebrae (worth another post, I imagine), and NOT watching NCAA basketball (just so you know, Sherry). I have to practice some music for the Easter vigil - specifically the Exsultet - and a beautiful Randall Thompson Alleluia. I also have offered to help with music tonight, so I'd better hop to it. The choir director's given me all tenor parts (including a high A), when I'm actually a baritone. Gotta practice my falsetto.
Bloggers ought to interested in H20news because it "is a Catholic news service on a worldwide scale that creates and distributes multimedia news, every day, in eight languages. The news focuses on the life of the Church and on social and cultural events that directly pertain to Catholics living in the world.
H2onews offers its multimedia services free of charge to Catholic television, web sites and radio stations so that the Pope’s words and news about the Church are available to everyone interested."
H2onews was born during the First World Congress of Catholic Television in Madrid in October 2006, hosted by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
Radio stations, TV stations and websites can subscribe to carry their videos and this should make your ears perk up.
According to their website, non-professionals like you and me can function as local stringers in future, creating our own videos of news, and if they are considered newsworthy, they will be translated into 8 languages and distributed via H20news.
A lot of Catholic media organizations, including Vatican TV and Radio, Salt and Light TV, and EWTN, are involved in this new venture and it sounds like a really creative initiative.
This year's Good Friday Way of the Cross in Rome was written by Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun of Hong Kong. The theme: the voice of today's living martyrs, especially those in China. The stations will be taken entirely from the Gospel of Mark and do not follow the traditional Catholic set. Apparently, that means that these stations will not include St. Veronica's wiping of Jesus' face.
"The cardinal, who long has been outspoken on the lack of full religious freedom in mainland China, said this was the pope's way of bringing attention to Asia and involving "the faithful of China, for whom the 'Via Crucis' is a devotion" many hold close to their hearts.
"The pope wanted me to bring to the Colosseum the voice of those faraway sisters and brothers," he wrote in the introduction to the mediations and prayers released by the Vatican in Italian March 18. The 64-page booklet was illustrated with 20th-century Chinese Christian art from the Society of Divine Word's archives.
While Christ's suffering and passion are the focus of the service, "behind him there are many people, past and present," such as all the living martyrs of the 21st century, he wrote.
Cardinal Zen said he accepted the pope's invitation with "little hesitation," but soon discovered, much to his surprise, that his early drafts did not reflect a very Christian attitude.
He said he had to step back and purify himself of the "less than charitable feelings" he had toward those who made Jesus suffer and who "are making our brothers and sisters suffer in today's world."
In "thinking about persecution," he wrote, "let us also (think) about the persecutors" and how even they are being called to salvation by God."
It is good to see the realities of global Catholicism reflected in some of the most solemn parts of the Triduum in Rome.
It brings back many memories of my own 3 week visit as a young evangelical. In those days, I was exceedingly dim about the differences between Catholics and Orthodox and the various ancient rites to be found in Jerusalem. They were all "other" but I was fascinated so I visited every church and shrine on the Mt. of Olives. I stood praying in Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock (which struck me as the most beautiful of all the sites I visited). With my evangelical sensibilities (Quaker no less!) I found the centuries-old darkness of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher off-putting and was stunned when my native Palestinian guide offered to take me to Mary's tomb.
But I also got to visit an ancient, tiny family home on top of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and see the step in the Church upon which Ethiopian monks had been jealously perched for centuries. I watched but (thank goodness) had enough sense not to enter the little prayer shrine below the Rock upon which Mohammed's winged horse, Burqa, supposedly leaped into the heavens. The Intifaada was underway and it was strictly for Muslims only.
With a click of a mouse, we can see what many generations of Christians longed to see. Amazing.