Walking in the footsteps of the saints
Pope Francis urged leaders of the Kingdom of Jordan to support peace between Christians and Muslims. He also applauded the kingdom’s outreach to Syrian refugees once he arrived there.
While the pope celebrated Mass at the International Stadium in Amman, our group was just on the other side of the Dead Sea. We visited Qumran, near the location where the oldest Bible was ever found — the Dead Sea Scrolls.
We made our way through the ruins of the Qumran community, the Essenes, who settled here from Jerusalem. The ascetic Essenes sought spiritual purity, lived in community and their practice included twice-daily baths for cleansing. Whether or not the Essenes wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls is debated, but they likely formed part of their library.
It is speculated that John the Baptist was an Essene. John and the Essenes share some practices: the idea of cleansing through water, living in the desert and describing themselves as voices crying in the desert. But differences, including the belief that Jesus was the Messiah, linger between John and the Essenes. Nevertheless, as I walked through the ruins, it felt heavy on me — that this could be the dining room where John the Baptist ate, the hall where he made his way before going to sleep for the night. These were the mountains he saw when he woke up.
I’m only two days into my visit to the Holy Land, yet it’s somewhat overwhelming that every step I take could be on ground walked by my heroes — St. John the Baptist, St. Peter and St. Paul, the evangelists, the Blessed Mother — Christ Himself.
Earlier in the day we visited the Garden of Gethsemane. Tourists flock there, seeing olive trees that are hundreds of years old. Jesus spent his final hours here. Jerusalem’s wall looms. The soldiers came from the other side to arrest the Lord before he was executed. It’s a somber, but blessed place. Holy ground, where Christ prayed and “his sweat, like drops of blood,” fell on this ground. (Luke 22:44)
“We are not far from where the Holy Spirit descended with power on Jesus of Nazareth after his baptism by John in the River Jordan,” the pope said in his homily in Jordan. “The mission of the Holy Spirit, in fact, is to beget harmony — he is himself harmony — and to create peace in different situations and between different people.”