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Visiting the land where Jesus walked; concelebrating Mass with Pope

Posted By June 5, 2014 | 1:10 pm | Lead Story #3
Madden picWEB

By William T. Clew

Father John F. Madden, pastor of St. John Parish, is back from a week-long tour of the Middle East, during which he visited holy sites in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth.
It was his second visit. He first went to the Holy Land 31 years ago, he said, when he was 24 and about to be ordained a deacon. This trip took a little more out of him, he said, because he doesn’t move at age 55 the same way he did when he was 24. And, he said, the spiritual experience was greater this time than it was when he was younger.
Another difference?
This time he concelebrated Mass with Pope Francis.
Father Madden was invited to join a group from the Jesuit Province of New England on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Father Madden is not a Jesuit. But he was able to make the trip because one of the people who had been scheduled to make the trip couldn’t go. He suggested that Father Madden go in his place.
Also in the group was Jesuit Father Miles Sheehan, provincial of the New England Province, along with five lay people. Father Sheehan also concelebrated Mass with the pope. The Jesuits had arranged for them to concelebrate, Father Madden said.
Father Madden said he left from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on May 22 and landed in Amman, Jordan, at 6 p.m. May 23. At 4 p.m. the next day he was at Mass in the Amman International Stadium.
He said the crowd did not fill the stadium. He estimated that there were about 30,000 people  there from all over the Middle East.
Father Madden estimated that there were fewer than 200 priests concelebrating the Mass. They sat in eight to 10 rows of chairs on either side of the altar. They included Jordanians, Palestinians, Iraqis, a few from Ireland and a couple of American Franciscans as well as Jesuits.
Father Madden said he did not get to meet  the Holy Father, but was very close to him during Mass.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said.    “I was struck by the low-key, focused liturgical style he has.”
He said the Mass started at 4 p.m. and was finished at about 5:30.
“He doesn’t fool around,” Father Madden said with a smile.
The pope gave a short homily in Italian. A bishop  immediately translated into Arabic for the audience. Father Madden said the Vatican provides an English translation which can be found on the Vatican web site.
At least as impressive as the Mass, Father Madden said, was the joy of the people in attendance. It was first Communion day for the parishes in Amman and the priests who concelebrated Mass also distributed Communion.
The rest of the week was spent visiting the holy sites in Israel, though Father Madden preferred to call some of the area Palestine. Crossing over the King Hussein Bridge, the main route from Jordan to Israel was a hassle, he said. He said customs officials treated people badly and didn’t seem to have much regard for them. He said his own bags were lost for four hours and they didn’t seem in any hurry to find them.
In the city of Jerusalem he visited the Wailing Wall where many Israelis come to pray, the Via Dolorosa or Way of Sorrow, where Jesus is said to have walked, carrying his cross, on the way to his crucifixion; Gesthemane, the garden near the Mount of Olives where Jesus prayed before his crucifixion; the Sepulchre, where Christ’s body lay for three days after his crucifixion, until he rose again, and the Upper Room, scene of the Last Supper.
In Bethlehem, he said, he visited the Church of the Manger and other sites. He said he also saw something on television that he found moving. It was the pope shown touching a wall of separation that cuts off Israeli and Palestinian settlements from one another and makes it difficult to get from one side to the other.
He also visited Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee, places where Christ had been.
“I appreciated that I had been in the land where Jesus walked,” he said.
He returned home on May 29. He brought with him the vestments  – stole and chasuble – that he wore at the Mass with the pope in Amman. He wore them again May 31 when he celebrated evening Mass at St. John’s. (Photo, page 3.)