Israeli wall severs ancient pilgrimage route

An ancient pilgrimage route that follows in Jesus' footsteps, from the place where he raised Lazarus from the dead to Jerusalem, is about to be severed by the construction of Israel's nine metre wall.

According to Catholic News Agency, which cites a report in the UK Telegraph, the cutting of the three-kilometre path, from Bethany over the Mount of Olives and down past the Garden of Gethsemane into the Old City, will end a 1,600-year tradition begun by early Christian pilgrims.

The wall stands above the site revered as the place where Jesus performed the miracle of Lazarus a few days before his crucifixion. The Gospel of John describes how the miracle led many Jews to walk from Jerusalem to see what had happened.

Exactly the same route was used by 4th-century Christians, who travelled in large numbers to Bethany, located east of Jerusalem, for a service on the second Sunday before Easter.

Archaeological evidence also shows that Bethany was a thriving Jewish town in Jesus' time. The remains of ancient homes with ceremonial Jewish bathing cisterns were found near Bethany when the wall was being erected, and the route of the wall was diverted to protect the Jewish artifacts.

But today, Bethany is a Palestinian town, outside the wall, with a large Arab population. The wall has made life extremely difficult for thousands of Bethany residents who used to commute into Jerusalem for work.

The local economy has also suffered. The short drive from Jerusalem to Lazarus' tomb now requires pilgrims to make a one-hour detour. The thousands of pilgrims who used to come monthly have now trickled to a few hundred.

Israel is increasingly referring to the wall as the country's new eastern border. When the border is formalised, pilgrims will have to cross an international frontier.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague has declared the wall illegal, saying that it is being built on occupied land, but Israel continues to argue that it is a necessary defense against suicide bombers.

Israeli wall severs ancient pilgrimage route that follows Jesus' footsteps to Jerusalem (Catholic News Agency 18/4/06)

Vatican sees "weighty sentence" against Israeli wall (CathNews 13/7/06)

Pope weighs invitation to visit the Holy Land (The Tablet 15/4/06)
Security Wall to Bar Pilgrims' Path (Zenit 15/4/06)
Easter Message of Jerusalem's Latin Patriarch (Zenit 15/4/06)
Holy Land's Christians caught in midst of conflict (Reuters 12/4/06)
In the name of God do not boycott the Palestinians, say Jerusalem Church leaders (AsiaNews.it 12/4/06)
Easter message from Patriarch of Jerusalem (Independent Catholic News 12/4/06)

19 Apr 2006