The end always brings you back around...On the first day of my fifth trip to Jerusalem in July 2007, I ended up where I was on the first day of my first trip to Jerusalem in June 2005.
After checking into my room at the American Colony; I headed down Nablus Road to the Old City once again. The stairway down through the Damascus Gate was packed with street vendors hawking cheap goods from China. It was shoulder to shoulder people until I arrived at the Via Dolorosa, the legendary route that Jesus walked while carrying a wooden cross. Only a few tourists were about, but I saw many more Israeli soldiers than the last time I was here in November 2006.
The shop owners were just as hungry to get me into their stores as they were before, but I told them all, "I am not buying anything today! I am on my way to the Pool of Bethsaida."
After many wrong turns and back tracking, I spied a Franciscan brother and inquired, "Do you speak English?"
He replied with a Cheshire grin-but no guile, "For you? Sure!"
"How do I find my way to the Pool of Bethsaida?"
"You have arrived! Go in there!" He laughed as he pointed to the left of where we were standing.
It was different than the last and first time I had wandered into the ancient "healing site," for renovations are in progress, but once more a most surreal sense overwhelmed me. For nearly an hour, I was the only human being who stood, sat, and meditated at a place where I had been 'twice' before and where Jesus asked,
"Do you want to be healed?"
In May of 2005, just prior to my first journey to Israel/ Palestine I phoned Mother Agapia Stephanopolous, a Russian Orthodox nun and the administrator of the Orthodox School of Bethany in Jerusalem, to schedule an appointment for Spiritual Direction and to discuss our mutual feelings about The Wall.
Mother Agapia is the sister of ABC News commentator, George Stephanopolous, and she had recently and passionately informed Congress about the fact that, "Israel is destroying the local Christian community."
On April 18, 2005, Robert Novak's article "Walling off Christianity" reported on the nun's letter to Congress and how East Jerusalem had been cut off from the rest of the West Bank. Mother Agapia predicted, "It is only a matter of time before Christians and Muslims will be unable to survive culturally and economically."
Mother Agapia spoke bluntly about the nine yards high wall of Israeli concrete that have "shattered" the Christian communities.
She told Novak, "I witness the strangulation of East Jerusalem, and the deprivation of her non-Jewish residents' religious rights every day. Even the United States seems to have been taken in by Israeli spin."
On my very first afternoon in Jerusalem, on June 12, 2005, the nun met me at the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem, and I told her that I hadn't been taken in by the spin, but what could I possibly do? She had no answer.