Yesterday was Pentecost and I spent most of Moze Shabbat trying to find out where to go to see the festivities. When I lived in Jerusalem in the 90s, I witnessed the (impressive yet slightly scary) frenzy connected to the miraculous appearance of the Holy Fire in the Holy Sepulchre, and now it was time for Pentecost. For sure, this important holiday, symbolizing the authorization and legitimization of the nascent Church, would be the subject of some serious celebrations here.
But in spite of checking out every website I could think of–from the official tourism sites to the Custodians of the Holy Land, all I learned was that Fr. Pizzaballa had been confirmed as a Custos of the Holy Land (“here since the 13th century”), that Pope Benedict XVI would visit Cyprus in June, and that the German-speaking Protestant community has stationed a lot of clergy in Jerusalem.
I felt a bit ill in the morning, and it was almost noon by the time I walked over to the Old City and I suspected that I would have missed most services. Not surprisingly, the place was pulsating with people: pilgrims from all corners of the world, the obligatory sullen Israeli soldiers who were being dragged to tourist sites in an attempt to instill some awareness of the importance of Jerusalem for non-Jews and, surprisingly, Israeli school classes seemingly sent on a similarly educational quest. There were many Russians, most memorable among them a woman whom I encountered as I was leaving the Holy Sepulchre: Setting foot into the Church, her camcorder catching every single moment for the loved ones back home, her free hand was making furious signs of the cross–it was a sacred moment after all, in spite of the huge camera in front of her face. Many of the tourists were young–I was used to seeing a elderly women in black who looked as if they had saved a long time for the trip, with big bundles of the 33-candles pack in their hands, each one diligently lit and extinguished before the Sepulchre of Christ. But today, I saw young couples (perhaps locals after all?), happily posing for pictures against the backdrop of hundreds of fellow pilgrims, Jerusalem stone (although the actual location hardly seemed to matter) and the piercing sound of church bells.
P.S.: After a talk about the afterlife of Stefan George–in itself fascinating–I met a Franciscan who patiently told me that there were no processions on Pentecost, and that in any case, Catholic processions in the Holy Land at least were restricted to the Holy Sepulchre. Now I probably should have remembered this, Pbut at least the reading enabled me to discuss Fr. Pizzaballa’s reconfirmation and the massive presence of German pastors in the Holy Land…