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 Letter from Elizabeth

 

Unveiling of statue of St Oliver Plunkett by Archbishop Eamon Martin: October 2019

On 9 July I joined people from all over the diocese of Armagh and beyond at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh for the unveiling of the statue of St Oliver Plunkett in honour of martyrs yesterday, today and tomorrow.

I was invited to join Archbishop Eamon, and clergy of the diocese for a cup of tea before Mass. I was delighted to meet a number of friends and also Archbishop Eamon who is a great supporter of The Sacred Heart Messenger. I asked the archbishop what he thought of the initial drawings, and of his expectations for the statue soon to be unveiled, and his response was revealing. He said that he had decided very early on that he would wait for the unveiling of the statue, seeing it for the first time in union with everyone else. In his homily Archbishop Eamon shared with the congregation the guidelines he had given to the artist Dony MacManus

“I asked Dony if he could inspire both devotion and admiration for the courage and serenity shown by St Oliver in face of such an horrific execution. Secondly, I wished that his work would speak into the reality of Christian persecution today; but, most importantly, I asked Dony if he could help us to see, in this sculpture of St Oliver, the face of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who humbly gave his life for us on the cross”.

After chatting with some people at the cup of tea I decided that I would go over to the Cathedral and spend some time in prayer before Mass started. I was very blessed to have a seat right beside the statue. For the first time in my life I was on the VIP list and shown to the VIP seats (needless to say I got some good-natured teasing from my colleagues when I told them I was a VIP). As the benches filled with people I could see that this new statue meant a lot to the people of the diocese. By the time mass started every seat was taken. There were people of all ages and many families with young children. The entrance hymn started and the procession of priests of the dioceses were joined by a number of bishops from other dioceses and Cardinal Sean Brady. It was a solemn moment as each priest approached, kissed the altar and took their seat in the sanctuary of the Cathedral. Throughout the mass the choir added to the solemnity and dignity of the occasion in their choice and execution of each hymn. Their first hymn in honour of St Oliver was full of meaning and very much a prayer in itself.

The opening prayers and readings of the Mass were carefully chosen and the whole occasion was drawn together by Archbishop Eamon Martin in his homily.

I have chosen the following paragraphs from Archbishop Eamon’s homily to share with you because they invite us to think and pray for Christians around the world who at this moment are suffering persecution and yes even martyrdom. Often we forget or are indifferent to the suffering of people who seem far away from us. But you know they are not that far. During my time in Tunisia I experienced a hidden Church; a persecuted Church and I can fully identify with Archbishop Eamon when he says:

“St Oliver experienced that hope and “greater love” by imitating Jesus our Saviour, who willingly gave his life on the hill of Calvary for the forgiveness of sins. All over the world today, people are living their lives inspired by that same hope and “greater love” that only Christ can bring. In some parts of the world, our brothers and sisters in Christ are finding strength to endure suffering, or even death, for their faith – the news in recent months from Sri Lanka and Burkina Faso reminds us that persecution and martyrdom are not something from the past, but are a cruel reality today for many of our fellow Christians, of all traditions and denominations.

Jesus said to His disciples: “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me before you”. It is said Christians nowadays are not only being persecuted because of “hatred of the faith” (odium fidei), but also because of ‘hatred of love’ (odium amoris) – because they are standing up in the name of Christ for peace, reconciliation and justice and in defence of the poor. Christians are being punished for witnessing to human rights and dignity; they are condemned in some places for reaching out to the exploited, to refugees and migrants, to travellers and to those on the margins of society; they are being insulted and ridiculed for speaking up for the lives of the most vulnerable and innocent, including the lives of unborn children.

Artist Dony McManus and Archbishop Eamon Martin

For me, there is a passage in Archbishop Eamon’s homily that speaks to me of his compassion for people. He is very aware of their struggles and suffering. He is aware of how faith and hope in Christ is tested by the struggles of ordinary life. I think like me you will find the following passage inspiring: Archbishop Eamon says:

My hope is that when people feel their faith is being tested or growing weak, they will visit St Oliver’s shrine here in the Cathedral and find strength and healing. I want people to come here to experience God’s love and closeness when life is getting them down, and they are losing hope – whether it be in their relationships or in their chosen vocation. I invite people to visit Saint Oliver’s shrine when they are afraid of what lies ahead for them, or when they are concerned about the direction which their family members are taking in life. May all who come here look up at the statue of St Oliver and gain serenity, courage, wisdom and hope for themselves and for others. Remember, on the day of St Oliver’s canonisation, Pope Paul VI said: “The message of Oliver Plunkett offers a hope that is greater than the present life; it shows a love that is stronger than death”’.

There were two other moments at the end of mass that have stayed with me and come back to me often. The first was the reverence and respect of the congregation as they silently moved towards the alter to venerate the relics of St Oliver Plunkett, and the second was when each person approached the statue of St Oliver, placed a hand on the foot of the statue and looked up at the face of the saint. Many spent a moment or two then kissed St Oliver’s foot and moved off. I noticed that quite a number of people remained silent, deep in their own thoughts while many more were anxious to take photos and meet the artist. I was just happy to observe and wonder what Oliver might think of it all!

As the crowd thinned out and the last few people just stood looking I was captivated by the statue. I was deep in thought and awestruck by how the artist had captured the movement of St Oliver. St Oliver is walking towards certain death. An unjust death, a wrongful death. Yet, he like Christ has forgiven his executioners.

As I stood there deep in thought Archbishop Eamon stood beside me and asked, ‘Well, Elizabeth what do you think?’ ‘Beautiful, I replied, just beautiful’. He seemed satisfied and went off to take a closer look.

Elizabeth Foley | Tel: 01 775 8530 | Mobile: 087 230 9219 | Email: e.foley@messsenger.ie

 

Medjugorje: An Experience: September 2019

The Risen Lord, Medjugorje

There are moments in our lives that are so ingrained in our memory that they remain with us for a lifetime. One such experience happened for me in 2007, when I made a pilgrimage to Medjugorje.

For years I had heard stories from people who had been there on pilgrimage. Stories of people, good people, kind people, who lived their faith daily in a very real way. And yet their pilgrimage to Medjugorje had changed their lives, deepened their faith and called them to a greater commitment to a Christian life. The more I heard about Medjugorje, the more I wanted to go there, and in May 2007, travelling with a group, including one friend, I got there.

Of many things, one thing stands out from my time in Medjugorje: the Stations of the Cross on Cross mountain. Making the Stations of the Cross in Medjugorje was a truly unique experience, and one I would like to share with you.

The Stations of the Cross in Medjugorje follow a very rough path up the side of a mountain. It is a path of large boulders, stones, shingles and clay and in places deep ruts. People with hip and knee replacements are advised not to ascend due to the dangers of the rough terrain. For some reason I decided to walk the stations alone and in my bare feet! Perhaps because over the previous days I had prayed constantly with the scripture of the Passion, and I was deeply aware of the pain and suffering of Jesus on my behalf. I let my group go ahead of me and when I felt they had gone a safe distance I removed my shoes and socks and started off.

I need to say here that it was not bravery or arrogance or courage or even madness that filled my mind at that point. It was more a fear of failure, fear of pain, and in some part humiliation in thinking that I could ever really understand even to a small degree the pain that Christ had endured on his way to Calvary. This decision reflected for me a deeply spiritual need to unite with Christ in this journey, and to listen to what he had to say to me as I walked this path with him. I had often done the Stations of the Cross in Lourdes. I had even tried to walk it once in my bare feet, but I failed, only managing a short distance. I am not sure what possessed me to think that I could even attempt this much more difficult climb.


Medjugorje stations

The first hundred yards were so painful that I feared that I could not take another step. I felt every small stone pierce the soles of my feet. I gasped in pain as I fought the urge to give up before I had even reached the first station. My eyes were fully focused on the ground looking for a flat stone or soft bit of clay to take the next step. Needless to say this was a very slow process. People passed me on all sides. I eventually reached the first station where I found a large boulder to sit and rest for a moment.

My eyes filled with tears and I was overwhelmed by all sorts of emotions. Relief at having reached the first station was uppermost in my mind. I prayed silently for the courage to continue this journey knowing that I had to trust in Christ. In my imagination I began to review the scripture passages of the Passion. I imagined Jesus as he stood before Pontius Pilate. I imagined the crowd surrounding Jesus as he began his journey to Calvary. I watched as the cross was placed on his shoulder. I got to my feet and once again I began the journey of the Way of the Cross but this time I was not alone, this time I was aware that Jesus and I were making this journey together.

Step by step, I found myself praying a verse from long ago when my mother had taught me how to pray the Stations of the Cross in our local Church: ‘We adore You O Christ and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world’. With every painful step I repeated this prayer. What happened over the following hours, as I climbed and stumbled, prayed and cried, was extraordinary. I focused on each station as I moved towards it and slowly each station seemed to come towards me more quickly. It was so strange! It wasn’t that the path between each station was shorter, if anything the actual length and difficulty increased the higher you climbed.

With great relief I finally reached the top and the last station. I sat for some time in prayer. My feet no longer pained me. To my bewilderment there were no scratches, bruises or cuts on either foot and no blisters! My feet were perfect and pain-free. I put back on my socks and shoes and just sat. I felt good. I wasn’t tired or thirsty or hungry. I had expected to feel exhausted. After some time in prayer, I started back down the mountain having met up with my small group again. To this day, some twelve years later, I am amazed and grateful for that experience.

When I climbed that mountain that day doing the Way of the Cross I know now that it wasn’t under my own steam that I accomplished that journey, Jesus was with me every step of the way. I learned so much about myself that day, and about the power of prayer and trust in Jesus. Even today when things seem to overwhelm me I think of that day and I just put one foot in front of the other, praying repeatedly and walking on, hand in hand with Jesus.

Elizabeth Foley | Tel: 01 775 8530 | Mobile: 087 230 9219 | Email: e.foley@messsenger.ie

 

Christian Martyrdom – July/August 2019

St Oliver Plunkett

When you hear the word ‘martyr’ what springs to mind? I think of the early Church and the first Christians: Steven, the first martyr, was stoned to death. Throughout the past two thousand years of Church history people from all walks of life and every part of the world have been martyred for the Faith. There are many we know about and perhaps many more who we will never know about because their sacrifice is known only to God. Thousands of books have been written and many martyrs canonised and the Irish Church has had its share of martyrs over the centuries.

When I was in school we learned about St Maximilian Kolbe and how he and many others during the Second World War gave their lives to save others. Throughout my years of study I have always been fascinated by the lives of the saints. I felt inspired by the lives of those saints who gave themselves in the service of the poor, the excluded and the unwanted. In living memory, I think of people like Mother Teresa and the great work she did among the poorest of the poor. I think of Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, who worked his whole life to change attitudes towards the intellectually disabled, and who built communities where they could live their lives in friendship and love, and could reach their potential as valued members of the wider community.

Africa
In my life I have been privileged to live and work with amazing people; people deeply committed to Christ, and who were willing to go to extraordinary lengths to help the sick, the excluded, the poor and the abandoned. When I first went to Africa in the 1980s the Aids virus was beginning to take a deadly toll on people in rural villages. Many religious sisters bravely sacrificed their lives to nurse and care for people who were dying, and who had no one to nurse them. I think, for example, of Sister Marie Dominique, whom I was privileged to meet, who returned to the Ivory Coast to continue her work in the full knowledge that she herself was dying of cancer.

While in Africa, I met with doctors and nurses who administered programmes for the treatment of leprosy, which were difficult to maintain due to the nomadic nature of people’s lives. Travelling for weeks to find work, they only attended the treatment clinic sporadically when they returned to see their families. This led not only to the spread of the disease but also to the rapid progression of the disease in the sufferers themselves. Visiting a village dedicated to the treatment of people suffering with leprosy, I met an Italian sister who had lived there for over sixty years. She was the last of the sisters remaining in this area and she told me she would rather die here among her people than abandon them.

Ten years later when I lived in North Africa I saw this same dedicated service among the religious sisters and brothers and priests who lived there, often in difficult circumstances among a hostile population. They witnessed to Christ’s love for all humanity by living and working among the people. I can recall one community of French and Italian sisters who lived in a poor area, in a house the same as that of other families. They did the same work as the women around them. Two of the sisters worked in a clothing factory and two elderly retired sisters worked among the families in the area. They were loved by the people they lived amongst, particularly the women whom they helped in many small ways. I realise it may be hard for you to understand how this life could be difficult, but often these communities of sisters lived in very primitive conditions among people hostile to their very presence because they were, first and foremost, Christians.

Oliver Plunkett
Did you know that St Oliver Plunkett, who was canonised on 12 October 1975 by Pope Paul VI, was the first Irish person to be canonised for almost seven hundred years? I find this quite astonishing!

In St Oliver Plunkett we discover a man who spent a large portion of his life in exile because of the political situation in Ireland in the seventeenth century. When he returned to Ireland in 1670 as archbishop of Armagh and primate of Ireland (Appointed 9 July 1669) he spent the next twelve years, until his death by execution, courageously, tirelessly and with deep faith and hope serving an oppressed people. He endured many personal hardships and dangers but he never failed to bring understanding, reconciliation, hope and courage to every situation. He braved difficult conditions to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation to thousands. He recognised that his congregation, though poor in material wealth, was rich in terms of spirituality.

The Litany of Christian Martyrs is as old as the Church itself and sadly it continues today. If we look at the first nineteen years of the twenty-first century we see the road to martyrdom winds through the following countries: Kenya, Somalia, Zambia, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, France, Turkey and Sri Lanka. In all of these countries and many more the dark night of persecution goes on, lit only by the stars of men and women giving witness to the light of Christ. ‘The light the darkness could not overpower’ (Jn 1:5).

Last November 2018 on Red Wednesday Day, Archbishop Eamon Martin in his homily announced his intention to erect a shrine in St Patrick’s Cathedral Armagh to honour all victims of persecution and martyrdom in the Diocese of Armagh and around the world who, like St Oliver Plunkett, gave their lives with courage and deep faith for Christ. Red Wednesday is a day each year when we remember Christian martyrs and those who have died for their faith.

On the 9 July 2019 in Armagh Cathedral, on this the 350th anniversary of St Oliver Plunkett’s appointment to the see of Armagh, a statue will be unveiled in his honour and to honour all those who, like him, were persecuted and martyred for the faith. This statue will honour the martyrs of today, yesterday and tomorrow.

We cannot be indifferent to the suffering of our fellow Christians today. Are we, as committed Catholics, willing to risk ridicule, insult, and criticism even within our own families? Are we willing to talk about our sincerely-held Christian views on the dignity of the person, the right to life, the right of religious freedom and respect for all human beings?

Are we complacent about the privilege we have to practice our Faith openly, and are we aware that this freedom does extend to everyone equally?

I hope you will decide to make a pilgrimage to St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh to see this new statue of St Oliver Plunkett and take the time to reflect on and pray for the thousands of Christians throughout the world who today are persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. I pray that your faith may be deepened and that you may be inspired to bear witness to the Faith with the same courage, hope and self-sacrifice as St Oliver did in his day.

Elizabeth Foley | Tel: 01 775 8530 | Mobile: 087 230 9219 | Email: e.foley@messsenger.ie

Holy Land: The Western Wall – April/May 2019

Elizabeth at the Western Wall

Firstly I would like to thank all those promoters who have contacted me about this series of reflections on the Holy Land, which has been running since January 2018. It has really resonated with a lot of people who have visited the Holy Land, and also with many more who wish to visit.

This month I decided to write about the Western Wall, also known to Christians as the Wailing Wall. I was intrigued by the name ‘Wailing Wall’ and wondered where the name came from. In fact, it refers to the practice of Jewish people weeping at the wall over the destruction of the Temples (the first was destroyed in 586BC by the Babylonians, the second in 70AD by the Romans). The Western Wall was a part of the extended second Temple, erected by Herod the Great. Wikipedia gives a brief overview of the history of the term ‘Wailing Wall’:

It [the Western Wall] has also been called the ‘Wailing Wall’, referring to the practice of Jews weeping at the site over the destruction of the Temples. During the period of Christian Roman rule over Jerusalem (ca. 324–638), Jewish people were completely barred from Jerusalem except to attend Tisha be-Av, the day of national mourning for the Temples, and on this day the Jewish people would weep at their holy places. The term ‘Wailing Wall’ was thus almost exclusively used by Christians, and was revived in the period of non-Jewish control between the establishment of British Rule in 1920 and the Six-Day War in 1967. The term ‘Wailing Wall’ is not used by Jewish people, and increasingly not by many others who consider it derogatory. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Wall)

When you enter the Western Wall plaza there are a number of things that strike you. Firstly, it is a huge area surrounded on all sides by buildings. Secondly, the height of the Western Wall is overwhelming. It towers above you as you stand to look at it. Thirdly, the memorial to the six million Jewish people killed during the Shoah overlooks the plaza, and the weight of this crime seems to hang over the whole area.

As I approached the wall I noticed that it was divided into two areas: one for men and one for women. The area for men was much larger and I was fascinated by what I observed. I stood for what seemed like ages as men and boys prayed aloud in groups or in ones and twos. I was entranced by the rhythm of their prayers and the foreign sound to my ear. The men wore their prayer shawls (Tallit) and Schull caps (Kippah) and held copies of the Siddur, the Jewish Prayer Book. Every man, Jewish or non-Jewish, who approached the wall to pray, had to wear the Kippah. I was with an elderly couple from our group who wanted to pray together but had to separate to go to the wall. They prayed silently for a time together and then they each went to the wall to pray. When they returned they held each other for a long time and I prayed that their prayers be answered.

As for me I waited some time before I approached the wall to pray. I had dreamed of praying here, and now as I stood before the wall a complete silence came over me. All around me women of every age and nationality prayed both silently, aloud and at times in great cries of anguish. Pieces of paper with people’s prayers were wedged into every crack in the wall. I just stood for a time with my hands flat against the wall and my forehead resting against the stone. It took me some time to find my inner voice to pray. Then I became aware of a woman beside me who was deeply distressed. She was African and spoke in a language I didn’t understand but by her cries of pain I understood that she was suffering terribly and I could not ignore her cries. I felt I was there with her in her pain and perhaps she was vocalising some of the pain that I too felt at that moment. I put my arm around the shoulder of this stranger and just united my prayer with hers. I don’t know what came over me. Here was this woman I had never met, and her anguish and distress just cut through my heart. She accepted my gesture of solidarity and eventually her sobs subsided and she was calm. We each continued to pray. I had closed my eyes and had entered deeply into prayer and when I opened my eyes some time later the woman had left. I prayed that she would find God’s divine peace in her heart.

This experience of the Western Wall stayed with me for a long time. Over the following days I often thought about the woman and wondered about her story. I struggled to understand what Jesus was trying to tell me through this particular experience. It had a profound effect on me. I found myself thinking about the millions of people who have prayed at this site going back centuries, and now I too am one of their number.

Since my trip to the Holy Land I have had occasion to think of the woman I prayed alongside at the Western Wall. Just as I did not ignore her cries of anguish that day, I find myself trying to listen to the many cries for help that I hear all around me; for example the homeless, the elderly who are alone, families caring for a member with a serious illness and the many parents trying to bring up a child with special needs with little support or resources. These are only some of the cries for help I hear regularly but in reality I no longer actually ‘hear’. I am afraid that they are at risk of not being heard by me because I have become numb to them. They are a familiar part of life, so familiar in fact that I am at risk of not hearing them or even being touched by them. It is easy for me to say to myself that really there is nothing I can do but, just like that woman I met at the Western Wall, whom I was willing to put my arm around, I am sure that if I am willing to be open to at least trying to help that Jesus will show me how.

Elizabeth Foley | Tel: 01 775 8530 | Mobile: 087 230 9219 | Email: e.foley@messsenger.ie

 A Trip to the Holy Land – Part 11/March 2019

 

Typical streets in the Old City of Jerusalem

In the last days of our trip to the Holy Land we finally arrived at Jerusalem. We visited the Garden of Gethsemane, the Via Dolorosa, the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall, and the Syriac Orthodox Church. Each place was for me a very unique experience. In this reflection I want to share with you a little about the Syriac Orthodox Church also known as the Church of St Mark which I visited with just a few of the group I travelled with.

I should start by giving you a little history about this Church and why it was such an important visit for me. The Church of St Mark is home to one of the smallest and oldest Christian communities. It is situated in the north-eastern corner of the old city’s Armenian Quarter on Ararat Street which branches off St Mary’s street.

The convent has been continuously owned by the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch for 2000 years. The convent stands on the House of Mary, the mother of John, known as Marcus, who was the pupil of St Peter the Apostle and the companion of St Paul in some of his journeys.

The convent and the church have kept their simple style as was established. Successive archbishops enthroned to Jerusalem did not wish it to be ornamented and did not try to mis-shape it with vague worldly decorations. In fact, they kept its simple historic style that preserves its authenticity and adds to its piety and spirituality.

The convent was renewed in 73 A.D. after the Roma Commander, Titus destroyed Jerusalem. Later, it was renewed again in the 6th century during the rule of Justinian. The lower rooms still keep the Roman and Byzantine styles. It was later renewed during the Crusader era and the upper rooms still hold the poles and arches that resemble the Crusader style.

The church was destroyed by orders of the Egyptian Caliph Alhakim Al-Fatimi in 1009 AD. Since 1728, many bishops of the convent have renovated and upgraded the place according to need. As for the Altar, the Baptism Basin and its Dome, the Archbishop’s Throne, the Liturgy-Book closet, the Relic of the Saints and many icons in the church they date back to 1733 A.D.

It is important to mention that the library of St.Mark’s Convent includes many ancient books and valuable ancient manuscripts in the Syriac language, some of which date back to more than a thousand years.’
(Text from syriacorthodoxarchdiocese.wordpress.com)

The Syriac Orthodox believe that this church is built on the site of the Upper Room and is therefore the location where the following events took place: The Last Supper (MK 12:12-25), the election of Matthias as an apostle to replace Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:21-26), the Post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples, including the one in which he showed doubting Thomas the wounds in his hands and side (Jn 20:24-28), and the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts:2 1-4).

As you approach the door into the courtyard of the church, set into a pillar is an inscribed stone discovered during the restoration in 1940. This inscription, believed to date from the 6th century, is in ancient Syriac. It says: ‘This is the house of Mary, mother of John, called Mark. Proclaimed a church by the holy apostles under the name of Virgin Mary, mother of God, after the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven. Renewed after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in the year AD 73.’

As you walk along the narrow streets looking for the Church of St Mark this inscription is the first thing you see that indicates you are about to enter a very special place. A large wooden door opens out into a small courtyard. The door to the church is narrow and the church very small. The first thing that struck me as I entered the church was that it seemed very solid, with walls of thick, bare blocks of sandy stone. It is sparsely decorated with ancient Icons. The floors worn shiny from centuries of pilgrims come to visit this holy place. The Icon of the Virgin Mary, painted during her lifetime by St Luke the Evangelist, believed to date from 50 AD, is situated on an altar to the right of the main altar. And the main altar is simple but ornate at the same time.

The real gem I found was a room under the main church accessed by a narrow stone stairway. This room is believed to be the Upper Room. We were not allowed to photograph this room so I do not have a photo to share with you. But again it is very simple with a stone altar but no decoration, not even an Icon, just the bare stone walls. Here the walls are very different from the main church. It is as though they had been hewn from solid rock. There are no chairs or benches, we just stood to pray or sat on a mat on the stone floor. This was indeed a place full of atmosphere, a place of silence and reverence where I felt humbled to the point where prayer was a deep silence that invaded my mind and heart.

I stayed in this room for some time in prayer. Many of the gospel scenes flashed through my mind. Scene by scene I followed Jesus through the last supper. Silently, I observed Jesus as he washed the disciples’ feet. Slowly, the whole passage of scripture came to me and seemed to play out before my eyes. I was unaware of anyone else in the room with me; lost as I was in prayer. As this scene passed from my mind I seemed to come back to the room in which I stood and I felt a peace and joy that I had not felt before. I offered a prayer of thanksgiving for this place so peaceful and silent in the heart of this busy city.

When I returned to the main Church I met a woman I had noticed on the way in. She has dedicated the past eighteen years of her life to this church. Here she stays day after day telling anyone who wants to know the history of the church and stories about the many people who have come to visit and pray. She spoke English in a very unique way. She seemed to sing the words. She told us she was from Armenia and had been a teacher in her native country. She was a pleasant woman who seemed to burst with the desire to share all her knowledge with us. I have to be honest I remember little of what she said. But I do remember one thing that seemed to inhabit my heart for a long time afterwards. She asked if we would like to hear her sing the Our Father in Aramaic (the language spoken by Jesus) and now only spoken by as little as a million people worldwide. We quickly agreed and once more her voice took on a different tone. She sang loud and clear and for the first time she smiled. It was pleasant and prayerful and I must admit I was a little in awe. I felt privileged that in that little church some 2000 years old the words of the Our Father rang out in Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

This experience will always remain for me one of the highlights of my visit to the Holy Land and strangely as many of the places I visited fade from my memory and are recalled only by the photos I took, this one place has remained a treasured memory clear as though I had only just visited it yesterday. And indeed I do visit it often in prayer!!

Elizabeth Foley | Tel: 01 775 8530 | Mobile: 087 230 9219 | Email: e.foley@messsenger.ie

 

The Wisdom of Time – February 2019

Do not dismiss what the old people have to say, for they too were taught by their parents; from them you will learn discernment and how to respond in time of need. (Sirach 8:9)

Have you ever noticed that in life different things speak to us in different ways? It may be a film or a play or a book or a radio interview. This happened to me recently.

As you may know I spend a lot of time in my car travelling all over Ireland visiting promoters. The radio is my constant companion on these journeys. One of my favourite programs is Today with Sean O’Rourke. On Thursday 29th November Sean did an interview with Fr Des O’Grady SJ. It was a powerful interview. I had to stop driving and just listen because it is not often we get such first-hand insights from someone living with Alzheimer’s disease, as Fr Des has done for the past number of years.

I admired the respectful way Sean helped Fr Des to share his experience, especially when Fr Des lost his train of thought and was able to say simply “well that is what it is like”. As Sean asked Fr Des about coping with memory loss and the fact that he had to give up his work as Chaplain at Dundrum Central Mental Hospital, I felt a deep admiration for this man. His courage and faith are a great witness as so many families all over the country are touched by this awful condition. Towards the end of the interview Sean asked Fr Des where was God in all of this for him. His answer was inspiring: he said ‘It has given me a great freedom. I have had to learn to surrender, this is where I am now and I have to learn to live as fully as I can in this situation, this is my life.’

Fr Des was being interviewed as one of the contributors to a wonderful book that was commissioned by Pope Francis last year and published just before Christmas: Sharing the Wisdom of Time. This is a wonderful book because, just like that radio interview with Fr Des, this book is a real and tangible sharing with people from around the world, elderly people who through their lives have come to know God, and they too have found great freedom in surrendering their lives to him in love.

Pope Francis commissioned this book to encourage a greater respect for the elderly and the wisdom they have to share from a lifetime of struggle and faith. In this powerful book, people from thirty countries who were interviewed share their experiences. For me the golden thread throughout this book is the witness of their faith and their honesty about the need for prayer in their lives.

One interview which spoke to me is on page 109 with Dave McNulty. One line stood out for me: ‘In every difficult situation, ask yourself, ‘What does love require?’ When I read the contributions written by three young adults to this book; (Yenifer Tatiana Valencia,Columbia; Shemaiah Gonzalez, USA; and Kerry Egan,USA), I was moved by their experiences and how they have allowed their lives and their hearts to be touched by the elderly people with whom they work or live. They are blessed because they open their hearts and they are willing to respect, to listen and to learn what older people have to say about their lives and their faith.

In each interview and in Pope Francis’ comments, I can pick out a line or a phrase that speaks to me. This book will speak to all generations and should be in every school and college, family and parish because Pope Francis hopes it will provide an opportunity for families, communities and parishes to open up a dialogue between generations, and that the younger generation will find in this dialogue inspiration and guidance.

If you read the Preface to this book you will quickly understand how in touch Pope Francis is with the suffering of older people and ‘how we put them aside, and so the treasure of their wisdom is lost.’ Pope Francis shares with us how this book began as an inspiration in prayer and how he carried this inspiration in his heart for some time.

For me the last paragraph of the Preface sums up the message of Pope Francis:
‘…I like this book very much because it gives voice to people with years of experience. It lets them talk and tell their experiences. I also liked looking at the images of their faces. Reading their stories did me much good.

‘I entrust this book to the young so the dreams of their elders will bring them to a better future. To walk toward the future, the past is needed; deep roots are needed to help live the present and its challenges. Memory is needed, courage is needed, a healthy vision of the future is needed. Here is what I would like: a world that lives in a new alliance of young and old.’ (Pope Francis, July 31, 2017, Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola).

I can echo this pleasure in looking at the images of faces and reading the stories. I hope that you too will find in this book the treasure that is revealed through the life experiences of people like Des O’Grady, and indeed all who had the courage to say this is me, this is my experience, and can I share it with you?

Elizabeth Foley | Tel: 01 775 8530 | Mobile: 087 230 9219 | Email: e.foley@messsenger.ie

 

Forgiveness ~ Part 1/January 2019

January is often the month when we take stock of our lives. We set new goals for ourselves and make numerous New Year’s resolutions. We take up new hobbies and start evening classes in everything from cooking, woodwork and creative writing to jogging, Tai Chi and mindfulness. All are good and worthwhile activities. I often wonder, however, if we are just avoiding something that is much deeper. When all the classes are over do we really feel any better?

My eyes were opened recently when a friend of mine said to me that he often found it so hard to forgive. ‘You know,’ he said, ‘forgiving is tough. It is a lot tougher than I thought especially when someone you love really hurts you. The longer it goes on the harder it is.’

I have to say I agree with him. I began to think about forgiveness and what my friend had said stayed with me and even disturbed me. We talked a bit about forgiveness and about how hurt you can feel inside even though the person who hurt you is someone you love a lot. Often we hold on to the hurt and it preoccupies us. We run through the story in our heads over and over looking for a solution. Often we experience a whole range of emotions as we recall what was said. The pain and hurt others cause us is real and great. Many people stay at this level. The anger and sadness overwhelm them until it turns into bitterness which eats away at them. Forgiveness to them would be a sign of weakness. When in reality it takes great strength and courage to truly forgive someone who has hurt us. It doesn’t matter whether that person is someone we love or not. Forgiveness is tough!

There are no easy solutions. Letting go, forgiving a hurt is an act of love, mercy and grace. The Bible is littered with phrases and parables of how important it is to forgive and to seek forgiveness. Forgiveness is central to the teaching of Jesus.

Let’s stop and take the time to look at some of the gospel stories, for example John 8:1–11, ‘A Woman Caught in Adultery’ or Luke 15:11–32, ‘The Prodigal Son’. We see that the teaching of Jesus emphasises the need to seek forgiveness when we are in the wrong but also and more importantly we are called to forgive, just as the father did in the story of the prodigal son. When the son was still far off his father ran to meet him without any condemnation only love in his heart for this boy, who realised his wrongdoing and had the sense to seek his father’s forgiveness. This is what we receive when we turn to the Father for forgiveness.

In the parable of the woman caught in adultery we have a very sobering example of how we need to look deep into our own hearts and examine how we judge and condemn others we believe have wronged us. The Gospels teach us that unselfish love is the basis for true forgiveness, since love ‘does not keep account of the injury’ (1 Cor 13:4–5). This is so important that in Mark 11:15 we are told: ‘And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins’.

In these reflections on forgiveness I wish to invite you to look at how and why we are called to forgive those who have wronged or hurt or injured us in some way. Why it is necessary to forgive and be forgiven for our spiritual, mental and physical wellbeing? How do we forgive, what are the journey or steps we can take so that we can honestly say to the person and ourselves, that we have forgiven him or her the hurt they caused us? How do we repair relationships or friendships when forgiveness has been given or received? I invite you to pray the following prayer I came across some time ago and which I find helpful.

 

Beloved Father,
I choose as an act of my will, regardless of my feelings,
to forgive the person who has wronged me.
I release them, and I set myself free to your healing.
With your help, I will no longer dwell on the situation,
or continue to talk about it.
I thank you for forgiving me as I have forgiven them.
I thank you for releasing me.
I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Elizabeth Foley | Tel: 01 775 8530 | Mobile: 087 230 9219 | Email: e.foley@messsenger.ie

 

A Trip to the Holy Land ~ Part 10/December 2018

The Church of the Nativity and Manger Square

In some ways my visit to the Church of the Nativity was a disappointment! I was so looking forward to seeing the Church of the Nativity as it houses the site of Christ’s birth. Unfortunately, due to on-going restoration started in 2013, I was very limited in what I could see.

Despite the crowds of people, the scaffolding and the plastic sheeting I glimpsed what must once have been a majestic building. Italian restoration workers were quietly working away restoring the mosaic walls and columns of the church. In July 2016 they uncovered a seventh mosaic angel which had previously hidden under plaster. I was impressed that they could work in such conditions but they did! Silently, in deep concentration, fully focused on what they were doing, they worked amid the noise and the crowds.

The centrepiece of the church is the Grotto of the Nativity, a cave that enshrines the site of Jesus’ birth. There was a three-and-a-half-hour wait to see the Grotto and to my disappointment we, as a group, could not wait that long to see it.

The Church of the Nativity is believed to be the oldest complete church in the Christian world and was built by the emperor Justinian in the sixth century. It replaced the original church of Constantine the Great, built over the cave venerated as Christ’s birthplace and dedicated in AD339. Like many churches in the Holy Land it is maintained by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

It is designed like a typical Roman basilica, with five aisles formed by Corinthian columns and an apse in the eastern end containing the sanctuary. One remarkable feature is the main door into the basilica. It is a very low door called the ‘Door of Humility’. The interior walls of the church once featured gold mosaics that are now in large parts lost. There are forty-four columns separating the aisles from each other and from the nave, some of which are painted with images of saints including the Irish monk St Cathal. A complex array of sanctuary lamps is placed throughout the entire building.

As I look back on this visit to the Church of the Nativity and the photos I took at the time I ask myself was it really that important for me to see the Grotto of the Nativity? The answer of course is no! Since I started working on this reflection I have looked at many photos online of the Church and the Grotto of the Nativity. It is truly a most beautiful, majestic building. The Grotto is also very beautiful and ornate with a Silver Star marking the exact spot where Jesus is believed to have been born. But I was astonished by my reaction when my eyes met the picture of the nativity just above the star and I was reminded of the simplicity of Jesus’ birth. I thought of Mary and her yes in accepting to be the Mother of Jesus. I thought of Joseph and the great responsibility he undertook to protect Mary and the infant. I thought of the simplicity and humility of the stable. I thought of the rejection experienced by Mary and Joseph as they looked for shelter for the night and I thought about the lowly shepherds who were chosen to witness the birth of Jesus.

In the midst of all these thoughts came the idea that this Advent and Christmas I will have the crib with a candle lit as the only decoration in my home. I want to refocus my heart and mind on the mystery of Jesus’ birth. I want to pray and meditate on the gospel passages of the Nativity and I want to invite Jesus to once again be born in my heart. I believe that I need to remind myself of the importance of Jesus being reborn over and over deep within and that through this rebirth I can change and be transformed and become more Christ-like. Change can come only when we are aware that something needs to change and therefore prayer and meditation are essential for our spiritual growth.

Whatever the coming weeks have in store for you I hope that you too will have some time to just step back and pray before the crib either in your home or local parish church and ask the question ‘What does Christmas mean to me on a deeply personal level?’ Do I allow the mystery of the birth of Jesus touch me and allow me to be transformed?

May I wish you a very happy, holy and prayerful Advent and Christmas!!

Elizabeth Foley | Tel: 01 775 8530 | Mobile: 087 230 9219 | Email: e.foley@messsenger.ie

 

Trip to the Holy Land ~ Part 9 | November 2018

Witness to the Love of Christ


Our group meets with Rev Fadi Diab, Ramallah

As we entered day seven of our trip to the Holy Land we visited the Aida Refugee Camp (a Palestinian camp) and the Ephrata Settlement (a Jewish settlement). The contrast in these two places was staggering. The Aida Camp is surrounded by a twenty-foot plus wall with barbed wire on top and guard towers at regular intervals. The houses all looked unfinished with just a fifty-metre square footprint for each dwelling, the only way to build was up! Often a married son and his father would build another floor on to the house to accommodate his family. The house could be four or five stories high, but it would be members of the extended family living on each floor. Any building work needed permission and money was often paid to obtain this permission. There were few trees, no gardens to cultivate and no play areas for children. The walls were full of graffiti, often statements of protest or memorials to the victims of violence. Water was restricted with each family allowed to fill their water tanks once a month when the water was switched on.

The Ephrata Settlement was built on a hillside out in the country. It was like any modern, well-to-do suburb in any big city. It had houses and apartments with lush green spaces: trees, gardens, flowers and play areas for children. The synagogue was new and modern. The wood was expensive oak and the windows beautiful stained glass (but very different in style to what you might find in a Catholic church). There were shops, a medical centre and everything one needed to live life in a safe but closed community. The land around the settlement was cultivated with olive trees, fruit trees and vegetables. There was no shortage of water.

In both the Aida Refugee Camp and the Ephrata Settlement there were representatives present to talk with our group and explain the conflict as they see it and everyday problems they encountered. It was difficult and heart-breaking to listen to these representatives of both these communities because I came away thinking neither side wants a real and lasting solution. The past is retold over and over by both sides, without a clear commitment to real and meaningful resolutions. And in the middle of all of this is the Christian community. Alas, many Christians have left Israel and Palestine. Today the Christian community is a near fraction of what it was even twenty or thirty years ago.

One of the highlights of the trip to the Holy Land last October was the people we met. Among them the Anglican priests who live and work in Israel.

One of whom we met was Revd Fadi Diab who welcomed us to his parish in Ramallah. He spoke to us for over an hour and answered questions about his work and the people he lives among. Often the Christian community is seen as the glue that keeps all sides communicating because they have good relations with both their Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters. Among the photos I have selected for you is a photo of the Our Father written in Arabic. This amazing piece of work is placed on the ceiling above the main altar in the Church of St Andrew, Ramallah. It reminded me so much of my time in Tunisia where the Christian churches are a silent, often hidden witness to the love of God.

Unlike Tunisia, in Israel the Christians are free to live and work openly. Their witness to the love of God for all people is essential, even fundamental, I would argue, to finding a peaceful and sustainable solution to a violence that invades all communities. In Israel, the Christian community has suffered and continues to suffer violence, discrimination, isolation, misunderstanding and manipulation. Today, in this land where Jesus once walked and preached his message of love, Christians reach out in the name of a loving God: Jesus, to those who suffer discrimination, lack of education, health problems, isolation and loneliness. Many elderly people are abandoned by their families, now living abroad, or are prevented seeing their family by residence laws that keep those abroad from returning home.

In this month of November and as we prepare for Advent and Christmas I invite you to pray for and light a candle for all communities in the Holy Land, especially the Christian community who often feel forgotten and isolated in this terrible conflict.

Elizabeth Foley | Tel: 01 775 8530 | Mobile: 087 230 9219 | Email: e.foley@messsenger.ie

 

Trip to the Holy Land ~ Part 8 | October 2018

Church of St Photina at Jacob’s Well

Jacob’s Well

We rose early and travelled from Nazareth to Nablus in the West Bank. We found ourselves at a beautiful Greek Orthodox Church, built above a crypt which houses Jacob’s well. The well is thirty-five meters deep and still provides the most refreshing water all these centuries later. In extreme drought the well has been known to dry up. Originally it was forty meters deep, but over the centuries stones and debris have built up

The Greek Orthodox Church above the well has some of the most beautiful Icons I have ever seen mounted on the walls and around the main shrine or sanctuary. The Church is divided into three main parts: the narthex (vestibule), the nave (the temple proper) and the sanctuary (also called the altar or holy place). 

A major difference between traditional Orthodox churches and Western churches is the absence of any pews in the nave. You may be able to make this out from the photo of the Church of St Photina which I have included. 

Before we went into the Church our group gathered outside to pray. We sang a hymn and listened to a reading from Genesis 28:10-22. I walked around the church, stopping at each Icon, trying to understand which passage of scripture it represented and offering a prayer. Everything in this church has meaning, from the Icon of Our Lady, set on a stand in the vestibule, to the mosaics on the floor and walls. Strangely enough I did not take many photos, probably because I was more in a spirit of prayer than that of a tourist visiting yet another church!!

When the moment came to visit Jacob’s Well I wasn’t sure what to expect. I walked down narrow stone steps with a low ceiling. It was like going down into an ancient crypt. Visitors descended one side, saw the well and exited by another similar stairs on the opposite side of what seemed like on underground cave or vault no bigger than twelve foot square. It was full of people. It could hold about thirty people and this did not allow for much movement.Slowly, patiently I made my way to the well. It was a very simple structure about two feet from the ground and square in shape. There was an iron pulley, as well as a rope and bucket and a stone basin around the mouth of the well. A woman was operating the pulley and dispensing water to anyone who asked for some. Some people drank the water straight away and those who had bottles filled them to take back to family and friends. I did neither. It did not seem important to me to drink this water or indeed to take a bottle of it home with me. I was happy to be in this place which is often considered the most authentic site in the Holy Land – since no one can move a well that was originally more than forty meters deep.

I stood alone in the midst of this group of people having looked at the well for some time. My mind meandered through the passage of scripture where Jesus arrived at this well with his disciples. (John 4:4–26) They all left in search of food and Jesus was left alone. 

I am sure these were precious moments of peace for Jesus, who was tired and thirsty after his long day of walking. A woman approached to collect water and Jesus simply asked her for a drink of water. We know the story so well!! On that day last November and in that place I stood as though I was that woman; standing before Jesus, hearing Him say to me ‘Elizabeth, give me a drink of water?’ Silently I drew some water and handed it to Jesus to drink. Then I sat by his side and I told him all that was in my heart. Often we get so caught up in the detail of the story that we forget that this is our story too and our journey too. In that moment I could hear Jesus say to me; ‘I am your source of living water; whoever drinks of the water that I shall give will never thirst.’ These words were a balm on the wounds of my life and I found a deep peace that I had not experienced in some time. This grace stayed with me for some time and now I often go to that place by the well and sit and talk with Jesus. At times he is silent, sometime there are words but often it is that loving look of Jesus that is enough to restore a sense of peace to my spirit.

I pray that as you read this simple reflection you too will feel invited to go and sit by the well with Jesus and tell him all that is in your heart. Know that he awaits you there and just like the Samaritan woman He knows you and loves you. Go to Him, find peace, and living water will flow into your life.

Elizabeth Foley | Tel: 01 775 8530 | Mobile: 087 230 9219 | Email: e.foley@messsenger.ie

Due to circumstances beyond our control we were unable to bring you your ‘Letter from Elizabeth’ for September 2018. We apologise for any inconvienience or disappointment caused. 

Trip to the Holy Land ~ Part 7  |  July/August 2018

View of the Sea of Galilee from Mount of the Beatitudes

am amazed at how quickly the memories of my trip to the Holy Land seem to fade. I am glad that I took so many photographs, and kept a diary each night. One of the places I most enjoyed visiting was the Sea of Galilee. Did you know that the Sea of Galilee is Israel’s largest freshwater lake? The sea is about thirteen miles long and seven miles wide but only one hundred and fifty feet deep, and it lies six hundred and fifty feet below sea level. It is a primary source of drinking water for Israel as well as a popular area for recreation and tourism. It is fed by the Jordan River, which then drains to the south and flows into the Dead Sea. Lately, a lack of rain has threatened the water level in the Sea of Galilee and prompted the proliferation of desalination plants. In the time of Jesus, the Jordan River was much wider and more powerful than it is today. The Sea of Galilee would have seen a greater abundance of small villages along its shore. 

Jesus spent a significant amount of his ministry around the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum, Tiberias and Gergesa are all on the Sea, while Bethsaida is very close. The Sea and its immediate surroundings were the setting for Jesus’ healing of the paralytic person who was lowered through the roof, the healing of the woman with an issue of blood, the healing of the centurion’s servant and the feeding of the five thousand. It’s possible the Sermon on the Mount was also preached near the Sea of Galilee. 

The Sea of Galilee played an even more significant role in Jesus’ life, however. It was the Sea of Galilee that Jesus walked on: after Jesus fed the five thousand, he sent his disciples across the sea while he withdrew from the crowd. The sea became rough, and the disciples had only rowed three or four miles when they saw Jesus walking towards them on the water. Peter asked to join him on the water but once out of the boat Peter became frightened and started sinking. Jesus saved him, and they both climbed into the boat. Instantly, the winds died down, and they were across the water to the other side. 

On another occasion, again when Jesus wanted to cross the Sea of Galilee from west to east, he was so tired that he fell asleep in the boat. A great storm rose up, and the disciples woke the Lord, afraid for their lives. Jesus rebuked them for their lack of faith and then rebuked the wind and calmed the sea. The disciples were amazed that even the sea and wind obeyed him. 

The Sea of Galilee was a key place for Jesus’ disciples. Jesus called Simon (Peter), Andrew, James and John to be his disciples while they were working as fishermen mending their nets. Later, Jesus found Levi (Matthew) sitting at a tax booth beside the sea and called him too. Finally, at the end of it all, after the Resurrection, Jesus went to the Sea of Galilee and found Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John and two other disciples fishing. There on the seashore, Jesus cooked them breakfast. So much of Jesus’ life is set on or near the Sea of Galilee. 

For me though, this last story is the story I like the most. After the Resurrection Jesus met his disciples at the shore of the Sea of Galilee and made breakfast for them. John is the only gospel writer to refer to the Sea of Galilee as the Sea of Tiberias. The disciples having witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion return to what they know best: fishing, and that is exactly where Jesus goes to meet them.

As we sailed out across the Sea of Galilee a gentle breeze caressed our faces. A mist had starting to form in the distance along the coast and the sun shone brightly on the clear blue water. I could imagine the many little villages along the coast in the time of Jesus. Perhaps some small boats were just off the shore fishing. As I relaxed and just looked out over the water listening to the gentle hum of the boat’s engine, I was transported back to the time of Jesus and I could imagine a simpler life. I could see Jesus and his disciples walking along the shore from village to village, preaching. Perhaps visiting a synagogue just like the one we saw in Magdala. I could understand why Jesus would take a small boat and sail out to the middle of the lake to relax and pray as the waves gently lapped against the boat.

The heat and the movement of the boat soon had me almost asleep. My eyes were heavy with sleep and I was very relaxed but I continued to reflect on Jesus’ life and particularly that story of how Jesus met his disciples on the shore after the Resurrection. I could feel the confusion and sadness of the disciples having witnessed the crucifixion and also their anxiety at the women’s claim to have seen the risen Lord. In their confusion the disciples returned to what they knew and decided to go fishing. Jesus walked along the shore and called to them ‘cast the nets over the right side of the boat and you will find something’. They cast the net and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. And it was John whom Jesus loved who said, ‘It is the Lord’.

As we know this passage is of great importance for so many reasons but to me it has a very simple message: Jesus meets us where we are at in life. It could be cooking the dinner for your family, working in the local shop, teaching a class of teenage boys and girls, taking care of a sick mother or husband or child or any of the many occupations that go into making up our day. Jesus is saying “I am there with you. I am walking by your side every step of the way. No matter how hard the journey I am there.” It is my belief that Jesus walks with me that gives me the courage and strength to face each day. 

Elizabeth Foley | Tel: 01 775 8530 | Mobile: 087 230 9219 | Email: e.foley@messsenger.ie

Trip to the Holy Land ~ Part 6  |  June 2018

Encounter with the Chapel Mural

One of the most wonderful places I visited while in the Holy Land was a place called Magdala. This was a village situated on the Sea of Galilee a few miles from Nazareth. In the first century this was a vibrant fishing community filled with fishermen and their families, crafts people, shopkeepers and travellers on their way to Nazareth and beyond. For centuries this wonderful village lay beneath the soil, forgotten, but in 2009 excavation started and the ruins of a first century synagogue (the Migdal Synagogue) were uncovered

This is the oldest synagogue excavated in Galilee and it is believed that Jesus taught here. As I walked around the perimeter of the ruins I could clearly see the layout of the synagogue, with many of the original stones, frescoes and decorated stones preserved. 

It was strange but as I stood looking at the ruins of this synagogue, this place of prayer from the first century, I could clearly imagine Jesus going into the synagogue with his disciples and sitting down to pray. I could imagine him being invited to preach. I could see him approaching the altar, opening the scroll and reading to the congregation and then explaining the Scripture to them. I could even feel their joy, their astonishment and their desire to just listen to Jesus forever. I could imagine that they wanted Jesus to stay with them and heal them. I could imagine their desire to sit with Jesus and tell him all that was in their hearts and that is exactly how I felt at that moment. I stood there eyes closed, a gentle warm breeze caressing my face and I imagined another time and even saw myself sitting there among the villagers, listening, hoping, praying. 

I stood there for a long time, at peace, silent and happy. These stones were alive to me, whispering secrets of another time. Yet, the present was no less real. The past and present seemed to collide as we moved about two hundred yards to another building, a modern building: Duc In Altum. This chapel is considered one of the most unique spiritual centres in the Holy Land and it provides a most beautiful environment for person reflection, prayer, worship and the Eucharist.

This is a stunning building literally on the edge of Sea of Galilee. As you enter the atrium, a large circular area, you see eight pillars, seven of which represent women in the Bible who followed Jesus while the eighth honours women of faith across all time. There are two chapels off to each side of the atrium with striking mosaics depicting scenes from the life of Jesus: Walking on the Water, Fishers of Men, Daughter of Jairus and Mary Magdalene. Each chapel can accommodate about fifty people but the most astonishing place in this building is the Boat Chapel. With a spectacular view of the Sea of Galilee through clear full length glass windows behind the altar, and a unique boat shaped altar, this chapel commemorates Jesus preaching from the boat.

The place that I felt drew the whole visit together was the Encounter Chapel. Here two worlds collide: past and present, Judaism and Christianity, Jesus then and Jesus now. Located beneath the Boat Chapel, and situated on the site of the original market place of the old port, this chapel is modelled on the structure of the Magdala First Century Synagogue. It features the most magnificent mural of the encounter between Jesus and the woman with a haemorrhage (Mk.5:25). 

For me this mural cries out the need for faith. It speaks to me about the mission of Jesus. In a world fractured by war, famine, disease, greed and inequality, the message of Jesus: that we believe in him and his love, is the same message that he preached two thousand years ago. It is even more relevant today where faith is challenged and the very existence of God denied. I found myself wanting to stay in the Encounter Chapel and pray that people the world over would meet Jesus in a personal way, and that they too would experience that same moment as the woman with a haemorrhage, and with faith reach out to Jesus for the gift of life.

Elizabeth Foley | Tel: 01 775 8530 | Mobile: 087 230 9219 | Email: e.foley@messsenger.ie

Trip to the Holy Land ~ Part 5  |  May 2018

Nazareth Village: A reconstruction of a first-century Galilean village.

 

Day five of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land began with a visit to Mount Carmel where Elijah challenged the people of Israel to worship the true God. The view from the mountain is just extraordinary, with miles and miles of fertile land stretching away into the distance. 

On the top of Mount Carmel is a splendid little church where I stopped to pray and light a candle. This was a quiet oasis in a very busy place, with groups from all over the world looking for somewhere to pray. Hearing all the voices praying in so many different languages was a deeply spiritual experience for me. 

Our journey continued to the third largest city in Israel, Haifa, where we met Revd Hatem Shehadeh, a Palestinian Christian and an Anglican priest. He spoke to our group with great courage and simplicity about what it is like to be a Christian in Israel. He talked of ‘living stones’. I could immediately understand what he meant as I was beginning to realise that my visit to the Holy Land was not about visiting ‘ruins’ or ‘dead stones’. It was really about meeting people like Hatem and the Christian community, who are ‘living stones’ in this complicated and often troubled society. Despite their dwindling numbers, and with courage rooted in the gospel, they reach out in love and peace to their brothers and sisters; Islamic and Jewish people alike. This Christian community is like a fine mesh trying to hold everyone together so that peace and understanding have a chance to make a difference in people’s lives each and every day. 

Later that evening we met Jonathan Cook, an English journalist who lives and works in Nazareth. He gave a talk about the political situation of the Palestinian people and the question of citizenship. Jonathan is married to Sally, a Palestinian, and they have two beautiful daughters. They run the café/bar where we met Jonathan. While I found it interesting and stimulating to have someone speak clearly about the political situation, I could not help feeling that we were only barely touching on a situation that has been a long time in the making. Clearly, because there has been so much violence and loss of life, it will take an even longer time to find a resolution. I came away feeling that people like Hatem and others in the Christian, Jewish and Islamic communities, who live the reality of life in the Middle East, also hold the key to real peace. The work Hatem does to reach out in the name of Jesus, bears fruit daily in the friendship and kindness that spring from these efforts. These are the little buds of hope.

Between our visits to Hatem and Jonathan we spent a couple of hours at a fascinating place called Nazareth Village. This is a reconstruction of a first-century Galilean village in its rural surroundings as it was two thousand years ago – a Jewish village under Roman occupation. It was extraordinary! The original farm has been restored with olive trees, terraces, ancient wine press, irrigation system and stone quarry. Exact replicas of first century houses, synagogue, mikveh and olive presses have been carefully built using the same methods that would have been used by Joseph the carpenter. We saw their humble dwellings and small work areas and the same type of clothing, pottery, tools and methods that Mary and Joseph would have used. They picked olives which we saw being crushed to make oil using the olive press. We saw how wine was made using feet to crush the grapes in an ancient stone wine press, and watched a woman spinning wool and weaving cloth. There was even a replica of a tomb. It was all really well done. The actors were friendly and the guide wonderful. He answered questions clearly and gave a very comprehensive explanation of what life was like then, based on archaeological finds and ancient texts. What is extraordinary is that this village is situated in the heart of Nazareth, a thriving, bustling modern city. It gives such a clear and wonderful picture of what life was like in the time of Jesus and was, for me, one of the outstanding experiences of our trip.

Elizabeth Foley | Tel: 01 775 8530 | Mobile: 087 230 9219 | Email: e.foley@messsenger.ie

Trip to the Holy Land ~ Part 4   |  April 2018

 

Outside view Basilica of the Annunciation with plaza, Nazareth

On the evening of our fourth day we visited the Basilica of the Annunciation. When we arrived a Japanese group had just started to celebrate Mass in English. I felt so blessed. I was actually in Nazareth, in the Basilica of the Annunciation, celebrating Mass in English with a Japanese group.

When Mass ended I was able to visit the rest of the Basilica. It consists of two levels. The upper level where Mass was celebrated and on the lower level the most holy place – Mary’s cave in which, according to Catholic tradition, Mary received a visit from the Archangel Gabriel. Surrounding the grotto are the ruins of a number of churches built over the centuries to protect this holy place, believed to be the home of Joseph and the Virgin Mary. The little grotto, now protected by iron gates and with an altar at the centre and a stone stairs clearly seen behind, was very peaceful. 

The first thing that caught my eye was a beautiful icon of the Annunciation with an oil lamp lit in front of it. I have placed it here at the start of this reflection because as I looked at it I felt drawn into prayer. A particular passage of Scripture about the Annunciation came to me (Lk.2:39-56) and I found myself deep in thought and aware that this was indeed a very special place.

To visit this holy place so early in our pilgrimage seemed fitting to me; I reflected on Mary on whose acceptance of the angel’s message depended the salvation of all humanity. Mary, this young woman, whose faith was nursed and encouraged by her loving parents, did not hesitate to answer ‘yes’ to the angel’s request. Mary from whom we have so few words, only the Canticle of Mary, itself a prayer of deep faith. Mary who placed all her faith in God believing that all would be well. This is the Mary whom I thought about and prayed about well into the early hours after my visit to this holy place. As I thought and prayed I began to understand how life here at that time seemed so much simpler. Travel was hazardous and a few miles could take all day. The journey Mary undertook to her cousin Elizabeth was difficult. There was the heat and dust and hazards of every kind. And Mary was with child. But all of this did not stop her from going to her cousin in need. Again Mary shows great courage, strength and faith. She calls me to go beyond myself, to challenge my beliefs and ideas about others and to step out in Faith not always knowing the answer but willing to take a risk and like Mary say ‘yes’ in faith.

On the walls of the upper Basilica there are many images of Mary. These images are from countries around the world and depict the Incarnation of Christ. They are as diverse as the cultures they come from and are very beautiful to sit and meditate on. My favourite was from Japan depicting Mary as Japanese. I was delighted to see that each artist had done the same. They had depicted Mary as a woman from their own culture – African, South American, Lebanese or European. This says to me that Mary speaks to each of us in the midst of our daily lives, no matter who we are or where we come from. Mary, the example of living faith, invites us to live lives filled with faith no matter the circumstances.

Over the coming weeks I invite you to take Mary as your example. Read this passage from Luke’s Gospel and ask Mary to help you understand the areas of your life where you find it difficult to let go and say yes to God’s will.

Elizabeth Foley | Tel: 01 775 8530 | Mobile: 087 230 9219 | Email: e.foley@messsenger.ie

 Trip to the Holy Land ~ Part 3   March 2018

 

Elizabeth at the Coffee Shop

Monday November 6 saw us leaving Jordan for Israel. We left Amman by coach for the journey into the West Bank, Palestine. Once again as we drove we were treated to the beautiful countryside of desert and hills, villages and plantations and, of course, the bright sunshine and clear blue sky. What remains with me from that day are two things: our stop in a small town for a coffee and our visit to Cana. 

From the hotel we travelled north to Tell Mar Elias, the place where it is believed the Prophet Elijah came from. From here our guide pointed out the borders with Syria and Lebanon in the distance. It was a sobering thought to think that we were only 45Km from the border with Syria. The morning was beautiful but like true westerners we craved our morning coffee and so without too much trouble we stopped in a little town. There seemed to be just one shop where we could buy a coffee or a soft drink. As we unloaded from the bus we became a bit of a spectacle with young Palestinian boys gathering to ask us where we were from in their best schoolboy English. There seemed to be mostly men standing around or sitting chatting to each other. We took some photos, bought some soft drinks or ice cream and were back on the bus fairly quickly. It was a unique and absorbing moment in our trip. It was a chance to just stop and watch as men sat and chatted, women hurried along just observing their daily routine, and schoolboys, the same the world over, were just curious to know something about these strangers who stopped in their small town. 

Next we travelled to Cana where we visited a Greet Orthodox church which is home to two stone jars believed by members of that faith to be connected to the miracle. We also visited a Catholic Church built in 1879 to mark the traditional site where the wedding feast and Our Lord’s first miracle took place. 

Here we gathered in a crypt like room where we had a very special time of prayer. We read the passage from John’s gospel (John 2:1-11) and one of our group gave a short talk. 

As with most of the shrines in the Holy Land, it was difficult to find a quiet space without people bustling about talking or taking photos. 

One thing that seemed clear to me as I visited these various places associated with the life of Christ, was that they were mostly ruins. Where the various events took place was a matter of uncertainty and some speculation. At the church in Cana, as you will see from the photos, we saw ruins – stones protected by glass and barriers – and I very quickly realised that, wherever we went, it no longer seemed important to stand on the exact spot where Jesus was baptised or where he performed his first miracle. What mattered was that I was here in this land where Jesus had lived. I could see the desert and hills where he walked. I could visit the places associated with his life, and to me that was prayer, that was an experience to just sit and savour.

When I found myself at Bethany beyond the Jordan, or standing beside the Dead Sea looking across to Jericho, or in Cana where Jesus preformed His first miracle, I just took the time to say thank you. Thank you for this wonderful gift of visiting the Holy Land and having the opportunity to pray at these very special places. 

Elizabeth Foley | Tel: 01 775 8530 | Mobile: 087 230 9219 | Email: e.foley@messsenger.ie

Trip to the Holy Land ~ Part 2 | February 2018

 

Elizabeth arrives in Jordan

 

After travelling for most of the day we arrived in Amman, the capital of Jordan, for the first leg of our journey. I was exhausted from the flights when we arrived at about one in the morning. We literally just got our room keys and luggage and went to bed.

On our first day in Jordan we woke up to beautiful bright sunshine. The sky was so blue, a deep blue, unlike anything we see here in Ireland. The city of Amman is a busy, bustling city. As our bus took us to the first location in Bethany Beyond the Jordan I was glued to the bus window looking at people, shops and buildings; fascinated by everything I saw. There seemed to be a Mosque every few hundred yards. I had woken up that first morning to the cry of the Muezzin calling people to prayer. 

As we travelled out of the city the countryside took on a very different look. Sandy, white hills and rugged valleys surrounded us on all sides. Small plantations of olive trees were dotted along the hillsides. Villages seemed to just perch on hill tops, their white walls reflecting the bright sunshine. The ancient Bedouin tribes with their herds of goats and sheep live as they have always lived, moving their tents and belongings to new pasture when and where it can be found. Life is more and more difficult for the Bedouin people as drought, caused by climate change, and the fact that water is drained from the Jordan for farming, means there is less and less vegetation for their herds. 

Yet, the reality of how these people live today seemed to speak to me of a time long ago, when Jesus too walked these hills and valleys. There were no borders, just hills, valleys, flat desert and villages and towns dotted along the Jordan river. As I sat and looked out at the scene before me I could easily imagine Jesus and his disciples walking from village to village, perhaps seeking shelter under a tree from the relentless heat of the sun.

When we arrived at the site of Jesus’ baptism I wasn’t sure what to expect. The site has been excavated but over the centuries damage has been caused by floods and earthquakes. There was a short explanation about the churches that were once built on this site by early pilgrims as memorials, just east of the Jordan river, where Jesus was baptised and Christianity started. Mostly, what we saw were stone steps that lead down into a small pool-like structure, and here a stream from the Jordan river was diverted into the pool where baptism took place and then rejoined the Jordan a little further away. As I stood looking at this place where Jesus was baptised I could imagine Jesus standing among the crowd, watching as one after another people came to John to be baptised. 

This significant event is recorded in three of the four gospels: Matthew (Mt.3:13-17), Mark (Mk.1:9-11) and Luke (Lk.3:21-22). Now is a good time to take a few moments to read these short passages and establish the scene clearly in your mind. There are a lot of things going on in the background, such as John the Baptist’s preaching and the beginning of Christ’s public life. It is not insignificant that Jesus left his home in Nazareth, to travel south to the wilderness where John ministered, to be baptised. In doing so we see that Jesus had heard of John and that he accepted John’s authority, as a prophet. 

For me the most memorable scene is that of Jesus coming up out of the water, the Spirit descending and resting on him in the form of a dove, and then the Father’s voice saying, ‘You are my son, the Beloved; my favour rests with you’ (Mk.1:11). I often wonder why Jesus joined the queue of people to be baptised. He did not need to repent, and he did not need to proclaim his belief in his Father. The baptism of Jesus came at the opening of his public ministry. Jesus was then beginning the task for which he had come into the world. It is as though his baptism was his initiation into public ministry. Jesus was beginning a new life, the most important part of his life: his mission to all the people, to bring the Father’s love and compassion to everyone.

After his baptism, while he was at prayer, Jesus was formally recognised by his Father and was missioned in his task by the Holy Spirit. At the beginning of his mission, Jesus received the assurance that his Father was pleased with him. 

  As I stood at that site in Bethany Beyond the Jordan and just took in the scene all around me I was filled with hope and wonder, peace and joy, that our pilgrimage would also be the start of a journey, a spiritual journey in this very holy place.

Elizabeth Foley | Tel: 01 775 8530 | Mobile: 087 230 9219 | Email: e.foley@messsenger.ie

 Trip to the Holy Land ~ Part 1  |  January 2018

 

Elizabeth by the Jordan river looking over into Israel

 

Two days ago I returned from a trip to the Holy Land – one of the most blessed experiences of my life. At the beginning of this year, I would never have thought that I would be in the Holy Land before its end.

I am always amazed at how these things come about. I have long wanted to see the Holy Land and visit the places where Jesus lived and ministered. In June I learned that my collegue, Ken Rue, was planning to bring a group to the Holy Land. In a moment of inspiration I asked whether there were

any places left. Ken told me that there were, and that he would be happy for me to be part of the group. The group, as it turned out, was a mixed group of both Anglican and Catholic pilgrims, something which I found to be a great blessing. We were twenty-eight in the group, and the group was made up of married couples and single people of all ages; something which again proved to be a blessing.

For me this trip was about seeing the places associated with Jesus: I wanted to walk in the footsteps of Jesus by the Jordan River where he was baptised; to visit Cana where Jesus preformed his first miracle; to walk in Nazareth where he grew up and climb to the top of the Mount of the Beautitudes; to see the sea of Galilee; to visit the Church of the Nativity; to walk the Via Dolorosa; and pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I did all of this and much more. Often I had to pinch myself and ask am I really here in the Holy Land. I became an expert at taking selfies and I wanted to photograph every place at which we stopped. Each night I wrote up my diary of where we had been that day, because I did not want to forget any of it. This for me was the trip of a life-time and I wanted to remember every second of it. There were many places where I just wanted to stop, reflect and pray. Some places will remain with me more than others and I hope to share with you over the coming months many of the photos I took, the places I visited and what they meant to me. I hope that you will enjoy this journey with me through the Holy Land where the scriptures really came alive for me. I know that I will now look at the gospel stories in a new way.

On our first day we visited Bethany beyond the Jordan, where Jesus was baptised, the Jordan river and the Dead Sea. We saw the hill believed to be where the prophet Elijah lived and went up to heaven on a chariot of fire. All around us history came alive as our guides reminded us of passages from the Old and New Testament. As my time is short to write this first reflection for 2018 I am going to share some photos with you of those first days and I hope that through them you too can experience something of the Holy Land or, as I have heard it called, the land of the Holy One.

Elizabeth Foley | Tel: 01 775 8530 | Mobile: 087 230 9219 | Email: e.foley@messsenger.ie