A Religious Theme Park? Via Dolorosa

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On my first trip to Jerusalem, I was happy not to be jostling and elbowing among the masses on pilgrimage. Instead, I wanted to step back and observe the city’s fascinating culture, sociology, and history from outside the perspective of my own sect.
And yet my attempt at observational objectivity was punctured the moment I woke at dawn on my first morning, to the sound of a rooster crowing. I couldn’t help thinking of what Jesus said to Peter, “Before the cock crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.”
Since I knew something of the history of the Old Quarter of Jerusalem, and that it had been destroyed multiple times, I felt a bit skeptical of some of the stops along the Via Dolorosa, since I knew the current route wasn’t established until the 1700s. Some of the Stations of the Cross just happen to be placed strategically in shops selling religious souvenirs.
Standing where Jesus was allegedly imprisoned the night before his crucifixion, with evidence carved in the stone floor that the jailers played tic-tac-toe; touching the wall where Veronica wiped tears from Jesus’ eyes, made me feel dubious and skeptical, more like I was visiting a Disney Theme Park than one of the holiest spots on earth.
The scholar Simon Sebag Montefiore in “Jerusalem: The Biography” says the Holy City “has always been a den of superstition, charlatanism and bigotry.”
And yet there is spiritual value in counting and recounting each step toward the crucifixion. The drama of Jesus’ last hours became more real to me in walking the Via Dolorosa.

 

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