After wandering at their leisure yesterday afternoon, some students returned to rest; others went to the Catholic Mass which is said everyday at 6:30pm. The staff at Notre-Dame Center are so fond of the students that they provided wine with dinner, gratis.
This morning some students got up early and made their way to the Noble Enclosure, the site of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. Others made their way to the Holy Sepulchre and were able to get into the Tomb. After breakfast, we walked in to the Old City to the Pontifical Mission for Palestine Offices, the Vatican agency established in 1949 to care for the Palestinians after the State of Israel was declared. The Office was to be short-lived, a couple of years, but since the conflict continues more than 60 years later, the Office remains open and supports the Palestinian community throughout the Middle East. I was Director of the Jerusalem Office for some years, then Vice President for the Mission. We walked next door to the Brothers' high school, College des Freres, Jerusalem, where the current Director of the Pontifical Mission, Professor Sami El-Yousef, gave a wonderful presentation on the work of the Pontifical Mission and an overview of the situation for the Palestinian community in Israel/Palestine, particularly for the Christians. He showed a short video of the history and work of the Mission and fielded questions from the students. Two staff members, Joseph Hazboun and Tony Zarour, guided the group through the Old City to visit some of the works of the Office, including the Franciscan school and the Citadel Hostel which has a day care center for mothers in the Old City. There are about 400 boys at the Terra Sancta/Franciscan school and about 35 children at the day care center. We then walked to the roof of the Holy Sepulchre where Ethiopian monks have built small cottages for themselves and where Joseph Hazboun outline the negotiations I made which resulted in the decoration of the interior of the Great Dome of the Holy Sepulchre.
I then set the students free to wander the Old City for the remainder of the afternoon.
Since I have been given the Pope's Suite at Notre-Dame with the only balcony - which holds about 30 people if needed - we will have preprandials on the balcony before dinner and before sending Scott Kier, Dean of Students of Saint Mary's College, on his way back to California.
Some students asked about a possible trip for family members and friends in the future. In response, I am arranging a ten-day visit to the Holy Land for the later part of June. I should have details and cost estimates in a few days should any of you be interested. I would like to limit the group to 20 persons. I will, of course, conduct the trip which will include one night in Tel Aviv upon arrival, three on the Sea of Galilee, one in Jericho with swimming in the Dead Sea, and five in Jerusalem, with visits to Bethlehem. There will likely be a three/four day optional add-on to Rome. More later.