Pushy Pilgrims

Over at First Things:

“It’s the journey that matters in the end.” Hasn’t that aphorism, in one form or another, appeared on practically every Yogi tea bag and elementary school homeroom inspirational poster? Who needs that reminder anymore? Well, apparently, 97 percent of the pilgrims in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. When I was in the Holy Land a month ago, I was bemused—also mildly bruised—by the violent elbowing and shoving of my fellow pilgrims as we approached what are arguably the holiest sites in all of Christendom—the sites of Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.

Guides wearing assortments of egregiously eye-catching hats, fanny-packs, and t-shirts stampeded their tour groups through pre-existing lines; wailing women in long skirts pushed others out of their way so that they could fall on their knees and wail some more. Of course, it didn’t help that we were being rushed along by the very stern-looking priests who run the place, but still: It struck me that, for many of these pilgrims, the end seemed to matter quite a bit more than the journey. Because if I was standing between Calvary and them, I was getting elbowed in the face.

Of course, pilgrimage is largely about the holy place to which one is traveling, just as much as the entire Christian life—which the pilgrimage is meant to mirror, in its little way—is essentially about reaching the Beatific Vision, our Heavenly Jerusalem. Our goal is to see God face to face, or, in the case of my recent pilgrimage, to see where God was crucified.

We would do well to contemplate the mysterious truth that, as St. Thomas writes, Christ was both “wayfarer”—the one who is moving toward the end of beatitude—and “comprehensor”—the one who already rests in that end. If the God-man existed perfectly within that tension between way and end, so must we strive to exist there too, however imperfectly.

There is something worthwhile simply in becoming the pilgrim—the “foreigner” or “stranger,” and in the very act of wandering that comes with this self-imposed exile. Faith must be just as much about journeying and the patience and detachment that the act requires—the very challenge of trying to see through a glass, darkly—as it is about the thing, or the One, towards which we move. Not all those who wander are lost, and these happy wanderers will also be significantly less likely to elbow you in the face in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.


Holy Land Deserted by Tourists as Fighting Empties Hotels

From Bloomberg News: 

Omer Benjoya took a job this summer selling drinks, snacks and postcards on a hill that offers one of the most breathtaking panoramic views of Jerusalem.

Now all the 17-year-old needs are customers. Since hostilities flared this month between Israel’s army and Palestinian militants in Gaza, tourists have been scarce.

U.S. aviation regulators delivered a further blow this week, temporarily banning flights to Tel Aviv by American carriers for the first time since 1991, while their European counterparts also recommended a suspension after a rocket fired from Gaza landed about a mile from the city’s airport. The decisions came just days after a Malaysian Airlines plane was shot down in Ukraine’s war zone.

“Look around, see how empty it is,” Benjoya said next to the bright red truck his employer uses as a refreshment kiosk. “Normally, there’d be one or two hundred people standing here,” he said, gesturing to the near-empty stone-paved promenade that overlooks the walls of the Old City, the Dome of the Rock and the Mount of Olives.

While Jerusalem is calm, fighting that has left hundreds of Palestinian and more than two dozen Israeli families grieving their dead is threatening the livelihoods of many more. Almost a third of foreign visitors expected in Israel in July have canceled, according to a top trade association. An industry that welcomed a record 3.5 million overseas visitors last year is facing substantial damage.

Read on here.

Israel Opens Airport in Negev as Alternative to Ben-Gurion

Ovda, a military airfield, has opened after the FAA and the European Aviation Safety Agency temporarily canceled all flights to Israel due to a Hamas rocket attack on Tuesday.

Haaretz is reporting:

Ben-Gurion flight cancellations

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz announced on Wednesday that Israel would be opening the Ovda Airport as an alternative to Ben-Gurion Airport. In practical terms, this means that foreign airlines that wish to land there instead of at Ben-Gurion Airport will be able to do so. No airline that operates at Ben-Gurion Airport has given its approval or agreement to move its flights to Ovda Airport as yet.

A military airfield, Ovda Airport also serves civilian flights whose passengers are bound for Eilat. Although the airfield is open, if it is to be used for civilian purposes, more civilian flight controllers need to be added to the control tower, as well as emergency firefighting and rescue crews, which are required for civilian airports. These crews are usually brought in from Eilat in accordance with ongoing need.

Ovda Airport’s ability to take in civilian flights is limited, and it is usually not prepared for landings of wide-body aircraft. The new airport in Timna, which is to be opened in 2016, will replace both Ovda Airport and the airport in Eilat.

Starting today, Minister Katz will increase the staff at the airport on an ongoing basis for however long the airport should require Airports Authority personnel, and also increase the number of firefighting and rescue crews there.

According to the plan, passengers who land at Ovda will be taken to the center of the country by bus, though this matter has not been settled yet.

Rest here.