Hello from the Holy Land!
I am currently in Jerusalem, my first time to visit this city of incomparable history.
Writing my first column from the very town where Christ was crucified, I initially felt compelled to write something profound - a reflection on the passion of Christ, a comparison of Jewish and Christian traditions, an essay on the role of Mary or any other related thesis.
But I just had an experience that made me realize that amidst all the complex if not complicated rituals that religions employ, the message of Christ that has resonated from the time that He preached around Galilee is not highfalutin at all.
I had the rare opportunity to hear mass inside Jesus' empty tomb at the 6 am mass on this day, the first day of our pilgrimage to Jerusalem, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The tomb can fit but five people.
Our generous guide, Sister Rebecca of the Missionary Sisters of the Catechism arranged for us to assist in the mass. Inside the tomb with my mother and sister, I read the First Reading and Responsorial Psalm, as the mass was in English. The rest of the tourists hear mass facing but outside the tomb.
As I kissed the bed of stone where Jesus was laid to rest, I said a little prayer: "Jesus, I want to see you." (I know, I'm a little cuckoo.)
That evening, after making the obligatory visit to the Western Wall, putting on my food writer's hat, I had dinner at the Jewish Quarter to have a taste of authentic Israeli cuisine. Instead, I had a taste of an authentic rip off. The waiter of the Friends restaurant welcomed my group with a charming smile, suggested to us what we should eat and took our orders but when I asked for the prices, he said he would give us a menu but that never came. When the bill arrived, we were shocked by an overcharge of over 100 Shekel (around P1500), as the waiter charged us for items that he placed on our table that we did not order but he insisted we pay for.
Worse, we were not even that hungry so we had so much food left over. We wrapped the food for takeaway just so that it would not go to waste but had no idea what to do with it.
As we walked back to our guest house, we came across a petite old lady with a shawl wrapped around her head. I first noticed her as we made our way to the Jaffa gate; she looked at me and smiled but she did not say anything and walked past us. Then as we made our way to another street, we saw her again, her back to us this time, as she looked at the window of a restaurant.
I went up to her to offer our food. I was hesitant because I was uncertain how she would take it; I was afraid of offending her with my gesture as some take offense even when your intentions are sincere. But I gathered my courage and said, "Hi, would you like some food? We have so much."
She smiled at me with so much joy in her eyes.
The words that flowed from her mouth as she received the food were so beautiful.I realize now these were meant not to thank me but to thank the Lord.
"Thank you so much. ... I am Christian. Are you Christian?" she asked after receiving the bag of food.
"You know, I did not know how I was going to eat today. I was getting hungry and I said, Lord, how am I going to eat? I have no money. And He told me, someone is going to give you food. That is what He told me. He did! And now here it is. I'm not kidding, He said that -- 'someone is going to give you food'," she shared.
Me! I'm the Someone! I replied in my characteristically chirpy way.
"I am Ruth," she kindly introduced herself.
Like in the Bible! I replied.
"Yes. Have you read the Bible? I have read it 26 times, including Revelation. ... What is your name?"
"Margaux, pray for me."
And before I knew it, I hugged her, with a promise that I would pray for her.
"God bless you!" she said.
Then we parted ways.
Walking away, I was so overwhelmed, I couldn't contain my tears.
In the midst of all the Biblical and historical sites of this town - the Holy Sepulchre, the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, and the million other churches and chapels that we visited - it was at this encounter, just on the street, where I truly felt Christ.
Like the Beloved Disciple, I started my day looking for Christ at his tomb.
At the end of the day, I was reminded of the simple truth of the Resurrection: That He is Risen but He is now in each of us. That it is in the Least that you find the Lord. That, as the lyric goes, it is when you love another person that you see the face of God.
On this day, I got what I asked for at the Holy Sepulchre: I saw Christ. In Ruth, I saw Christ.
I went home truly blessed. She wasn't just a hungry old lady. Dominus Est!
The author’s mother, Carmelita Salcedo, at Christ’s tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.