Chronicles of the road to Emmaus

It all started in Jerusalem, almost 2000 years ago! Two disciples of Jesus were walking on a path when He joined them. From January 25 to February 2, 2020, we were 31 people of various origins walking towards (the) Emmaus. A great experience of communion as part of, “ The Week of Prayer for Unity,” in Jerusalem! A beautiful invitation, too, to walk together with Him towards 2033!

Remembering our “existential Emmaus”

This week began with a sharing of our “existential Emmaus”: how we were joined by Christ on our paths. This allowed us to meet in depth. We come from French and German Switzerland, France, Belgium and Germany and from several Churches (Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran, Anglican, Evangelical and Pentecostal).

We then began our descent  to the Romitaggio in Gethsemane, a hermitage held by the Franciscans, a place of contemplation and beauty. We stayed there for an hour of silence and were invited to give thanks for our Emmaus paths, by writing a text or a prayer which we then shared in small groups. 

We then followed the  Via Dolorosa to the Basilica of the Resurrection, where the Holy Sepulcher is located. In the  evening we participated in the first prayer for Christian Unity in the Anglican Cathedral of St. George.

Archbishop Suheil Dawani commented on the text of  the voyage of Paul and his stormy  landing in Malta. A text that would accompany us each  evening during the celebrations in the churches of the old city of Jerusalem. 

Motza: at the dawn of history

The next day, after a time of prayer in the "Garden Tomb", we set off for Motza, one of the possible Emmaus, identified by several archaeologists. 

After leaving Jerusalem, the countryside was a beautiful green, and the road became muddy due to the rain; but the sun was shining and it was hot. We saw an almond tree beginning to bloom.

At the beginning of the afternoon we arrived at the old synagogue of Motza whose history we discover, thanks to Youri, the manager of this place. Beside it, tarpaulins cover excavations which have just revealed a city dating from the Neolithic era (7,000 BC). According to archaeologists, it would have been the largest city in the Middle East at that  time. The path to Emmaus begins at the dawn of history! 

Early evening, back in Jerusalem, we gathered in the Armenian Cathedral of Saint James for a Service of Prayer for Unity. The priest recalled  the ecumenical gesture of Pope Francis who elevated Gregory of Narek to the rank of doctor of the Church. We end the day in an Armenian restaurant in the company of some members of the “Montées de Jerusalem”, a Communion of Prayer for Unity. 

Abu Ghosh: a "friendly presence" 

The next day, Brother Olivier welcomes us to the Benedictine monastery of Abu Gosh that the Knights of St. John, identified as  Emmaus in the 12th century. He reminded us of the vocation of dialogue with the Judaism of his community founded in 1976 by Don Gramont, Abbot of Bec Hellouin: " Be a cordial presence, at the source of our faith and attentive to the mystery of Israel "! A paradoxical presence because it is lived in a 99% Muslim village, which also indicates a wider openness. 

At  the heights of Abu Gosh we arrived at the Saxum Visitor Center, with its impressive multimedia resources, which reveals, through a timeline the History, Geography and Biblical events of the first century AD. This center is located on the road to Emmaus. To signpost the 18 km route to Nicopolis, they collaborated with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism.   

The miracle of Yad Hashmona 

 "The memory of the eight" is the meaning of "Yad Hashmona", a village on the mountains of Judea which keep alive the memory of eight Austrian Jews seized by the Finns and delivered to the Nazis. In the early 1970’s some Finns settled there, followed by Israeli Jews who had discovered their Messiah in Jesus. 

This village is an absolute miracle. There is no other example of non-Jews and non-Israelis  building such a village in Israel. 70 families live there. God used Finnish lunatics to achieve this, ”says Tsuriel Bar-David, manager of the hotel in this village.

The meeting with him allows us to discover the reality of the "Messianic Jews", a group between 12 and 20 thousand people strong in Israel. We end the day with a meal that links Jesus' last supper to the Easter meal. 

"Create meeting opportunities"!

On Wednesday 29 January we visit the Catholic Archbishop; Mgr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate. We asked him what the road to Emmaus meant to him: “Jesus meets these two people on the road, where they feel they have lost everything. For today, this tells us that Jesus wants to meet us even in our despair,” he tells us among other things. 

On the way towards 2033, he encouraged us to create opportunities for meetings, while letting the institutions act at their level. In the evening, during the Prayer for Unity at the Cathedral of the Latin Patriarchate, he meditated on the meaning of the Eucharist which must lead to a sharing of life. Only meeting the Risen One in a living community can change lives. 

Towards Emmaüs-Nicopolis, a spiritual road

The next day, Youval Yanaï, director of Revive Israël, and his associate, Sarah Singermann join us to walk towards Emmaüs-Nicopolis, from the forest of Neve Illan. Through their explanations, we understand that the road to Emmaus follows a Roman road on which the armies marched. We discover Roman guard posts, a cistern and  milestones. The challenge was to control access to Jerusalem, until today! "By walking now on the road to Emmaus we are opening a spiritual road," says Y. Yanaï. 

Communities at the end of the way

In Nicopolis we are met by Sister Agnes, from the community of the Beatitudes. She shows us the ruins of the Byzantine Basilica, witness to the identification of this place with Emmaus. According to her the other disciple next to Cleophas is a woman.  

We then go to the Trappist Abbey of Latroun, very close. Brother Christian Marie takes us to church. At the entrance to it a fresco depicting Jesus breaking bread at Emmaüs! This story teaches him to always share the good news of the love of Christ. 

We had been invited to share in  the evening meal at the Community of Latroun located in the grounds of the Abbey. This community of six people from different Churches (Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican) hold  daily prayers for the unity of Christians. “Community life makes it possible to create a space for Jesus in our midst, as in Emmaus. The people who come here feel this openness to heaven,” says Remi Rombouts, the manager.

Change of program!

Friday, January 31, we planned to walk to Al Qubeybe, "the Emmaus of the Franciscans". But it is raining and there are demonstrations announced in the Palestinian territories in reaction to the Peace Plan of the American president which had just been revealed. The decision is made to cancel this walk, so we visit Ein Kerem and Mount Sion instead.

Next to the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu. There we saw  steps from the Roman era. It is the traditional place where Jesus would have prayed for unity - "that all may be one, Father ... so that the world may believe". We put ourselves in a circle and we sing “Father, unite us all! Let the world believe in your love”! 

In the evening, we attended a Service of  Prayer for Christian Unity at the Syriac Orthodox Church of St Mark. Father Shimoun;  priest of that church, invited us to pray for the Churches of the Middle East: “ Young Christians must remain on this earth in order to be grains of salt. You have to be in humility. Pray, pray, pray not to succumb to temptation. Be humble to live the true face of Jesus”.

Witnesses of the Risen One!

On the morning of the last day of this intense week, we meet in small groups to take stock of these rich days. The general impression is positive. The unity experienced in confessional and national diversity was beautiful; likewise prayer each  evening in one of the churches in the old city of Jerusalem. 

The walk on the road to Emmaus has touched more than one! "During the walk, following an interior prayer, I was met, strengthened and comforted in my contact with Jesus," said one sister. 

At 5 p.m. we met in the Ethiopian Orthodox church for the last  Service of Prayer for Unity which ended in joy and dance to the sound of  tambourines. 

In the evening, we meet at the Paulus Haus, where we stayed. Olivier Fleury, president of JC2033, tells us: "On the way to Emmaus, we met Christians from all walks of life, living stones that keep traces of the Risen One and his life in their hearts". 

And he adds: “The resurrection brings hope in our areas of darkness and shadows, blockages and impossibilities. It calls for a new life. With whom can we share this good news? 

Martin Hoegger