Since we are taking people to the Holy Land 5 times this year and 7 times next year, I thought I share an e-mail I received from a man whose Protestant friend just returned from the Holy Land a bit disillusioned and skeptical. Here is the e-mail I received:
Hi Steve, Here’s the question in brief (read more if you have time). How do we know that the sites such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are authentic?
A Protestant friend of mine recently took a trip to the Holy Land and when he returned we had some discussions about the sites. He raised his doubts about the authenticity of some of the sites, and in particular about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He made some disparaging comments about “the liturgical church” and how they build churches on top of everything (in a tone as if they have been ruined or desecrated), and how they don’t even know that they are the real locations.
So my question to you: How do we know that these sites are authentic. I’m sure you don’t have time to give a full dissertation, but if you could point me to a good book or website I would appreciate it. Thanks for all you good work.
I responded briefly below. I had no time to craft my response carefully but wrote it in the few minutes I have. My next group is arriving and there is a lot to do here in Galilee to get ready.
Greetings from Galilee and the AUTHENTIC sites of Our Lord and Lady. I wrote three articles I hope you find helpful:
My guess is your friend had a Jewish guide and like most of them he was an unbelieving skeptic. I listen to them speak to their groups and it is too often a travesty. People often leave with less faith than when they arrived due to the way the guides belittle Catholic sentiments, turning a tour into a political trip.
The site of the birth of Christ and Calvary and the Tomb are NOT up for questions (though some Protestants have their own alternate site which is obviously not authentic, read about it in my book St. John’s Gospel). The Catholic sites are historically, archaeologically and biblically certain. They have been from the first centuries.
Most Protestants dislike them because they are “liturgical,” very Catholic and Orthodox. Protestants are the “Johnny-come-latelys” and as such they feel neglected and out of place in most of the holy sites. While Catholics celebrate the age-old Mass in the holy sites like we’ve done for 2,000 years, the Protestants are relegated to sitting under a tree reading the Bible and singing hymns, learning from their guides why no one really knows anything for sure.
Once I heard a Jewish guide say to a Catholic group in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre: “Here we are at what some people believe is the place Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead (he actually believes neither). No one knows if this is really the place. It is all a matter of your faith. OK, look around and let’s go to the next site.”
With our groups we give the reasons we KNOW it is the site based on good evidence and history and archaeology, we pray the Sorrowful Mysteries and gather in front of the Tomb for a Mass and as the priest comes out of the Tomb with the consecrated host we see Jesus come out of the Tomb again sacramentally.
I understand your friend since I see it every day. I feel sorry for those who’ve spent a lot of money to see this land and understand their faith and often go home less sure then when they came. It is not ALL groups but is all to frequent. I don’t want to hear from the exception to this travesty since I know there are exceptions, but I see the other far too often.
You can be sure about the sites (at least the major ones) and when I lead a group people are in tears and full of joy and discovery and go home better Catholics, sure of their faith and ready to die for Christ if need be.
We just dropped off one group and today pick up another group at the Tel Aviv Airport. We are excited to show them the sites, watch tears well up in their eyes, see daily conversions with a deeper love for Our Lord and Lady. We never tire of doing this because we BELIEVE and KNOW what we are doing is true, authentic and has an eternal weight of glory.
(I may be criticized by some for my disparaging comments. I do not intend to disparage but to get the pendulum back where it belongs. I want people to know what they are seeing and know why some come home more skeptical than they left.)
COMMENT JUST RECEIVED FROM A PAST PILGRIM:
Martha wrote: “Hello Steve: I can relate….the first time we went to the Holy Land I felt somewhat the same way. However, 4 years later we returned, this time with Steve and Janet and everything became crystal clear…truly life altering. Hope to return soon, so much to absorb and learn with the right guides and teachers ( once again). Thanks for this refresher course!”