I recommend that every Christian should have in their bucket list of things to do before they die, two pilgrimages: one to Rome, specifically for the celebration of Easter, and another to Jerusalem for the celebration of Holy Week. It’ll be a kind of ‘reverse pilgrimage’ to attend the Easter event in Rome before the Passion one in the Holy Land. Conventional wisdom would suggest doing it the other way round, but that’s not how majority of us started our faith journey. We first became believers before we learned what we believed: something like St. Anselm’s “fides quaerens intellectum” (faith seeking understanding) or like an adopted child growing up in her adopted family, then after many years goes in search of her natural parents. An Easter pilgrimage to Rome will find you one among nearly half a million people at the vast piazza of St. Peter’s Basilica. You’ll be stunned at the number who share the same faith as you, especially when after Mass, the pope greets you and your fellow Christians—“Happy Easter”—in many different languages to which follows each time a loud cheer and applause by the peoples of the different language groups in response to the greeting. You’ll be amazed at the unity expressed at the one altar of the Resurrected Lord.
Your next pilgrimage to celebrate Holy Week in the Holy Land will certainly be subdued as you’re led to the actual sites of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. If a walk through the “Via Dolorosa” on Good Friday doesn’t leave tears in your eyes, you should see a therapist because you may not be truly human. You’ll also see that Jesus remains a sign of contradiction for that land, as you notice the division among Christian sects who claim a section of each Church to themselves. Many a time fights will break out between the Franciscans and the Greek Orthodox or the Armenians and the Syriac Orthodox. Several Jewish and Muslim merchants will yell at you to buy fake Christian artifacts—just for the money. No surprise, they still think Jesus was an impostor and the Messiah is yet to arrive. And your greatest misery will come from seeing the staggering Dome of the Rocks—the largest religious edifice in Jerusalem—a mosque, erected on the Temple Mount, from where Muslims claim Mohamed ascended into heaven. [I didn’t mean to spoil your Easter].
Yet, everything I said above is true. There’s about 20 centuries separating the events you experience in Rome and the ones in Israel or Palestine, but there’s a tape connecting them. The sad events in Jerusalem gave rise to the joy of Rome. The Hosanna and Alleluia you hear in Rome are, after all, Hebrew words, but they resound everywhere they’re announced; they have remained words untranslatable. During my visit to Korea seven years ago, they were about the only words I understood at Mass.
Truly, a radical overturning of the entire history of humanity took place this morning. There’s hardly one of us who has not experienced the death of a loved one or someone we admire. I can give anything possible to have my mother back to life. Yet, for me, the consequences of Jesus’ resurrection remain incalculable. A new kind of existence which cannot end for our departed loved ones is ushered in for all of us. It’s as if some sort of implacable, underground vitality surfaced from the innermost depths of humanity, flooding everything and imposing itself irresistibly on us (Motte). Though I still fear bodily death, I’m assured that death would not annihilate me; rather, it has been turned to a tool for my transformation unto glory. And the greatest news is that sin is conquered. My failures that stream from a complicity with entrenchment to worldly power and security, which constantly beguile human existence, has been dealt a fatal blow. The resurrection of Christ has defused this seductive power of sin and granted us freedom through His life-giving Spirit. Happy Easter to you all!
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo