As a Catholic talk show host and pilgrimage leader I have had the blessing of taking groups to some of the most sacred and beautiful places on God’s green earth. At the top of the list of course would be the Holy Land and Rome. Interestingly enough I will be headed to both of these amazing places in just a few days. First I will spend time in Rome co-hosting a pilgrimage with my friends Steve and Janet Ray and then it is off to join the Rays in Jerusalem after the canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul the Second.
Because I travel to these sights so frequently I am often asked about my favorite churches or holy sights to pray and worship. Take the city of Jerusalem for example. Given its Biblical significance most think that number one on any Holy Land visitor’s list would be the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and why not? This is after all the place that marks the spot not only of our Lord’s crucifixion but also His resurrection. It is unbelievably moving to spend time in this church tucked deep within the historic walls of Jerusalem’s Old City. However, my favorite church in Jerusalem happens to be right outside the Jewish quarter of the old walled city; the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. It is perched on the eastern slope of Mt. Zion overlooking the Kidron Valley and the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. St. Peter in Gallicantu marks the scene of Peter’s denial of Christ on Holy Thursday. “Gallicantu” is a Latin word for “cock crow”.
It is hard for me to describe the beauty of this place. The church is filled with stunning mosaics depicting St. Peter’s denial around the infamous charcoal fire. The mosaic that most tugs at my heart is the mosaic illustrating the Lord gazing at Peter in the courtyard after he denies Him. It is not a look of condemnation but a look of love and forgiveness.
I identify so closely with St. Peter. I am hot headed and afflicted with “open mouth insert foot disease” just like our first Pope. And just like our first Pope, while I know I am forgiven for all the times in my life I denied our Lord there is still remorse for those sins. Visiting Gallicantu reminds me of our fallen nature and how easy it is even if we are like St. Peter and have had some very powerful experiences in our relationship with our Lord, to fall prey to sin and temptation. More importantly it reminds me of how much despite all of our mistakes and messiness the Lord still looks at us lovingly and is ready to welcome us home and give us what He promised in John 10:10 “the abundant life.” Remorse is much different than condemnation or guilt. I don’t know about you but it helps in the humility factor.
Have a blessed Triduum and a glorious Easter. Remember we are forgiven because He is risen.
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