Holy Land visit
April 19 - 23, 2001
It was truly a blessing from Heaven to have Vassula return once again to the Holy Land. The land where God chose to reveal Himself to mankind and where He would fulfill His salvation plan for all through the birth and life of Jesus, His death on the cross and triumphant resurrection. The arrival of His prophet in this conflict ridden land was during Easter week this year, when Easter was celebated on the same date by all the Churches, just like Jesus wishes it to be. Once again, God's message of Love, Reconciliation, Unity and Peace was to be proclaimed in this troubled and deeply divided land.
We had to ensure that we would have an adequate number of books, both in Arabic and English. An order of 2,000 Arabic books was made with a local printer, and we set about raising funds to cover the considerable cost, trusting in Jesus, knowing that if we did our best He would do the rest, and of course He did! We ordered books from London along with TLIG magazines and books by theologians. To have the newly translated Volume I in Hebrew ready for display was something special. Comprehensive TLIG dossiers (see Jordan Report: www.tlig.org) were compiled for distribution as they had proved effective in preparing for the Jordan meeting last October.
Samia contacted Sabeel: The Ecumenical Liberation Theology Institute, in Jerusalem. The director of Sabeel, the Anglican Pastor Dr Naim Ateek, who attended the TLIG International Conference in Bethlehem in March 2000, was pleased to hear of Vassula's visit. He confirmed that Sabeel, in co-operation with the TLIG Holy Land team, would officially invite her to speak in Jerusalem and in Nazareth. We thanked God for this 'open door' here in a land where so many doors seem so tightly shut. It was truly a blessing from above. As an ecumenical body, the board members of Sabeel are drawn from the clergy and lay members of the various local Church denominations. Sabeel's official invitation list for Vassula's meeting would reach far and wide touching all Church denominations and local institutions at a significant level.
Together with Mrs Nora Carme, Dr. Ateek's Program Co-ordinator (to whom the messages were introduced in 1998), we set to work on the details. We also contacted the Greek Orthodox Archimandrite from the Holy Sepulchre, who is on the board of Sabeel. It was he who 'opened' the doors of his Church to the TLIG International Pilgrims in March 2000 for an ecumenical Liturgy where everybody prepared could receive Holy Communion. The Archimandrite, whose work area is 'Arab Affairs' was difficult to track down as his job requires him to travel frequently. At this time he was attending the Arab Summit in Jordan, after which he travelled on to Damascus. We finally managed to contact him and set up a meeting at his office. He was pleased to hear of Vassula's visit and readily accepted the invitation to introduce her at the meeting. He gave us permission to distribute invitations for the meeting at his Church after the Liturgy on Easter Sunday. The Archimandrite was happy to recieve a dossier and a full set of books.
It was quite an experience to be winding our way through the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem on that sunny Easter Sunday morning to the Holy Sepulchre, invitations in hand. We thought of Mary Magdalene who made the same trip on the morning of the Resurrection, when she found the empty tomb. And here we were, two thousand years later, joyfully tripping along the streets of Jerusalem, knowing - like Mary Magdelene - that "Jesus is Risen!" and in our hands invitations for everyone to come and listen to Him, because not only is He risen, but He is speaking to us today! And in the city of Jerusalem! - through His chosen instrument, in this Divine message of True Life in God. It was a deeply moving experience to consider all this. Little did we know that we were in for quite a setback. On arriving at the Church at the pre-arranged time we were shocked to find it empty on Easter Sunday morning! It turned out we had been wrongly advised of the time of the Liturgy and it was already over and the people gone. Looking back, we wonder who was more surprised/shocked/amazed on Easter morning ........ Mary Magdalene, on finding the empty tomb, or us, finding the empty Church!
Undaunted, we kept moving knowing that Jesus would gather in His people as long as we did our best. We continued to invite as many people as possible of all creeds and none. Jerusalem, religious wellspring that it is, is home to almost every creed and tribe. Protestants, Orthodox - Russian/Greek/Syrian/Armenian, Catholics, Maronites, Jews and Muslims were all given - through the invitation/flyer - the opportunity to hear our Shepherd's voice through His Love Hymn from Heaven. Wherever we went we had invitations at the ready, asking Jesus to guide us. We needed to be extremely prudent as we went, because proselytising is effectively forbidden in Israel. This everyday reality is ever present. We are following the footprints of Jesus in a land whose people still do not accept Him, and where many who do accept Him do not accept that He is speaking in our days. In Galilee, Mezied and the Galilean TLIG family covered much ground sending word out far and wide about the meeting in Nazareth. Arrangements for videotaping, translation and music were made. This would be the third TLIG meeting in Nazareth, the town where Jesus grew up. It was somehow special to think of Jesus being invited by His own - the Galileans! In Hebrew, the word 'Notzrim'-Christians-derives from the word 'Nazareth' and literally means: 'followers of the Nazarene'.
As in other years when Vassula was invited to speak in the Holy Land, there was strong opposition to her visit from some Church authorities. The Union of Bishops gathered at the request of the Apostolic Delegate and the Latin Patriarchate. The leaders of the various denominations were instructed to advise their people not to attend nor to be involved with this event - the reason being the now outdated Notification of 1995. Because of this, as had been our experience in Jordan, it was not possible to have the meetings on Church property. Considerable pressure was brought to bear on the Sabeel organizers urging them not to be involved with TLIG. Despite this, Sabeel remained steadfast throughout and the meetings went ahead - putting their Institute's reputation and future in the region on the line. Those opposed expressed their deep disappointment at Sabeel's decision to go ahead with the meetings. This controversy adversely affected the attendance at both meetings in a big way. Even the choir/singers for the meeting were told not to be involved and cancelled just hours before the meeting.
Vassula arrived on April 19, Israel's 'Yom Ha'Shoah' (Holocaust Memorial Day). That morning at 11am, sirens wailed across the land. For two minutes the whole country stood still - people on the street, in their homes and workplaces stood silently at attention. Cars and buses halted on the street, all of life stopped for two minutes as people remembered the dark days of the Holocaust in absolute silence. Here, in the shadow of the now nine month long Intifada, where death, injury and suffering have become a cruel everyday reality we urgently need to pray for all the people of the Holy Land to recognize God's cry from Heaven, a call for Reconciliation, Peace, Love and Unity. As we made our way to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport to meet 'the Lord's guests in His home country,' the heatwave of the previous days-locally known as Sherav/Chamseen was still with us. It was a joy to meet Vassula and her entourage: the two Sisters and the Priest along with Carol Chamberlain and Niels Christian Hvidt. We went straight to the Old City of Jerusalem where they would stay at the Franciscan Guesthouse. After a Mass at the Holy Sepulchre, the Franciscan Custos, Rev Giovanni Battistelli, invited them for dinner. On Friday morning April 20, the group went to Beth Myriam where Bernard showed everyone around. The Mother General, who was in the Holy Land for the first time, gratefully accepted this magnificent building in the heart of Bethlehem (close to Manger Square) with joy and heartfelt thanks. After this a special Mass was celebrated in Bethlehem's Nativity Grotto.
That afternoon we travelled three hours from Jerusalem to Nazareth. Because of the current instability, we did not take the scenic Jordan Valley route as a safe passage through the valley cannot be guaranteed these days and Jericho is completely blockaded. Taking the Tel Aviv/Haifa motorway we drove through the Biblical region of Dan, along the Mediterranean Coast and its many attractive beaches. Passing along the Plain of Sharon and Caesarea, where St Paul was imprisoned, we drove by the beautiful undulating scenery of the wine region-on towards Mt Carmel/Haifa and from there, on through the rolling Galilean hill country to Nazareth.
Arriving at the English Hospital, uplifting Arabic hymns opened the meeting and we had brief introductions by Sabeel, the TLIG team and Fr Francois, a Franciscan priest. Those that have come, Vassula began, have been called and they have answered - they have answered to God. About 150 people attended the meeting. It was wonderful to see so many young people. Vassula explained that the messages of True Life in God are for everybody: every nation, every creed, that God does not differentiate and if the Church is divided it is because the people are divided. This message is a call to repentance. Through repentance we create space within us for the Holy Spirit and through His light we can see God's will. Repentance brings forth the fruit of love and love will bring the fruit of unity. The people listened attentively as Vassula explained that division does not come from God, God unites, division comes from Satan. God would not speak in our times if it were not necessary. We are living in evil times and God intervenes because He is a Father and will intervene like a Father. So we should not be surprised if He speaks today, He is alive! He is resurrected! Prophecy is God speaking and prophecy will never die. She said that when God speaks it is always for the benefit of the Church and God says: "Let those who have ears hear. Let those who have not ears let them not hear."
Reading a message, she reminded us that we are all of 'Royal descent' (TLIG 22.07.94). "Sons! and daughters! You are the offspring of the Most High! You descend from Sovreignity and Splendour..... you belong to Heaven..... you are of Royal Descent, so why, why do you listen to the Beast? You are blessed in Our Image, not of the Beast's! You are all meant to walk in the courts of the house of the Mighty One, so, allow Me to clothe you in My Splendour. Open your heart and I shall save you!" Therefore He desires us to die to ourselves in order to take care of God's interests, not our own. "Die to yourself so that My Holy Spirit can breathe in you. Lower your voice so that you will be able to hear My voice. Lower your head so that they see My head. Lower yourself entirely, so that I will be able to lift you."
Regarding going to Church, she told us to go with a contrite heart and to go for Jesus! .....not just out of duty or seeing it as a social event to dress up for. If we dress nicely for Church we should do it for Jesus and should ask Him to make us beautiful from within. For Jesus knows us and what matters for Him is the inner beauty of our soul and not the exterior. Vassula shared that the unceasing prayer is: "When your heart desires Me your God all day long. It is when your heart thirsts for Me all day long. It is when your heart longs for Me your God all day long." Jesus urges us:"Come to Me as you are, do not wait to be saints to approach Me". Vassula explained that it is our heart, our will and our total abandonment that Jesus seeks. He asks us to become dispassionate and to take the path of virtues. Once we have God's will within us, then we can say we are 'walking with God'. God's will is to love. Love is the number one virtue, the other virtues spring from love and the more space we make within us, by emptying ourselves, the more we can be filled with love and the Holy Spirit. She reminded us that on Judgement Day we will all be judged according to the measure of love we had while here on earth.
The audience was absorbing every word that was said, as it was the voice of the Most High speaking through His instrument. She shared the true image of our Father in heaven as described by Jesus Himself:"My Father is a King yet so motherly. He is a Judge yet so tender and loving. He is the Alpha and the Omega yet so meek." This is our Father. Vassula said that were we to hear Him - to hear just one sentence - that our lives would not be the same any more, as it is difficult to remain on earth if you have heard God's voice.
We were reminded that God, in the messages, teaches us how to pray and meditate and how we learn that through prayer we will find the answer to all our problems. Our Lady says: "The more prayers there are the more conversions there will be - your prayers can change the world. Your prayers can obtain God's graces for the conversion of sinners. Prayers are powerful, that is why I insist of you not to abandon your prayers and sacrifices. The world has grown cold, icy cold and the world is dead to love. It lies in deep obscurity because hatred, greed and selfishness dominate the entire earth - all the way to its core. I am shaken by terrible sights with the iniquity of this dark world and the apostasy that penetrated into the Sanctuary itself. The disasters, famines, afflictions, wars and plague - all these are drawn by you. The earth is self-destroying itself and it is not God who gives you all these disasters, as many of you tend to believe. God is just and all merciful, but evil draws evil."
Our Lord is asking us to pray for the conversion of the world because the more conversions, the less evil and disasters. When praying we must pray to a living God, He is alive! Jesus asks prayers from the heart as 'lip-service' prayers don't reach Him. Vassula then told the story of her praying of the 'Our Father' in the beginning. Then, with such love and joy in her heart, she prayed the 'Our Father' in the way that pleases God. For those present it felt like Jesus Himself praying to the Father.....it was breathtaking and awesome. For those who say that they pray and pray but don't feel God, Vassula shared a most clarifying message from Jesus: "Come, you who still err in this wilderness saying: 'I have sought my Redeemer but have not found Him'... find Me, My beloved in purity of heart, by loving Me without self interest. Find Me in holiness, in the abandonment I desire of you; find Me by observing My Commandments; find Me by replacing evil with love; find Me in simplicity of heart. Sin no more; cease in doing evil, learn to do good; search for justice, help the oppressed. Let this wilderness and this aridity exult; let your tepidness inflame into an ardent flame. Relinquish your apathy and replace it by fervour, do all these things so that you may be able to say: 'I have sought my Redeemer and I have found Him. He was near me all the time but in my darkness I failed to see Him. O Glory be to God! Blessed be our Lord! How could I have been so blind?' I shall then remind you to keep and treasure My Principles, so that you may live." (TLIG: 8.07.89)
Concluding, Vassula said that God calls us to divinise us and to become adoptive sons and daughters of the Most High, so that we can rule with Him, which we can do if we are transfigured through the action of the Holy Spirit within us. Then our mind will be the mind of Christ and we will be vested with Christ. Vassula joined in the singing of Doxa, Doxa. Then, after a prayer to glorify God she blessed all present with a cross outstretched towards the people. The joy in the auditorium was obvious as all joined the choir singing and clapping in praise to God who made His presence felt in such a powerful way during the entire meeting. It was wonderful to see many people lining up at the bookstand. After a quick dinner in Nazareth, we headed back to Jerusalem. It was another long day for Vassula, reaching Jerusalem around midnight, with a full programme awaiting her the next day.
Much needed to be prepared next morning, Saturday April 21, for the Jerusalem meeting. The TLIG team and Sabeel Organizers swiftly set up and prepared the venue at the YMCA in East Jerusalem, while Vassula attended to final arrangements regarding Beth Myriam. Vassula was then picked up at the Shepherd's Fields where she and the 'Beth Myriam' group had a traditional lunch in Bedouin Tents (like in the time of Jesus). We crossed the checkpoint near Rachel's Tomb and drove to Jerusalem leaving behind the West Bank and its people, the majority of whom are not permitted to travel to Jerusalem. Later, while waiting for Vassula in the car near the Guesthouse (as she prepared for the meeting) the very last soul was 'gathered in'. On one of those incredibly narrow streets, so typical of the Old City of Jerusalem, a young Arab Christian approached looking for help explaining how difficult life here has become. Having helped as best we could, we realized that there was just one last invitation/flyer in the back of the car-obviously for him!.... as it is written that man cannot live on bread alone. We briefly outlined the special event taking place in just a few minutes nearby and how God is speaking to us today through Vassula. His eyes opened wide with interest as he hurried off up the winding stone steps in the Christian Quarter clutching his invitation, passing Vassula, Carol and Niels Christian en route. It was a joy to see this last soul gathered in by Jesus at absolutely the last minute before the meeting! Carol later made sure that he received the first volume of the messages.
As Vassula arrived at the venue there was a calm yet expectant atmosphere. About 200 people were waiting to hear God's call of today. We saw many new faces and even four priests from different denominations, together with nuns from various orders. What a relief after all the setbacks and opposition to literally sabotage the meetings! We praised God as it was due to His omnipotent power. Brief introductions were made by Sabeel, and inspiring hymns were sung by a Jerusalem Youth Choir. The Archimandrite greeted the people present: "Christos Anesti!" and they joyfully responded: "Alithos Anesti!" He began: "In a place nearby there is an empty tomb because Jesus has risen from the dead with tremendous Glory as He said He would. We are in Jerusalem: City of the Resurrection, the city of Divine light, the city from which the Christian message went out to the whole world." He reminded us that what joins us together, whether we are Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant, is our Lord Jesus. He welcomed Vassula saying: "We come together today to listen to what Vassula has to say with true Christian love. We have all to pray together for the unity of the Church but we also have to work for that unity."
Vassula's talk covered themes similar to those in Nazareth, while expanding more on some points, as Jesus inspires her to say what the people of any particular meeting need to hear. One of Sabeel's main missions is Unity and this was the main message in this meeting. Vassula told us how God prepared her to serve Him, so that she would serve Him with a fire inside her, with zeal! - not with a tepid heart ..... and this is the way He wants us all to serve Him, whatever our calling may be. Moving swiftly to the theme of Unity, she shared with us the first day Jesus Christ came to speak to her about unity, when she received the vision of the three iron bars representing the three Churches; of how she was afraid and did not want to be involved with the problems of the Church. All were amused by her recounting the story of trying to escape the vision-like Jonah in the Old Testament. Smiling, she said that Jonah took the boat - she took the car and went shopping! In the car - the vision was there, in the shop-the vision was there, wherever she turned - the vision was there.... she could not escape it. Despite all efforts she could not chase the vision away. Then Jesus cried out to her: "Pupil, get up! You have fallen....... Carry My Cross of Unity, but I will help you."
It was then the messages of Unity began. Vassula said that Jesus is very disappointed with many of us. He says:" "Sincerity is missing among you." The first major step required is Repentance - true repentance from the heart that will open the way to the gift of love which will lead us into a spiritual unity. Repentance is the gate that leads souls from darkness into the light, that light which allows us to see God's Divine will so that we can progress into unity. Jesus says that the biggest rival within us is our own will which goes against His will. He wants us to die to ourselves in order to take care of God's interests, not our own. Continuing, she said that in order to see God and to do His will one has to be reborn in the Holy Spirit. In the power of the Holy Spirit, one can obtain the inaccessible and attain the unattainable-discovering the Divine treasure that is the spiritual knowledge of the Triune God. This knowledge is aquired through a personal and intimate experience of God, for the true theology is the contemplation of God. It is not the eloquence of speech nor the lengthy discourse that will lead to a spiritual unity but a change from within. It is not enough to keep the law of the Church and obey it, what God desires is a change from within. Jesus repeatedly says in the messages that love and humility are the keys to unity. If we bend in humility and love, our hearts will flower with conversion. Intolerance, prejudice, unfaithfulness, lack of forgivness and lack of love must be banished from our hearts. For this we need an intense poverty of the spirit and an overflow of generosity and not until we understand that we must all bend, will we be able to unite.
Jesus gave a very powerful message in Jerusalem regarding Unity. It somehow reminded us of how He used to address the wise and learned in the Temple and because of fearlessly speaking the truth He was rejected by them in the end. And still today, those who follow the bloodstained footprints of the Lord by fearlessly proclaiming the Truth, repeating what God is saying to the Churches today, are rejected and silenced, just like Jesus was. He continued: "The entire world, is lying in an apostasy," that His body, the Church, has been pitilessly divided by men in their lack of love - ripped apart it can no longer function - but that through reconciliation, we will overturn all the dark powers and the dominion of the evil one who keeps us scattered. How can our Church be credible in the eyes of the world when we preach peace, love, brotherhood, reconciliation to countries that are massacring their people when we-at the same time, at our own centre-are spiritually massacring the body of Christ by throwing venomous arrows on one another - we have bartered our Glory for shame ...... and God is asking if anyone has ears to hear the uproar from Heaven? The theme of Unity was concluded on a note of hope: that the Holy Spirit is the inner source of Christian unity, in Whom we should put our hopes and efforts for unity. We must constantly call on Him to lead us, He is the source of Hope.
Then followed striking words, with the insight of a true Prophet....... with loving sincerity from the bottom of her heart, Vassula said that unity will come when we truly begin to love our Lord Jesus Christ. Then we will do everything for Him and nothing for ourselves. We will accept Divine slavery, martyrdom, spittle, the crown of thorns, the scourge of the world on our backs, calumny and insult if we truly love Jesus Christ. The cross and Jesus are one. You cannot say you love Jesus without also embracing the cross. Her parting words were: "Let us glorify God!" People were visibly touched and many made their way to the bookstand.
On Sunday April 22, a meeting regarding the 2002 Pilgrimage was scheduled. After this there was a most interesting trip to the Lake of Galilee where Mass was specially arranged with Fr. Xavier, the Franciscan Parish Priest of St Peter's Church on the Lake, at Tiberias. He felt priviledged to welcome Vassula and asked her to sign his guest book. Before departure, on Monday April 23, our Holy Land team had a light farewell lunch in Jerusalem, where Vassula reminded us that each of her worldwide visits is just a beginning - the seeds are planted and we now need to water those seeds and keep things alive by following up on the visit with ongoing evangelization.
May we who have been called by grace to serve Him in this special way, always be encouraged by the Holy Spirit's inspiration through our total abandonment to His Divine Will.
TLIG Holy Land Team