Fr. Jim Gardiner, SA, was invited to offer his insights as an experienced pilgrimage chaplain to the Holy Land at the Washington Theological Consortium board of trustees’ seventh annual Friends’ Reception, which was held at St. Matthew’s Cathedral on May 22. Prior to hearing Fr. Gardiner’s talk, guests of the event visited “The Tomb of Christ” exhibit at the National Geographic Museum, which gave them a glimpse into the deeply spiritual and emotional experience for those who make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Over the past six years, Fr. Gardiner has been to the Holy Land five times and two times has been able to celebrate Mass inside the Tomb of Christ. This is a rare privilege since the provisions of the “Status Quo,” an agreement among Jews, Christians and Muslims that dates back to Osman III in 1757, the space and responsibilities in the Holy Sepulcher – which encompasses the Tomb of Christ – must be shared. Franciscans are allotted three hours between 6 and 9 AM that are divided into six twenty-five minute slots. Fr. Gardiner does not take for granted the blessing it is to be able to enter into the highest form of prayer available to us in such a holy place.

He shared, “There is something about the place that engenders in me feelings of awe and something else I really can’t name because it ranges from unworthiness and insignificance to gratitude…”

Fr. Gardiner spoke of the many pilgrims who enter the sepulcher of the Lord and find themselves moved to tears when in the presence of the Savior’s Tomb. Fr. Gardiner pointed out that according to the Gospels, Christ also wept and that tears are nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, he challenged his listeners to allow themselves to weep more often, saying “…should we not be weeping over the plight of refugees, immigrants, malnutrition, inadequate water?”

More often than not, pilgrims tell Fr. Gardiner that those few moments at the Tomb of Christ are at the heart of the Holy Land experience. He looks forward to returning for pilgrimages in July and September of this year.