While on pilgrimage to the Holy Land earlier this year, our group was given a tour by a White Father. He spent a few minutes of his day to teach us about the Church of St. Anne, but more importantly, about those who lived just below it.
If you are walking in the Old City of Jerusalem and you see a Romanesque church tucked just inside the Lion’s Gate within the Muslim Quarter, you have found the well-maintained Crusader Church of St. Anne. The church is known for its beautiful acoustics which reverberate off the austere stone walls, making one small voice resonate throughout every crevice.
This site is believed to be the home of Jesus’ grandparents, Saints Joachim and Anne, as well as the birthplace of our Blessed Mother. Upon entering the church you can take stone steps down to the cavelike crypt chapel and the remains of Saints Joachim and Anne’s home, which looks like a cave.
Rise and Walk
Other than the fact that this place marks the home of Mary, it also holds great symbolism in its geographic location. Just steps away from Saint Anne’s are the Pools of Bethesda, where Jesus healed the paralytic which we read about in the Gospel of John 5:8-9. It is also very close to the beginning of the Via Dolorosa (Stations of the Cross).
Very near where Jesus told the man lying by the pool to rise, take up his mat and walk, Jesus was also asked to begin his own walk. A walk not lightened, but burdened by the weight of a wooden cross. Yet a walk which would continue to bring healing to the world, just as Jesus healed the sick man. It seems appropriate that these events took place within the Lion’s Gate, a gate once called the Sheep’s Gate due to it being the place where sheep were brought to be sacrificed in the Temple. Now this area represents both the life of the Blessed Mother, who would one day sacrifice her son, and also the place where Jesus would begin the many stations of the cross, making sacrifices in order to heal those of us who are so often paralyzed by sin.
Now the Church of St. Anne is in the safekeeping of those who pass on the faith through evangelization and education.
Love the Lord, your God
France owns the Church of St. Anne, and it is run by the Society of Missionaries of Africa, who are also known as the White Fathers. The focus of their charism is on evangelization and education, a mission which I am sure Jesus grandparents would be proud of, as they passed on the faith to their grandson, through the formation they gave to their own daughter through the reading of the Scriptures.
The White Father giving us a tour shared with us about how Mary would have learned from her mother about the commandments. It was surreal to imagine Mary being taught the greatest commandment in Luke 10:27 where we are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, being, strength and mind. Little did Mary know at the time that, not only would she love the Lord with all her heart, but that her very being would be home to this very Lord during the first nine months of his life. We have Mary’s parents to thank for her solid upbringing, which points us to the vital role of grandparents!
Importance of Grandparents in the Life of the Church
Because Mary was so well formed by Saints Joachim and Anne, and taught how to love the Lord through the commandments, so too does she teach us how to love her Son. Even the popes have had something to say about the significance of grandparents in their grandchildren’s lives.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, “Who does not remember their grandparents? Who can forget their presence and their witness by the domestic hearth? How many of us bear their names as a sign of continuity and gratitude!” He goes on to say that the Church has always given attention to grandparents, because they are treasures to the world in so many ways, including human, social, religious and spiritual standpoints. Benedict XVI prays that grandparents will become a more prominent presence in the family, Church and the world as they are witnesses of the joy that can be found in living a life of faith. In his closing notes on his address on the pontifical council for the family he says, “Thinking of grandparents, of their testimony of love and fidelity to life, reminds us of the biblical figures of Abraham and Sarah, of Elizabeth and Zechariah, of Joachim and Anne, as well as of the elderly Simeon and Anna and even Nicodemus: they all remind us that at every age the Lord asks each one for the contribution of his or her own talents.”
At the end of our tour of the Church of St. Anne, the White Father with us ended his lesson to us by inviting us to sing near the main altar. His voice bellowed throughout the church as he said joyously, “Come now, let us sing together and praise the Lord.” Together, our pilgrimage group did that very thing, with a new sense of gratitude for the faith that our grandparents passed on to us.
Susanna Bolle Parent writes from St. Paul, Minnesota.