This session began in 2013. It runs for 13 weeks (two are only partial). The aim of the session is to give a general insight into the Bible from a pastoral perspective but based on modern research. Reading lists are given out and our libraries are at the service of the participants if they wish to do some additional reading or do some more personal research.
At the moment, Walter Vogels looks after the Old Testament. At his request, I give courses on the prophet Amos and contribute an introduction to the Psalms.
For New Testament courses, we share out the work: Bill Russell gives lectures on Saint Paul, Fr. Joseph Doan, SJ. offers a course on St. John (Canonical Reading) and I look after the Synoptic Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and the Apocalypse of St. John.
The Bible course itself takes place on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday in the morning. The afternoons are free or taken up by talks or seminars.
On Thursdays, visits are made to the holy places. We visit the sites mentioned in the Gospels as well as other holy sites of the First Testament or other places of interest such as Qumrân, Masada, Avdat, the Ein Tsurim Kibbutz and the village of Neve-Shalôm, etc.)
On Sundays, there is the possibility of visiting some other interesting places or museums in Jerusalem and to participate at Eucharistic celebrations in the different Catholic rites (Greek Melkite, Syrian Catholic, Maronite, and Armenian). Mid-way through the session, we organise a week in Galilee in order to visit the holy places there.
Conferences and meetings are on the programme to allow encounters with the local churches. I list some of the most frequent participants:
- Bishop Michel Sabbah, the Emeritus Latin Patriarch,
- Bishop Joseph Jules Zerey, Patriarchal Vicar of the Greek Melkite Church
- Mr. George Hintlian of the Armenian Orthodox Church
- Rabbis Alain Michel or Henry Noach or some other Jewish personality
- Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway, Professor of Islamic Studies (in English only)
Other talks or seminars are organised on the following topics:
- The Israeli – Palestine conflict ( Frans Bouwen)
- Oriental Churches (Frans Bouwen)
- Islam (Michael Fitzgerald – 3 meetings)
- A journalist’s view on the actual situation (Marie-Armelle Beaulieu)
- Making Icons (Sr. Marie-Paule)
On Monday mornings during the first weeks, we celebrate the Eucharist in the religious communities with whom we collaborate: Little Sisters of Jesus, (at the 6th Station), Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (Nablus Street), the Chemin Neuf community (at Ecce Homo), the Dominican Fathers (Jerusalem Bible). On one Sunday we celebrate the Eucharist with the Fathers and Oblates of the Assumption at St Peter in Gallicantu.
On Monday and Wednesday evenings, films are shown mainly on the situation in the country, its recent history, as well as on the holy places or other topics.
At the beginning of the session, we propose two days on non-violent communication. This allows us to create a climate of give-and-take and mutual listening. Every morning also, we propose a time for looking back on the previous day or previous days. On Saturday, we celebrate the Eucharist where everybody is invited to share some important point they experienced during the week.
As this session is also considered as a session for spiritual renewal, some personal accompaniment is offered from the beginning of the session to those who desire it. The participants are free to choose the person of their choice from the confreres available or other people from outside such as Fr. Doan, SJ or one or other of the Religious Sisters in Jerusalem.
The session ends with an 8 day directed retreat. Each one has a personal spiritual director. The participants themselves decide, in a concrete manner, the way they want to live this experience. However, a daily meeting with the spiritual director is recommended at a time of their choice.
After the 8 day retreat, there is time for evaluation; first of all at a personal level, then at the level of the group. We ask each participant to reply personally on an evaluation grid. This will help us to improve the organisation and contents of these sessions The Bethesda session comes to an end with a closing celebration.
Local Superior – Rome