Pilgrims in Jerusalem interested in the city’s numerous holy sites can see them from a unique vantage point: a rooftop where a Catholic priest mixes humor and Biblical history to bring the city to life.
From the terrace of the Notre Dame Guest House, run by the Legionnaires of Christ, Fr. Eamon Kelly helps visitors connect from above the sites they have visited on foot, letting them see the locations in relation to one another.
“Basically it is all here. The stuff that made the Bible is within eyeshot of this rooftop. Ain’t that cool?” said Kelly, noting the site of Jesus’ crucifixion was 700 yards away.
“The Old City is not even a square mile,” said Kelly. “And in this little space we have different faiths living together and they don’t do anything to each other. You can walk around safely here…It’s not a hugging-kissing peace, but it’s a don’t-get-into-my face-I won’t-get-into-your-face peace.”
The rooftop view includes the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus is said to have prayed before his crucifixion; the Via Dolorosa, the path to the Cross; and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, site of the crucifixion and burial. Kelly’s history lessons also include comments on current events and city statistics.
“Often a typical guide will shower the pilgrim with so much information he will get overwhelmed,” said Kelly before a recent tour for a group of Jewish and Christian women from the International Women's Club. “How can they process everything when they get more and more information piled on them? Here they can have a moment of synthesis where they can see the storyline.”
As vice charge of the guest house, Father Kelly began offering the tour seven years ago when he arrived in Jerusalem. Some afternoons, when guests have returned from their day of visiting pilgrimage sites, he approaches them in the lobby and invites them up to the rooftop terrace. He also tries to accommodate pre-arranged tours.
Patty Willis, a Catholic from Houston, Texas, has been living in Israel for two years with her husband, who works for the Noble Energy Company. She said the tour had been enlightening, although she has visited the sites numerous times.
“I feel very blessed,” she said. “I’ve heard about this all my life...To be here and to realize how close everything is...I’ve been to the Holy Sepulchre so many times and this just tied it all together.”