Holy Land in America

By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy

IT IS EVERY Christian’s dream to visit the Holy Land, the roots of their faith and which continues to inspire awe and reverence. But the cost of going there is beyond the means of many. Fortunately, the Catholic Church has established traditions that to some extent provides the sense of being there, especially through the practice of the Way of the Cross and Christmas, and commemorations as the Triumph of the Holy Cross.

Who would not want to go to Rome and experience the “deathly scene” of the catacombs as well as inside of the St. Peter’s Basilica with its grandeur and history and, for Bacolod the tomb of St. Sebastian, the city’s patron saint? So when our friends, Douglas Young and his wife, Cynthia, invited us to a “detour” to see the place, we agreed gladly even as the heat in Washington, D.C. was scorching. The idea of the Holy Land in the capital of the United States is tantalizing.

Here is a Franciscan Monastery that replicates the Holy Land, the Vatican and Rome in one place. The Franciscan “reproduced the sacred shrines…to encourage pilgrimages and allow those who could not make such a journey to see and experience the shrines themselves.”

The Monastery has many replicas of the sites in the Holy Land “with accurate reproductions of the shrines related to Jesus’s death and resurrection; a lower church with the Grottos of Nazareth and Bethlehem and the Roman Catacombs; as well as 42 acres of inspiring and peaceful gardens.”

Entrance is free but visitors are invited to help maintain the Monastery with donations and for the guides that wear the uniform of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, an order of laymen established by the Franciscans and are dedicated to the service of this Monastery. Established in 1898, the Holy Land in America is intended to “extend the Franciscan’s work to the United States.”

The Monastery however is not just about the Holy Land which is the main attraction of this place. Around the Monastery are gardens that are “oasis of peace with roses, herbs and seasonal displays” that includes the outdoor Stations of the Holy Cross and a replica of the shrine in Lourdes, France. There is a Rosary Portico which encloses the gardens and contains the text of the Hail Mary in 150 languages.

Due to space limitations, let me cite a few of what visitors will see and visit although some could stay even longer for retreats, conferences and banquets. Indeed the monastery is very large in area and numerous in what a Catholic wants to see and experience in a lifetime.

We had a tour of the reproductions (all are reproductions except several relics of saints displayed inside the catacombs) of the Church of Mount Saint Sepulcher, the Saint Joseph’s Altar, the Stone of the Anointing where the body of Jesus was placed after He was taken down from the Cross, the portrayal of the Transfiguration of Our Lord and the Altar of St. Assisi with paintings surrounding the life of this saint that established the Franciscan Order of monks.

There is the Holy Sepulcher with the Room of Angels where the angels announced to Mary Magdalene the resurrection of Jesus. It includes a rock from Jerusalem taken from the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. In the second room of this section is the “marble container that held the body of Jesus. The stone slab covering it was cracked on purpose so that the Persians who came in search of valuable objects would not take the precious marble.”

In all there are thirteen altars but the main altar, right at the center of the edifice is covered by a baldachino, a canopy over the altar as in the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. The columns are not the spiral as in the Basilica but covered with images of birds and flowers to honor St. Francis.

Underneath are the narrow passages through the catacombs of tombs or crypts of the early Christians, with the open graves and even skeletons as one would see in Rome to the Chapel of Purgatory and small chapels “typical of the larger ones of the ancient Catacombs.”

The tour takes the visitors from one level to another and there are no elevators. It can be a way of the cross but also worthy.