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Saint Paul and the Collection for Jerusalem
by Chorbishop John D. Faris

30 Sep 2008 – Perhaps one of the great mysteries of salvation history is that the Lord chose Jerusalem as the place to accomplish it. This landlocked city has always been insignificant from the perspective of politics, commerce and culture. During the period of the Roman Empire, it was no great reward to be sent to govern this backwater province filled with a troublesome, rebellious population. Yet, Jerusalem is revered as holy by followers of the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Jesus was not at all optimistic about Jerusalem’s future. The Evangelist Luke recounts that when Jesus first caught site of the Holy City, he wept over its future destruction:

“Yes, a time is coming when your enemies will raise fortifications all around you, when they will encircle you and hem you in on every side; they will dash you and the children inside your walls to the ground; they will leave not one stone standing on another within you...” (Lk 19:43-44)

“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you must realize that she will soon be laid desolate. Then those in Judea must escape to the mountains, those inside the city must leave it, and those in country districts must not take refuge in it.” (Lk 21:20-21)

It did not take a political genius to make such a prediction. At the time of Jesus, the region was occupied by the Roman Empire. The population was restless and anxiously His prediction proved to be true: In 66 A.D. the Jews rebelled against the Roman occupiers. Emperor Nero dispatched an army under the general Vespasian to restore order. By 68 A.D., the rebellion had been suppressed in the northern part of the region. Upon hearing of Nero’s suicide, Vespasian returned to Rome to be declared emperor and left his son, Titus, to subjugate Jerusalem. By 70 A.D., the army had breached the city’s outer walls and began to ransack it. The Temple was destroyed, thousands killed and the survivors enslaved and dispersed throughout the Empire. (Some historians believe that the looting of the Temple and the exportation of slaves provided Vespasian and Titus with the funds and labor required to build at this time the Great Coliseum of Rome.)

In approximately 132 A.D., another rebellion broke out under the leadership of Bar-Kochba (who had messianic claims and persecuted Christians for not accepting him). The Emperor Hadrian besieged the city and put down the rebellion three years later. Jerusalem was laid waste and a new Roman city, Aelia Capitolina (complete with a temple to Jupiter on Mt. Moria), replaced it. No Jew —Jewish Christians fell into this category — was allowed under pain of death inside the city. The Christian community was, therefore, comprised of Gentile Christians and it had become a place of memories when visited by Saint Helen later in the fourth century.

However, before all this devastation took place, the region was to suffer a famine and additional sufferings. It is this period that will be the focus of our reflection today.

The Jerusalem Collection

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