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Bishop Paul Sirba: Sacred places, like the burial place of Jesus, make faith come alive

Not quite two years ago, the Holy Land Review published a series of articles on the restoration of the Edicule, or shrine, that encloses the tomb of Jesus within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Since the fourth century, a succession of churches have surrounded this sacred place.

Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

As we know from the Sacred Scriptures, Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body of Jesus and along with Nicodemus took it to a place near the site of crucifixion and laid Jesus in a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried (John 19:38-21).

It was only the second time since 1555 and the first time since 1809 that this shrine built around the tomb of Christ has been opened to reveal the original limestone of the tomb. Scientists and the restoration team exercised extreme care in lifting the marble slabs over what is believed to be the place of Jesus’ burial.

Having studied for a semester in the Holy Land many years ago, the account and testimonies of scientists, archeologists, and Franciscans working on the project fascinated me. I hadn’t realized how many portions of the original stone comprising the sides of the tomb as well as the stone thought to be the resting-place of Jesus’ body were enclosed by the bricks and stone of the Edicule.

I was intrigued by the statement of Professor Moropoulou, a distinguished physicist, speaking as a scientist, but not hesitant to talk about her faith, when she responded to media reports of electro-magnetic disturbances at the moment when the tomb was opened.

She said: “It is a fact, and as a scientist I owe it to myself to declare the facts: Three of our instruments and two of our computers were either disrupted or stopped working. Checks were made, and we had to change some of the pieces.”

She did not speculate further, although as a believer, she said: “I was surprised at the life that filled this tomb” (Holy Land Review Vol. 10, No. 3, Summer 2017, p. 35).

Holy places have made an impact on the lives of believers since the beginning of time. We are incarnational beings, after all. Sacred places help us to encounter the divine. We set places “apart,” which is what “sacred” means, to dedicate them to the honor and glory of God. During the Easter Season the empty tomb is venerated, because Jesus was victorious over sin, suffering, and death and the place, the tomb, makes it tangible to us. Jesus is truly risen!

During the month of May, I have the great privilege of celebrating the majority of Confirmations in the Diocese of Duluth. What a gift! Mary’s month, in sacred spaces across our beloved Diocese, young men and women will be coming to a deeper faith as they receive this great sacrament and are sent forth as missionary disciples. The risen Lord continues to invite new followers to proclaim the Good News. Please hold them in prayer.

From the Edicule to our own churches and homes, don’t forget to pray the family rosary this month of May. Our Lady encountered her risen Son with a love that helps set our hearts on fire. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.