I shall never forget the first day of my stay in Jerusalem. I was eager to discover the Old City, so steeped in biblical history. Excitement and the wish to avoid the heat of the day brought me early to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the starting point of my intended tour.
As I stood in the swelling queue of people waiting to enter the tomb, somebody bent his head over my shoulder and asked, “Are you a tourist?” I turned to look into the face of a young man. “Of course,” I said. We proceeded slowly down the steps to the tomb. The man did not seem to be greatly interested in the sacred place. His main concern seemed to be to keep close to me. I wondered what made me the focus of his attention.
As I stepped out of the church portal into the street, there was the inquisitive stranger again. He had obviously waited for me. “You are a tourist. I want to guide you. I know the Old City very well.” He spoke with a strong accent. I thanked him but declined the offer. He did not take no for an answer. Promising that he would show me special sights, he fell in step with me.
I begged him to leave me alone. Undeterred, he repeated his offer of service again and again. I ignored him. He was not put off. His footsteps echoed mine for several hours. Whenever I stopped on the Way of the Cross, wherever I entered into a historical building or a shop, he stood beside me. Even if I did not see him, I knew he was there. His presence became a torment. He spoilt a profoundly spiritual experience for me. I began to feel afraid. Yet I did not think of calling for help to get rid of him.
Shortly before midday I stood on the rampart, boundary of the great courtyard at the Dome of the Rock. I was looking over the Valley of Kidron towards the Garden of Ghetsemani. Thinking of the Agony of Christ filled me with deep sadness. Two thousand years of tears have washed over theses events. Will we ever be able to measure the depth of his compassion?
Suddenly I became aware of bering embraced by a cool gentle presence. It was as comforting as sitting in my mother’s lap. My sadness receded and joy spread through me. I was sure that an angel held me close.
The rampart had become quite crowded. I stepped back to make room for a passing youth group and lost my balance. I would have fallen many meters to the paved yard below, had not a powerful arm shot out, scooping me back onto the wall, the arm of my tormenter. I was shocked and shivering like aspen leaves. He led me off the rampart.
I was deeply grateful. I invited him to lunch. His knowledge of English was exhausted after the few words he had learned to attract tourists. I could not discover his purpose in following me. After the meal I took a bus to Bethlehem and never saw him again. But to this day, I am convinced that an angel wanders the streets of Jerusalem, keeping a keen eye on hapless tourists.