The Via Dolorosa—Latin for "Way of Grief," "Way of Sorrows," or "Painful Way"—is a street in the Old City of Jerusalem, held to be the route that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion. It is a distance of about six hundred meters (two thousand feet) but a one-hour walk with prayers and devotions.
I know the Via Dolorosa because I grew up on the Via Dolorosa. As a boy, I played on its winding pathway, and for many years I have guided pilgrims retracing the footsteps of Jesus from Pilate's praetorium to Calvary. I know every doorway, every window overhead, every arch and column, the color, texture, and peculiarities of its walls. If every stone in the pavement had a name, I could call out each one individually. The interiors of sites such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher are as familiar to me as your living room is to you.
But this book is so much more than a guided tour of the Via Dolorosa. It is certainly that—it will steer you from one site to the next down the narrow, stony pathway. But it is also a guide to greater depth in your relationship with Jesus, to the wonders of God's Word, to lives lived in the shadow of persecution and the power of the cross, and to your own life. In taking you faithfully through the stations of the cross, it will also transport you far beyond them on an eye-opening journey through the Bible, set against the background of Middle Eastern culture, customs, and history.
Very importantly, I hope this book will help you personalize, to the extent such a thing is possible, what Jesus endured as He bore His cross along the "Way of Sorrow." I want these pages to awaken your imagination, your emotions, and your heart so you will feel something of what Jesus might have felt and seen and thought, and so appreciate all the more the price He paid for you and me on that tragic, glorious day of His crucifixion. I hope this will be your experience as you read.
By the request of the many groups I have guided, this book will also share my personal story as a Palestinian Maronite Arab Christian. (For a detailed discussion of the Maronites, see appendix A.) Growing up here in the roily tension zone of three great world religions—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—I connect intimately with each one of the stations of the cross. As I share with you key passages of my life, I hope you will see in some of them reflections of your own life—for we all, each one of us, are bearing crosses of different sizes, shapes, and weights down our own Via Dolorosas. And the Spirit of Jesus is carrying us along beyond our griefs toward a glory greater than we can imagine.
Finally, I hope this book will awaken you to the plight of your brothers and sisters here in Jerusalem and in the Middle East. I desire that you will feel moved . . .
by compassion, as you hear the stories of these dark streets and darker lives;
by wonder, as you learn how God is actively changing men and women—Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike—in miraculous ways through the light of the gospel, the love of Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit;
to action, as you discover how you can come alongside your brothers and sisters here in the Middle East—and why it is so important, for both our sake and your own, that you do so.