“I feel so blessed that I saw the Steve & Janet Ray Holy Land Pilgrimage … It was truly an experience of a lifetime! Definitely spiritually but also culturally & historically enlightning. Visiting the Holy Sites & Steve’s knowledge of scripture truly brought the Bible alive! Amer’s history narritives were so helpful. And Fr. Frans’ homolies gave me so much to think & pray about. I have been reviewing online Steve’s daily reviews of each day of our pilgrimage & Robyn Lee’s blogs. These have been so helpful in remembering our blessed & exciting days. I look forward to the DVD. At home, I have been talking up this wonderful pilgrimage to friends & family. Thanks for a blessed pilgrimage.” ~ Joanne S.
Day 1 – Arrival
Catholic Digest Day 1 Report This group is very excited – a whole bus full. Many came from my invitation, many from Catholic Digest and their sponsorship and generous advertising and others came from Franciscan University of Steubenville. In all it is a great and enthusiastic group.
No luggage lost, everyone arrived in good order and we drove straight to Galilee for Mass on the shoreline at St. Peter’s Church in Tiberias. Today is Holy Thursday for the locals – Sunday here is Easter.
Everyone is full of excitement and laughing at the fear of danger that they’ve been warned of back home. It is a beautiful country and very safe. We, Steve and Janet Ray, have been here over 100 times and have brought thousands of people without ever once having a problem.
Over 3.5 million people a year visit Israel and never has one visitor been victimized as CNN and MSNBC would like you to believe! I’d be more afraid to go to Boston, Chicago or New York than to Israel!!
We are all settled in along the shore of Galilee. Reverent Mass, great dinner and beautiful hotel. Everyone is now asleep getting ready for a busy day tomorrow…
…Mass on the Mount of Transfiguration, renewal of wedding vows in Cana and a spiritual tour of Nazareth where it all began. Without Nazareth where the Word become flesh – there would be no Bethlehem, Capernaum or Jerusalem.
We will pray three Mysteries of the Rosary tomorrow at the site where they happened, especially in Nazareth where the actual cave where the words of Gabriel were first heard, “Hail Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee!” (Luke 1:28)
Everyone will have free time from 4:00 PM to swim in the Sea of Galilee, meditate on the shoreline, rest, and have a good time getting to know the other pilgrims from around the country and even Ireland!
We are happy to have Robyn Lee with us. She is a writer for Catholic Digest and The National Catholic Register owned by EWTN. She is a great pilgrim and is writing articles each day about our pilgrimage.
By Robyn Lee: Today is day one of the Catholic Digest Holy Land Pilgrimage! I am very blessed to be on this trip and I will be blogging through out the week to give you a firsthand experience of all the holy sites.
All the Catholic Digest pilgrims arrived in Tel Aviv today and were greeted by Steve and Janet Ray of The Footprints of God pilgrimages. Even though we were tired from our flight, Steve and Janet made us feel so welcome and excited to be in the Holy Land!
Next, we boarded a charter bus and traveled to the Sea of Galilee for the opening Mass of our trip. Mass was celebrated at St. Peter’s Church in Tiberias.
St. Peter’s is a “newer” Church from the Crusader period. It was restored in 1870 and is the present-day church of St. Peter on the lake shore.
We read special readings at Mass that were relevant to St. Peter and to our location at the Sea of Galilee. During the homily Fr. Frans invited us to look at the altar mosaic of Peter as a fisherman. Fr. Frans Berkhout, from the diocese of St. Petersburg, Fla. pointed out the look of surprise on Peter’s face, as though he asked the Lord, “who me?” You want me to lead your Church?
Father Frans reminds us that God has a special calling for each of us. We might think we are unworthy of that task, and like Peter, will ask God: “who me?” But we must always be ready to do the holy will of God.
Please count on my prayers for all the subscribers of Catholic Digest. I look forward to sharing with you the many blessings of this trip.
Day 2 Transfiguration
Today we had our schedule altered because for the Christians here – this is holy week and Sunday is Easter. So Nazareth churches were closed for the day. Surprise! We had to change our itinerary.
After Mass at the top of the Mount of Transfiguration we went north to the Lebanese border to Caesarea Philippi (now called Banias) where Jesus appointed Peter as the Rock. If Catholics understood the site and its implications they were never leave the Catholic Church and would proudly defend the Faith.First we went to the top of Mount Tabor where the Transfiguration took place. Amer explained the fascinating history of the site and then I told the story of the three major biblical events that took place here.
Lunch in a Druze Restaurant in the Golan Heights before descending back down to the Sea of Galilee to visit two very important sites related to Jesus.
Second, we visited the place where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish. An yes, it was a stupendous miracle. Read my article about this HERE.
Third, we visited Primacy of Peter where he fed the disciples early in the morning and appointed Peter as the Shepherd of his sheep John 21:1-20).
Full first day. We were back early so everyone could swim in the Sea of Galilee or the pool, rest or walk through Tiberias. We also had confession available. Then a great dinner and a free evening.
By Robyn Lee: Today we rose before sunrise to travel to Mount Tabor, the place where Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John (see Matthew 17: 1-8).
Our bus took us to the base of the mountain and then we took taxis that drove us up the winding road to the Church of the Transfiguration.
The altar in the church is a 12th century Crusader altar which faces exactly East, so when the sun rises and shines through the stain glass there is a beautiful golden glow in the church.
The architect, Antonio Barluzzi (1884-1960) designed the Church of the Transfiguration to bring as much light into the church as he could. At sundown, the sun reflects so brightly on the golden mosaic to try to show what the apostles would have experienced at the Transfiguration.
Our spiritual director, Fr. Frans Berkhout said that when Jesus appeared in his glory to Peter, James and John he was giving the disciples a glimpse of what awaits us in heaven. The Father spoke out of a cloud, “This is my Son, My Chosen; listen to him” (Mark 9:7)
Fr. Berkhout reminded the pilgrims to be still and take the time to listen to the voice of the Father. Fr Berkhout said, “Let the voice of the Father reach into the depths of your being.”
Visiting these biblical sites increases my desire to know Scripture, to be still, and listen to what the voice of the Father is trying to tell me. Steve Ray told us that he hopes when people go back they will have a deeper love of Scripture. Seeing these sites and gazing upon the mountains that Jesus walked on, is a life changing experience.
Visting the Holy Land brings the Scripture passages alive and I can better understand why Jesus did and said the things he did.
For example, we traveled to Caesarea Philippi, the place where Jesus made Peter the Rock and gave the keys of the Kingdom (Matthew 16).
In preparation to visit this place, Steve Ray asks us, why would Jesus bring his apostles all the way here?
Having no sense of geography I didn’t understand that Caesarea Philippi was out of the way from where they usually traveled. Steve explained that Jesus was using this location as a teaching tool for the Apostles.
The rock at Caesarea Philippi has a cave that was once called the “Gates of Hell.” Pagans believed it was the gate to the netherworld and they would offer sacrifices to the god, Pan. Pan was the god of the shepherds. It wasn’t a coincidence that Jesus used this huge rock as a backdrop to explain to Peter that he was the rock on which Jesus, the true Shepherd, would build his Church and the gates of hell will never prevail against it!
Later we traveled to the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter that marks the spot where Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead and confirmed the primacy of the Apostle Peter.
Before we visited the spot, Steve Ray paints the picture of the Gospel passage from John 21. The disciples had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. Jesus asks them, “‘Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.’ So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. … Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish you just caught.’ So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish.”
With this visual in our mind, we were able to walk on the shore where Peter dragged in the net of 153 fish and see the rock where Jesus had prepared breakfast for the disciples.
On this same spot is where Jesus gave Peter primacy over the Church as its shepherd.
Isn’t it wonderful to be Catholic! Let us remember to pray for the Christians in the middle East and to take part in keeping these holy places safe.
Day 3 – Nazareth, Gourmet Dinner
Great day again. Wonderful weather. Not one complaint but a hundred smiles. Great food, great sites, developing warm new friendships. Prayer, Mass, singing and joy.
Mass on the Mount of Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Renewal of wedding vows and interesting teaching at Cana where Jesus blessed marriages and turned water into wine.
Lunch at authentic Nazareth restaurant (no tourist stops for us!) and prayer at the cave where the Angel Gabriel announced the Good News to Mary. I also did my talk “A Day in the Life of the Holy Family” in the place they lived for 30 years.
Next dinner at the classy Auberge Shulamit and a comedy club on the way home on the bus 🙂 Everyone had free time from 6:30 at the hotel to swim in the sea or pool, take a walk, enjoy the luxurious seaside patio, take a walk along the shore or into Tiberias and to watch the fishermen heading out to sea.
By Robyn Lee: Today was truly a grace filled day! In the morning we traveled to the location of the Sermon on the Mount. Father Frans Berkhout said mass from an outside altar that overlooked the Sea of Galilee.
As Fr. Berkhout read the Beatitudes from Matthew’s Gospel, we could envision the crowds who gathered on that same hill to listen to the teachings of Jesus. Fr. Berkhout reminded us that the world will look at Christian values and think that we are crazy, but we know what will bring true happiness. Jesus challenges us to follow the path to everlasting life. He not only teaches the Beatitudes, he is the Beatitudes and we must choose to follow him.
After mass the pilgrims had an opportunity to visit the main church that had Eucharistic adoration and walk around the lush gardens on the Mount of the Beatitudes. Around the paths of the gardens there were plaques of the Beatitudes. I reflected on each one and felt such peace at this truly beautiful site.
Next we boarded the bus to Cana at Galilee, the place where Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding feast. On the way to Cana, our local guide, Amer, gave us a sense of what weddings are like in his culture. He shared the story of his daughter’s wedding and explained that wedding celebrations last all week. Amer told us that he has 52 first cousins, just in his home town! He hosted 800 people the week before his daughter’s wedding celebration — now we can understand why, during Jesus’ time, they ran out of wine!
But we know what happens next. Mary quietly tells Jesus that they have no more wine. Jesus responded, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come. His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2: 4-5). Fr. Berkhout points out that theologically it doesn’t makes sense for Mary to tell God what to do, but anthropologically (human sense), it makes perfect sense for a mother to tell her son what to do. It is important to reflect on the reality that Jesus is fully God and fully man. So as a good son, Jesus obeyed what his mother was asking him to do and reveals his divinity through this first miracle.
Couples on the pilgrimage had the opportunity to renew their wedding vows in the same spot where Jesus performed this miracle. There were many couples on the trip that were celebrating milestone anniversaries. Inside the Wedding Church in Cana quite a few tears were shed as couples exchanged their vows. As I witnessed these couples exchange their vows, I prayed for happy and holy marriages for each of them (and all married couples).
Next we traveled to Nazareth to the Basilica of the Annunciation. Pilgrims had the opportunity to pray the first Joyful Mystery of the Rosary in front of the spot where the angel Gabriel greeted Mary and announced the birth of our Lord. On the altar on that spot is an inscription in Latin: Verbum Caro Hic Factum Est, which means The Word became Flesh HERE!
Steve Ray reminds pilgrims that if we were here 2000 years ago, we would have seen the angel at the foot of the cave.
Next we went a short distance to the Church of St. Joseph. This church was built above the cave where the Holy Family lived. As we walked down to the lower part of the church to glance down at the cave, Steve Ray gave a description of a day in the life of the Holy Family. One detail that really struck me was when Steve asked: “when Jesus and Joseph were walking on their way to work, what did they talk about on the way?” What a beautiful image to meditate on!
After a full day of visiting holy sites, we feasted at the Auberge Shulamit Restaurant for a magnificent dinner.
Day – Galilee Boat Ride, Drive to Jerusalem
Another great day with beautiful weather and when we could outsmart all the lines and congestion. Israel is full of pilgrims, tourists and buses, but knowing what to do and where to go helps avoid the crowds.
We started the day with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee where I told the story of how I went fishing all night with two Jewish fishermen. Calm seas and we could see the points of Jesus’ ministry along the shore.
We arrived at Nof Ginosar to view the ancient “Jesus Boat” from the 1st century. This is stepping back in history to the fishing world known by Jesus and his disciples.
We arrived at Capernaum for Mass. The reading is always John 6 where Jesus says, Eat My Flesh and Drink My Blood.” The last verse of the Gospel reading is, “Jesus spoke these words in the Synagogue in Capernaum.” Everyone at this moment turns to look out of the window of the church and THERE IS THE SYNAGOGUE! I gave my talk, “Defending the Eucharist.”
After a delicious dinner of St. Peter’s Fish we took off for Jerusalem driving south but going UP to Jerusalem. We stopped at Ein Kerem where Mary went to visit her relative Elizabeth. All through our 2.5 hour drive I kept saying, “Remember, Mary is still walking!”
I gave my talk on Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant and Queen of Heaven. We arrived at our Notre Dame Hotel early so everyone had a few hours to relax, settle in and enjoy the place before dinner. The evening was free.
By Robyn Lee: Today we started out with a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee. The boat was modeled from a fishing boat used during Jesus’ time. While on the boat, Steve Ray told us of his experience fishing with real fisherman and how he felt as though he were fishing with Peter, Andrew, James and John. Steve pointed out that Jesus came here to Galilee to choose his disciples. Now that I see the beauty and peace of the Sea of Galilee I know why Jesus spent so much time around here.
As the boat glided across the smooth water, I thought about Jesus being out on this peaceful lake and teaching his disciples. I got a little teary-eyed when I thought about Jesus traveling on this same Sea to get to the nearby towns. It is the same water that Jesus walked on and the same Sea that obeyed his commands.
The Gospel writers didn’t exaggerate about the storms on the Sea of Galilee. Steve shared an experience of a large storm that flooded the hotel where we were staying. Being in the Holy Land makes all the details of the Gospels come alive.
Next we traveled to the House of Peter in the town of Capernaum. It is here where the four friends lowered their paralytic friend down through the roof (Mark 2: 1-12). Steve Ray pointed out that this gesture was true friendship. When we are too sick to pray for ourselves, our friends bring us into the presence of Jesus. Today a church is built over the House of Peter and that is where our group celebrated Mass.
Nex to Peter’s house was the ancient synagogue where Jesus gave the bread of life sermon: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life within you” (John 6: 52-59). Fr. Frans Berkhout explained in his homily that life is filled with mysteries that bring us to the edge of our seats. There are some profoundly deep mysteries that many of us struggle with. An example is, why do bad things happen to good people?
Fr. Berkhout went on to explain that just because something is a mystery, doesn’t mean there are no answers. A mystery is like an onion with layers of profoundly powerful truths that in our limitless, we cannot fully grasp.
Here in the synagogue in Capernaum, the mystery of the Eucharist was first proclaimed. Fr. Berkhout invited us to humbly come to the altar and ask Jesus to change us by his presence in the Eucharist.
Capernaum is also the place where Jesus was asked to heal the centurion’s servant. While Jesus was on his way to visit the dying servant, the centurion sent friends to relay this message to Jesus: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof. Therefore I did not consider myself worthy to come to you, but say the word and let my servant be healed” (Luke 7: 2-10).
Due to the new mass responses, this verse should sound familiar. When we prayed that response at mass, I know I wasn’t the only pilgrim who was deeply moved to be in the place where these words were first said to Our Lord.
After Mass we sat in the shade next to the Sea of Galilee and Steve explained the Scripture references in the Old Testament and New Testament that point to the Eucharist and Jesus as the sacrificial lamb.
Church of the Visitation
Before we boarded the bus to travel to the Church of the Visitation. Steve wanted us to take notice of the distance that Mary walked to visit Elizabeth. “Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth” (Luke 1: 39-40). We were taking a two-hour bus ride, but Mary was walking more than 100 miles, a journey that would take a week of walking all day!
When we arrived in the town of Ein Kerem, also the birth place of John the Baptist, we still had to walk up a long row of steps to get to the Church of the Visitation. As I looked up at the steps and grumbled, Steve Ray yelled out: “Remember, Mary is still walking!”
By the time I reached the top of the stairs, my heart was pumping and I felt out of breath. I looked at the view and instantly realized why they call this region the hill country. Let me assure you, these are big hills. Our Blessed Mother must have been one tough lady … or at least really fit.
The Church of the Visitation is the location where Mary visited Elizabeth. The art in this church is magnificent. Over the main altar there is a scene depicting Mary arriving in the desert from the hill country.
On the side walls there are paintings of the Wedding Feast at Cana, Mary as the Queen of Heaven, Ephesus (where Mary was titledTheotokos, Mother of God), The Battle of Lepanto (that is credited to Our Lady of the Rosary) and an image of the FranciscanBlessed John Duns Scotus, a philosopher who explained why Mary still needed a Savior even though she was prevented from falling into sin.
The wall-sized image at the back of the church is my favorite, though. It shows the woman described in Revelation: “A woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12: 1-2).
As we sat in the Church and gazed at the beautiful art, Steve Ray explained the Catholic teaching of why we honor Mary. He explained how in Luke’s Gospel, the writer is making a clear connection between the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament (2 Samuel: 6) and Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant. The people didn’t worship the Ark of the Covenant, but it was really special to them and they honored it. So do Catholics honor Mary who carried in her womb the living God.
Day 5 – Bethlehem, Shepherd’s Field
After boarding the bus after a good breakfast we headed to Bethlehem…
… you will see the rest of our adventures on this video. Watch the video and then read Robyn’s report of our day in Bethlehem.
By Robyn Lee: Today we traveled to Bethlehem. I expected to see the birthplace of Jesus and then visit the cute little town where it is Christmas all year round. As we traveled up the road, I saw what I thought were walls of a prison, but then our guide explained that the seven by seven miles of Bethlehem are boarded up with huge concrete walls.
It reminded me of the Berlin Wall. I had no idea.
Citizens of Bethlehem are unable to leave the town unless they move out of the city or obtain a permit, which is very hard to get.
Am I the only American who didn’t know that there are huge concrete walls that surround the birthplace of our Savior?
I don’t say this to sadden you, but to help us remember how important it is for Christians to know their history, to pay attention to what is going on in the world right now (seeking truth beyond what you hear from the local media) and to fight for our faith that we know is true. There are more politics to those concrete walls than I have room to discuss right now, but as the pilgrims entered through the guarded gates, we knew that our fellow Christians needed help.
All week our local guide, Amer, told us to wait to shop until we reached Bethlehem because the Christians in Bethlehem need our help. Our group had an opportunity to visit a store where our purchase would help 64 Christian families in the occupied town of Bethlehem. This shop specialized in hand-carved olive wood sculptures. We even had an opportunity to see the factory where they take the raw olive wood and shape it into the beautiful crosses and figurines that we see in the store.
Next we traveled to the Church of the Angels in Shepherd’s Field and had Mass inside the cave where the shepherds heard the announcement of the birth of Jesus. The readings of the Mass were from Christmas day. We sang Christmas carols and Fr. Frans Berkhout greeted us with a joyous, Merry Christmas!
Fr. Berkhout explained that the shepherds and the Magi play an important role in our Catholic faith. God directly reveals himself to the shepherds when the angels announced the birth of the savior. The angels heralded the good news and the shepherds rushed down, with faith, to see the savior.
On the other hand, the three kings used science and reason to follow the star to find the king foretold in Isaiah.
God wants us to worship with both faith and reason. Faith and reason worked harmoniously together to bring us to the little town of Bethlehem to know, love, and serve the Prince of Peace. May that small child, born 2000 years ago bring peace to his native land.
After we visited the place where Jesus’ birth was announced we waited in line to visit the Church of the Nativity, which is shared by the Roman Catholics, Armenians, and Greek Orthodox.
The place of Jesus birth is marked with a 14-point star. Pilgrims can kneel below the altar and kiss the place where Mary gave birth to our Savior. We also had the opportunity to visit the church of Saint Catherine of Sienna and visit the caves where St. Jerome translated the Bible.
After our day visiting the holy sites, we went to a Bethlehem restaurant for dinner and had the best lamb dinner I have ever tasted. I had the privilege to sit with 86-year-old, Raji Khoury of Shepherd Tours. The first thing Raji told us is that he taught Steve Ray everything he knows.
We had the opportunity to ask Raji about his experiences as a Palestinian Christian, a perspective that you would not get from the mainstream media. Raji explained that Christians are the ones that are suffering the most. He said, “we are between two hammers.” The population of Christians in the Holy Land is less than two percent. When we asked him what will be the solution between the Jews and the Muslims, he said that the solution won’t be resolved until Jesus comes again.
As we left the city walls, I gazed upon the graffiti that had messages pleading for the walls to come down. One image that struck me, was an image of a Christmas tree with cement walls up around it.
Let us pray to the “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9: 1-6) that his kingdom will be forever peaceful both now and forever.
Day 6 – Via Dolorosa, Mass at Calvary, Mary’s Birthplace
It was a rich day, very full. It started with a wake-up call at 4:15 so we could leave at 4:45. Everyone thanked us later 🙂
The streets of Jerusalem are like a huge flea market with all the crowds and hustle and bustle. Sometimes you can hardly move. It is much better to pray the Stations of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa when the streets are abandoned. We arrive at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre while it is still empty (during the day it is wall-to-wall people).
We arrived to have Mass at the top of Calvary. When finished I checked the Franciscans and the group that was scheduled to have Mass in the Tomb of Christ never showed up so we got the slot and our whole group had Mass INSIDE the Tomb of Christ. Everyone touched the stone and prayed.
Our group picture was next on our way back to the Notre Dame for breakfast. After re-couping from the early morning start we visited St. Ann’s which is the birthplace of Mary and the location of the Pools of Bethesda where Jesus cured a crippled man.
Then to the Western Wall to pray and learn the history and biblical significance of this site, the most holy for Jews in the world.
The Holy Shroud Exhibit is not to be missed then free time in the afternoon, a personal meeting with the Bishop of Jerusalem, confession available and a free evening.
Part I: Via Dolorosa, Mass at Calvary, Mass at the Tomb
By Robyn Lee: Today was an overwhelming, but powerful and grace filled day. Our day started very early with a wake up call of 4:15 am. The pilgrims walked the Via Dolorosa in the dark and the silence early in the morning, just as Jesus carried his cross 2,000 years ago. We prayed the Stations of the Cross through the streets of Jerusalem until we reached the Holy Sepulchre, the place where Jesus was crucified and buried.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a maze of altars, stairs and twists and turns. When we first entered the church we were able to venerate the stone on which Jesus’ body was prepared for the crucifixion.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has a complicated history and over the centuries the various Christian rites have fought over the territory. In 1852 the Turks issued an edict which declared a status quo in the church and nothing can change unless agreed by all the different rites.
One of the rules in the Holy Sepulchre is that the different rites share the space at specific times during the day. Catholics are able to celebrate Mass in the tomb from 5-9am. If a group of visiting pilgrims doesn’t know of this rule (because there are no signs), it may cause conflict.
Our group arrived at the church early, but due to overages from earlier hours it looked as though our time slot would be bumped. Thankfully Steve Ray was able to set up a mass on Calvary.
We walked up a steep staircase to the place where Jesus was crucified. I knelt underneath the altar and reached my hand into a hole to touch the rock on which Jesus’ cross stood. Steve Ray reminded us that if we put our hand there 2,000 years ago it would have been sticky with blood.
As Mass began, Fr. Eamon Kelly from the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, reminded us what a privilege it is to be having Mass on Calvary. During his homily he remarked on the many ways man tries to deal with the problem of suffering. But with Christ, our suffering is enabled to become an instrument of salvation. Fr. Kelly explained that Christ’s body was offered up for us. God loves us so much that he didn’t even spare his only Son. God had to empty himself so that we could be fulfilled. This is resurrected living: living with hope, joy and love for the living God.
Shortly after Mass we discovered that one of the groups that was scheduled for Mass in the tomb didn’t show. One of the Franciscan priests asked if we would like to have Mass in the tomb!
The tomb of Christ is a very small area. You can only fit about four people in the tomb itself. The outer reception area can fit about 30 people (if you pack them in like sardines).
There are 1 billion Christians in the world and we all want to fit into this small space. With no signs or clear rules, you can imagine the chaos and the tension that this causes.
God bless the Franciscan priest whose job it is to enforce the rules during the Roman hours from 5-9am. It is not an easy job (and we should pray for him!) But it is extremely important to use and defend the time allotted to the Catholics at these holy places because if we don’t use the time, it will be taken away.
What a blessing to have Mass on Calvary and then also in the tomb! God has certainly blessed our trip.
Next we traveled to the Church of St. Anne, the birthplace of Mary. Outside of the church there are ruins of the pools of Bethesda, where the healing of the paralytic took place (John 5: 1-9). St. Anne’s was built to commemorate the birthplace of the Blessed Mother. When the Muslims invaded they didn’t destroy the church because the acoustics were so good in the church that they converted it to a mosque. In the beginning of the 20th century the Church of St. Anne was brought back under the guidance of the Roman Catholics.
Our group had the opportunity to go inside St. Anne’s church and sing. The voice of one is carried throughout the entire church without the aid of microphones. We sat in the front and sang several Marian hymns. It was beautiful to hear our song echo through out the entire church.
We traveled to the Western Wall, the holiest place in the world for Jews. Steve Ray gave the biblical history and we had an opportunity to visit the retaining wall of the ancient Temple.
At the end of the day we had a very special appointment with the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. He spoke with our group about the Christian community in the Holy Land. He shared the challenges that the Christians face and admitted that it is a difficult situation. But he reminded us that prayer is our hope. He asked us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem because it is peace for the Church.
When we asked the Patriarch how to practically help Christians in the Holy Land he said first of all to pray for peace. Next, encourage pilgrims to come to the Holy Land. Let them know it is a safe and holy place to visit. If you are unable to travel you can support the dioceses through financial support or consider adopting a sister parish in Bethlehem.
He encouraged us to pray for peace so that every pilgrim can visit the Holy Land.
He said that pilgrims are accepted by all groups in Israel, not only because there is an economic benefit, but because pilgrims are a bridge between the conflicting groups. Pilgrims come to the Holy Land to pray and with them they bring the presence of peace.
Day 7 – Gethsemane
Another great day. Lots going on in Jerusalem as they celebrated the unification of Jerusalem. So we revised our itinerary and it worked great!
We started with Mass at Gethsemane. Do you know why Jesus was arrested in a garden, crucified and buried also in a garden?
We then prayed at the Pater Noster Church at the top of the Mount of Olives where Jesus taught his disciples to pray and from which he ascended into heaven.
Then the Dormition Abbey where Mary fell asleep, the Upper Room, the Church of Peter in Gallicantu (cock crow) where Peter denied Jesus and where Jesus was imprisoned over Holy Thursday. Then lunch at a Jewish kibbutz – great lunch!
We even ended up with free time in the afternoon which some enjoyed by visiting Bethany, others walking into the Old City and others resting and talking on the patio of the hotel overlooking Jerusalem. I think a few even took a nap 🙂
By Robyn Lee: Today our day started with mass at the Garden of Gethsemane at the Basilica of the Agony. On our way into the church we stopped to look at the olive trees that date back to the time of Jesus.
Right in front of the main altar is the rock where Jesus suffered his agony in the Garden (Matthew 26:36-50). I pictured a small rock where Jesus knelt and prayed, but this rock was large enough for Jesus to lay prostrate. Inside the church there are several mosaics of Jesus’ agony, the kiss of Judas, and the guards coming to the garden to arrest Jesus.
Fr. Frans Berkhout spoke about Jesus patiently, humbly and lovingly accepting the cup the Father gave him. When you love someone you go out of your way for him, like a mother who wakes up in the middle of the night for a sick child. Where sacrifice is great, love must be all the greater. Jesus loves, accepts and forgives even to the point of death. The meaning of the garden is love and sacrifice. Fr. Berkhout reminds us to reflect on the meaning of the garden and among these old trees and holy rock, learn to sacrifice.
Steve Ray explained the connections between the Old Testament Adam who went into the garden and committed the first sin and the New Adam who would go into a garden and reverse everything.
Next we traveled to the cave where Jesus taught the disciples to pray the Our Father. Currently there is a Carmelite order on this site. Inside the cave we sang the Our Father and then walked around the courtyard looking at tiles of the Our Father prayer written in hundreds of languages. Amer, our local guide, gave the history of this spot and explained how remnants of the Crusader church were discovered.
Next we traveled to the Church of the Dormition of Mary. According to both Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, Mount Zion is the place where the Mother of Christ is said to have fallen asleep just before she was assumed into heaven. In the lower church there is a painting of the Assumption of Mary. Normally we have Mary holding the child Jesus, but in this painting, Jesus is holding Mary. There is also a statue of the Blessed Mother asleep.
Next we were able to visit the upper room where Jesus had the Last Supper with his disciples and later where the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and Mary. This upper room is not the same room that Our Lord was in, but it is the same location. There was once a church built over the upper room, but was later turned into a mosque by the Turks.
Today the building is considered a museum, which is a shame since four sacraments were instituted in this spot: Holy Orders, Eucharist, Confirmation, and Confession. Steve Ray reminded us that this is the room of priests. Let us to remember to pray for priests.
Our last morning visit was to the prison where Jesus was held on Holy Thursday night. Jesus was held in a cistern hole under the house of the high priest, Caiaphas. He was lowered down by a chain and imprisoned while he awaited his crucifixion. Our group had the opportunity to go down into the pit of the cistern and pray Psalm 88 which prefigures the suffering that Christ would have to endure. We also saw the ancient steps that Christ would have walked up when being led to Caiaphas’ house.
After lunch I had the opportunity to travel with a small group to the town of Bethany where Jesus raised Lazerus from the dead. We know from the Bible that Bethany is very close to Jerusalem. This used to be a 20-minute trip from where we are staying, but due to the huge walls that are around some of the Palestine area, traveling to Bethany takes over an hour.
Our local guide led us through the streets of Bethany until we reached a small stone archway. We climbed down a long, steep staircase and then crawled underneath the rock wall to enter a small opening into the tomb of Lazarus. Once we were inside, one of the fellow pilgrims read the Gospel account of the Raising of Lazarus (John 11). I pictured the burial cloths of Lazarus and the amazement of the crowds when he came out of the tomb.
We also visited the Sanctuary of Bethany that is in custody of the Holy Land Franciscan Fathers. There are many beautiful images in the church. One image depicts the raising of Lazarus and there is another main image of Jesus teaching Martha and Mary.
It wasn’t until later that I discovered how important this trip would be. When I returned to the hotel and checked my email, I read a message from my dear friend letting me know that her father had past away. Having just visited the tomb of Lazarus, I was reminded of the words in the Gospel of John:
“Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise.’ Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die’” (John 11:21-26).
Steve Ray pointed out that our Protestant brothers ask us why we pray to dead saints. But where does it say in scripture that they are dead? We believe in the God of the living and we believe we will be united with our friends and family again at the resurrection of the body. This is our belief as Catholics. This is resurrected living. I hope this Gospel passage will bring consolation to those who have lost loved ones.
Day 8 – Dead Sea, Jericho, Camel Rides
Great last day, part one. Mass to bless religious items. Driving down 4,250 feet to the lowest place on the face of the earth. Renewal of baptismal vows where John the Baptist ate grasshoppers. Jericho and much more.
Qumran, Floating in the Dead Sea (Paul reading a newspaper on his back), and camel rides.
By Robyn Lee: Today there was an optional day to visit the Jordan Valley, Jericho and the Dead Sea.
We were able to visit a small-scale model of the old Jerusalem city. Our local guide, Amer gave a history of the city and pointed out major landmarks where Jesus would have walked. Next we walked through the Dead Sea scroll exhibit and viewed fragments of the original scrolls and the ancient pottery that preserved the scrolls.
We then traveled to the Jordan River to renew our baptismal vows. As we traveled in the hot desert I thought about John the Baptist living out here and the great distance the people would have come to see him.
There were many groups being baptized in the spot where John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River (Mark 1:9-11). Many pilgrims filled bottles with Jordan River water to bring home. Steve Ray explained that Jordan River water does not need to be blessed because Jesus stepped his foot into the waters.
It was a powerful moment of the trip when Fr. Berkhout asked the group the affirm the truths of our faith. “Do you reject Satan?” We all answered with a resounding, “I do.”
Next we traveled to Jericho, the most ancient city in the world. The city of Jericho was established and continually inhabited for 8,000 years before the time of Christ. Jericho has springs and fertile soil so the climate is like one big green house. Jericho is also believed to be the place where Zacchaeus climbed the Sycamore tree to see Jesus (Luke 19:1-10).
Near Jericho we were able to see the cliffs and the caves where the Dead Sea scrolls were originally discovered. The scrolls were hidden in 11 different caves.
Amer pointed out that the desert is the site of God’s drama. The desert has very difficult living conditions. People who live under such extreme conditions learn to become very become dependent on the Lord. It becomes a place of retreat because you need God every second of your life.
Many revelations happen in the desert. David wrote the Psalms in the desert. Dead Sea scroll writers lived in the desert and this is the place where Jesus fasted for 40 days and then was tempted by the devil (Mark 1:12-13).
The temperatures were extremely hot and I was happy to be traveling in the air-conditioned bus!
We then traveled to the Dead Sea, the lowest place in the world. The Dead Sea has no outlet and is extremely salty. On the way down to the waterfront there are explicit instructions about how to enter the water. It is not a body of water that you can dive into and swim around in. Steve recommended that you go into the water about knee-deep and then turn around and sit down into the water. The water is so salty that you just float! It was fun to take pictures with both our arms and feet in the air. Many of the pilgrims rubbed the Dead Sea black mud on our skin and face too.
On the way home, one of the pilgrims read a beautiful thank you to Steve and Janet. I know that this trip has been such a blessing for everyone. As we traveled back to the hotel to pack our things and get ready for the flight home, I was reminded of the readings at Mass from this morning.
We had Ascension Thursday Mass at the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center. In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus instructs his disciples “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for ‘the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak.’ … You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11).
In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus tells his disciples that the “Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning with Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. … Then he blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:46-53).
Fr. Frans Berkhout reminded us that we are celebrating the Ascension of our Lord in Jerusalem. We truly are witnesses of these things. As our Holy Land pilgrimage comes to an end, we must go home filled with joy just was the disciples were. Why were the disciples filled with joy? Because the Resurrection had changed them. Let the joy of the resurrection change our lives and let us go home with joy as witnesses of all we have seen and heard in the Holy Land, announcing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the ends of the world!