Holy Land Pilgrim Journal Day 8

Continuing with Day 8, and the final installment, of excerpts from my February 2000 Jubilee year Holy Land pilgrimage journal.


The Way of the Cross in Jerusalem

The Way of the Cross in Jerusalem

Day 8 – Tuesday, 2/22/2000 Jerusalem/Emmaus

Our day begins with early breakfast as we proceed to begin the Stations of the Cross.  In groups of three, we take turns carrying a cross between each station.  Father read the stations as we pause at each one.  The Holy Sepulcher Church is built on top of Calvary.  We are invited to go individually and touch the rock of Calvary on which Christ was crucified on the cross.  I am crying.  Wiping tears from my eyes with my hand, I touch the stone.  My best offering at this moment is my tears.  Next, we touch the slab of His anointing where I place my grandfather’s medal to be blessed.  We are then invited around the empty tomb as Rula gives us all candles.  She lights a candle from the tomb and lights Father’s candle.  We light all our candles.  On the Saturday before Easter, Rula says Christians have an ecumenical candle ceremony in the church.  We are asked to keep our candles and light them on Holy Saturday this Easter.  Our Mass today is in the Holy Sepulcher church.  I have the first reading here and it is very emotional for me.  I think of the song “The Old Rugged Cross” which begins “On a hill far away…”  I’m thinking, today that hill isn’t so far away.  It’s in this very place – this church.  The reality of this is incomprehensible to me.  We travel out to Emmaus to visit the Church of the Breaking of Bread.  We walk a short piece of old Roman road that is located in the enclosure of the church grounds.  Our last site of the pilgrimage is St. Ann’s church.  We depart for the airport at 3AM to head for London.  I’ve not slept at all this night.


I’ve been home several weeks now and still can’t believe I was really there.  I read scripture now and so many places come to real life for me.  I still get emotional and cry, if I think too much about it.  I miss the routine of community Morning/Evening Prayer and Daily Mass.  The places in scripture I’ve only read about all my life have become realities.  I feel I’ve been re-baptized in the Spirit — like a candle that is redipped many times to reach its fullness.  I feel a special grace has been given to me.  Every step I take reminds me I walked in Jerusalem — drifted on the Sea of Galilee — knelt at His manger — strolled down the Palm Sunday route — felt His agony in the Garden and in the dungeon — carried the cross — and stood on the place called Mount Calvary where Jesus died for me…..

How fitting that I close my series of journal exerpts on Palm Sunday – the beginning of Holy Week.  Just this afternoon, I led our RCIA group in the Stations of the Cross.  I still cry.  My memories are powerful and make themselves present.  The Christian practice of making a Holy Land pilgrimmage dates back to early medieval times.  During periods of time where access to the Holy Land was closed, it became a practice to errect replicas in churches.  On November 21, 1342, Pope Clement VI entrusted the Holy Land to the Order of Friars Minor.  Read the Bull.  A lot of information on the history of this can be found on the Custody web site.   Resulting from this was that Franciscans were given exclusive permission to build Stations of the Cross.  Special indulgences were given to pilgrims praying the Stations in Franciscan churches.  Below is a small quote from a very good article on the history of the Stations of the Cross.

Devotions to the Way of the Cross began in earnest after 1342, when the Franciscan friars were given custody of the holy sites in the Holy Land. The Franciscans have been closely identified with the devotion ever since; for years, Church regulations required a set of the stations to be blessed by a Franciscan when possible.  — Tim Puet — Read rest of article

 I made my pilgrimage in February 2000.  By the Summer, there was again unrest in Israel – the sort that affects tourism.  On April 2, 2002, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was taken in a 38 day siege.  Franciscans were barricaded inside the church.  I was stunned.  I watched the endless Cable live news reports.  I cried.  What had changed for me is the fact I had been there a little over a year ago.  It was news like that written in the quote below that was piercing me.

At least 200 young Palestinians, some of them armed, others simply civilians who found themselves cut off from their homes, took refuge in the Church of the Nativity, believing that the Israeli army would not dare to shell or storm the sacred spot. Forty Franciscan brothers, four sisters and about 30 Orthodox and Armenian monks found themselves locked inside with them. They were not hostages, however. According to Fr. David Jaeger, a spokesman for the Franciscan friars and nuns inside the complex, the Franciscans chose to remain because, as traditional custodians of the Christian sites in the Holy Land, they felt it their duty to stay and protect the shrine’s sanctity.   Read rest of article at Messenger of St. Anthony


My pilgrimage made this very personal to me.   I gained a new respect and understanding for all the Friars who greeted us in all the sacred sites.  As we begin Holy Week, know the Way of the Cross and from where we have come.


Holy Land Pilgrim Journal Day 7

Continuing with Day 7 of excerpts from my February 2000 Jubilee year Holy Land pilgrimage journal.

On top of Massada / Cable Car ticket

On top of Masada / Cable Car ticket

Day 7 – Monday, 2/21/2000 – Bethany/Masada/Qumran/Dead Sea

We begin with a visit to Bethany, the hometown of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.  We celebrate Mass at St. Lazarus’ church and descend into a cave to visit his tomb.  I never realized how close it is to the Mount of Olives and Jerusalem.  Jesus would often visit here with friends before going to the Temple via the Mount of Olives and Eastern (Golden) Gate.  Later at Masada, I am amazed to find myself standing on one of Herod’s palace terraces with an awesome view of the Dead Sea.  After a thorough walking exercise at Masada and Qumran, we end the day with a “spa” experience in the Dead Sea.

How timely that I have reached Lazarus’ tomb in my journey.   The Gospel reading for the 5th Sunday of Lentis the story of Lazarus.  Our parish mission was this week and it was led by Sr. Clare Fitzgerald, SSND.  On Wednesday night, she talked about Lazarus and how he was “dead on arrival.”  She said the raising of Lazarus was dress rehearsal for Holy Week — a teaching moment for the disciples.   Jesus needed them to learn that a tomb could be empty.  During our visit to Lazarus’ tomb, we wound down tiny stone steps — some iron steps — the best I remember — an iron railing for hand support.  This was not for the claustrophobic.  Nearby, there was shopping market.  It was here that I bought a carry on suitcase to handle the overflow of souvenirs.  I still have that suitcase.  I have no recollection of handling two suitcases in the airport.  That is probably a good thing. 

Masada and Qumran were interesting visits.  We rode a cable car to the top of Masada.  We walked through the ruins of Herod’s palace.  At the “Exotic Dead Sea Beach” — yes, the sign really said that — I changed into a swim suit and braved the salty water.  A speck got in my eye that is very fierce pain.  I declined the mud bath.

Below is a photo of the beach area.

Dead Sea Beach

Dead Sea Beach

Holy Land Pilgrim Journal Day 6

Continuing with Day 6 of excerpts from my February 2000 Jubilee year Holy Land pilgrimage journal.

Mary visits Elizabeth at Ein Karem

Mary visits Elizabeth at Ein Karem

Day 6 – Sunday, 2/20/2000 – Old Jerusalem/Wailing Wall/Holocaust Museum/Ein Karem

Our day started with a visit to the Temple Mount and Wailing Wall.  Shoeless, we visit Al-Asqa, the Dome of the Rock.  At the Wailing Wall, I am able to place a small paper with my prayer petitions.  We visit the Dormition Abbey, the place of Mary’s “falling asleep,” which is a beautiful church.  The other Peter’s Way group from New York was also there and we all sang Ave Mariatogether.  Afterwards, we go to the Franciscan Church of the Cenacle to hold our Mass.  I do the first reading here also.  It is located near the traditional site of the Upper Room. 

After lunch, we visit the Holocaust Museum and this is my most emotional point of the day.  We visit the Children’s Memorial in memory of the children who died.  In the History Museum, they have many relics of the victims on display.  I paused before a case contain a young girl’s suitcase,  coat, and glasses.  I can’t take any more and hurry to the exit thinking I will never find it.  This epitomizes my inability to understand God.  I think about this all the way to Ein Karem where we visit the hometown of John the Baptist.  It is the place of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth at the Church of the Visitation.

I still get emotional when I recall and reflect on my visit to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.   There was a  school group on an educational guided tour during our visit.  They were young but of age to be wearing military fatigues and carry a rifle.  I couldn’t understand what they were being told but I didn’t really need to in order to have an idea.    It is inconceivable that anyone can deny the horrors happened.   The case with the young girl’s items was over half way through the museum.  I’d seen two thirds of the exhibits when I quickened my pace.  I was crying.  The closest I can come in my own genealogy is my Native American Cherokee ancestors who were unceremoniously removed from Georgia — the Trail of Tears

The web site for Yad Vashem includes photo exhibitions.   Make your own virtual visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.  This link will take you to the history museum 2 minute video.  [I viewed them fine without installing Hebrew language] We traveled a short distance to Ein Karem, the place of Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth.  It is a peaceful place suited to the somber mood in which I’d left Yad Vashem.

Holy Land Pilgrim Journal Day 5

Continuing with Day 5 of excerpts from my February 2000 Jubilee year Holy Land pilgrimage journal.

Day 5 – Saturday, 2/19/00 Jerusalem/Mt. of Olives/Bethlehem/Shepherd’s Field

Today was the most emotional day yet.  We began on the Mt. of Olives and walked the Palm Sunday path.  We paused as Father read the scripture where the disciples acquire a donkey for Jesus.  We visit the Church of the Pater Noster and recite the “Our Father.”  We visited the place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem and continued to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of Jesus’ Agony . . . the place of His betrayal and arrest . . . “Not My will, but, Thine.” 

We travel to the Church of Peter in Gallicunti [Peter’s Denial] which is built over the excavation site of the House of Caiaphas the High Priest.  This is the first place to which Jesus was taken after His arrest and imprisoned overnight.  The excavations allowed us to descend down into the dungeon region and reflect on the night Jesus spent before being sent to Pilate.  In the dungeon, we gathered as Father read Psalm 88.  With my back to the wall, I slid to a sitting position and closed my eyes while hanging on to every word.  I’ve always thought more about Jesus and His agony in the garden, but, never much about that night immediately after the arrest – the lonely night.  I could feel the cold from the wall through my coat.  It would have been completely dark.  Tears came as I absorbed these images in my mind and my heart.  Once outside, I was bursting with immense sorrow.  Everyone in our group scattered in tears as we were powerfully moved by the Spirit.  We stood on the steps that lead to Caiaphas’ house from the City of David.  From there we can look back across to the Mt. of Olives and know that this was the beginning of the long walk to the crucifixion.  Jesus led bound, battered, and mocked through the streets and up those steps – the scattering of the disciples.  Peter “follows from afar” and quickly slides into denial, “No, I don’t know the man.” 

From here, we traveled to Bethlehem and visited the Church of the Nativity at Manger Square, which is the place of His birth.  It lifts our spirits to think now of the birth.  Mass on this day was at the Shepherd’s Field where, according to the Priest who greeted us, “It’s always Christmas.”  We sing the Lamb of God to the tune of Silent Night.  To be physically present with all the places I’ve only read about in the Bible is overwhelming.  Today my soul has been ripped and bared open.  God has drawn me ever closer to the mysteries of His great love.  I feel these are the experiences God is using to draw me closer than I believed possible.  I feel His powerful love and arms wrapped tight around me.

There is not a lot I can add other than to say just typing these memories have brought the tears again.  I was enveloped in the Gospel “red letters”, the words of Jesus, to which I grew up with as a Baptist in my King James Bible.  Less than a year after my reception into the Roman Catholic Church, a Holy Communion that is the anemnesis of Christs’ Passion, I find myself physically in Israel.  Receiving Holy Communion here was exponential to me in a spiritual sense.  Here the physical and spiritual united for me. 

The Church of Pater Noster remembers Jesus teaching us how to pray.  The “Our Father” is represented in many languages on tiled artwork on the walls.  I remember at Shepherd’s Field, I finally thought to myself, “Franciscans are everywhere.”  I briefly commented on the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land in a prior post.  I got used to seeing the now familiar habits in most of the Holy Places where we visited and/or celebrated Mass. 

I would encourage you to read and pray Psalm 88.  In those words, I felt a certain union with Christ as we gathered in the prison dungeon.

Holy Land Pilgrim Journal Day 4

Continuing with Day 4 of excerpts from my February 2000 Jubilee year Holy Land pilgrimage journal.

Day 4 – Friday, 2/18/00 Tiberias to Jerusalem via Jericho

The day begins with a journey to Haifa and Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel.   I have the first reading here and we have a beautiful view of the Mediterranean and Haifa.  Afterwards, a long journey to Jericho takes us to the desert regions and a new climate.  Most profound on this day is our journey from Jericho to Jerusalem traveling the Old Jericho Road.  The Old Jericho Road is narrow and winds its way through rocky mountains.  We stop mid-way for photo opportunities and I pick up a rock to bring home.  We have a view of St. George’s Monastery which is built into the side of the mountain.  We pass the Good Samaritan Inn on the way.  I can now appreciate how blessed the person was to see someone come by and willing to  help after he’d been robbed and beaten.

My description of riding the Old Jericho Road lacks the sheer terror I felt at times — the terror brought on by a teetering tour bus.  My window was on the right side and the mountain side was to our left.  Looking out my window and down — it was just down — as far down as I could see down the mountain side.  There was no shoulder on the road.  I was afraid to breathe.  We looked down into a canyon.  On a far away cliff side, our guide pointed out St. George’s Monastery.  The photo below is a close-up.  On a long shot, well, you’d never see it — except for the little blue specks of the domes.   If you click the source link under the text below, you will see another picture taken at a long distance.

A brief description of St. George’s Monastery and the area we were passing through….


Just a few minutes from the Jerusalem-Dead Sea highway, St. George’s Monastery awaits amid a spectacular biblical desert where Christian monks maintain their ancient way of life.
St. George’s Monastery began in the fourth century with a few monks who sought the desert experiences of the prophets, John the Baptist and Jesus, and settled around a cave where they believed Elijah was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:5-6).


The sixth-century cliff-hanging complex, with its ancient chapel and gardens, is still inhabited by a few Greek Orthodox monks. It is reached by a pedestrian bridge across the Kelt River canyon, which many imagine to be Psalm 23’s Valley of the Shadow, and where shepherds still watch over their flocks, just as Ezekiel 34 and John 10:1-16 describe.


The valley parallels the old Roman road to Jericho, the backdrop for the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). Source link….