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 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….



Holy Land Pilgrimage Day 3

Continuing with Day 3 of excerpts from my February 2000 Jubilee  year Holy Land pilgrimage journal

Day 3 – Thur, 2/17/2000 Sea of Galilee

The day begins with our boat ride across the Sea of Galilee on the “Jesus Boat.”  We stopped in the middle of the sea as our priest read the scriptures of Jesus calming the storm(Mat. 8:23-27).  We then reflected on fears in our lives today and the need to trust God.  I’m thinking specifically of decisions I’m currently trying to make at work and in my personal life.  Where does God want me?  Where next is He calling me?  What does does God mean in the dreams He sends to me?  The latest is of following a nun and of religious vows.  As strongly as I heard and answered the call to the Catholic Church as an adult, I believe the seed was there as a child.  I just didn’t understand it because I wasn’t nurtured in that way as a Baptist.  I never heard the word “vocation.”  These confusing emotions are all on my mind as I sit on the “Jesus Boat.”  I quietly hum daddy’s song again, “Walking the Sea.” 

We visit Tabgha, the place of the multiplication of loaves and fish and the place of Peter’s primacy – “Feed my lambs – tend my sheep.”  Mass was held at the Church of the Beatitudes (Mat. 5:1-12).  I did the first reading of several during the pilgrimage.  That made it extra special for me – to stand in the Holy places and read scripture during Mass.


It is interesting to recall the things that were on my mind during that first year.  I was approaching my first Catholic anniversary.  The Summer after my reception into the Church, I spent a lot of time researching information on the Internet.  It ranged from apologetics to Church history to vocations.  I’ve described the Mystagogia period as being “set adrift into the sea of Catholic opportunity.”  I looked into Catholic Singles and volunteered as a Life Teen Core Team member.  It was during this first Summer that I discovered the Secular Franciscans.   By the time I made my Holy Land pilgrimage, I’d made my first inquiry visits with the local SFO fraternity.  My pilgrimage also gave me a glimpse of the Franciscan Orders’ Custody of the Holy Land.  I was very intent upon God sending me a burning bush, or dropping some inscribed tablets out of the sky that would tell me exactly where he wanted me.  I was in Israel after all.  God should find me here  — shouldn’t He?  I was sure I was on His turf — literally in His front yard.


The “Jesus Boat” is a tourism business utilizing replica boats of an ancient fishing boat found on the bottom of the lake.  Check this link for excellent photos and history of this ancient find… Click here to visit the Jesus Boat and Museum

Holy Land Pilgrim Journal – Day 2

Continuing with excerpts of Day 2 of my February 2000 Jubilee pilgrimage to the Holy Land

Day 2 – Wednesday, 2/16/00 – Nazareth/Yardinet

I am wide awake at 4 AM.  There is a lightning storm and it is raining hard.  I pull the curtains back to watch the storm over the Sea of Galilee.  I’m thinking of the words to a song my dad likes to sing called, “Walking the Sea.”  The verse goes, “out upon the Sea of Galilee one night, angry waves dashed in maddening height as the disciples sailed in fright over the deep.  Rowing against contrary wind, knowing not what might be the end, Jesus came He their dearest friend, walking the sea.  Walking the stormy sea, walking the rolling sea, Jesus at night came unto them walking the sea.”  I open my Bible to read Mat. 8:23-27.  I hear Jesus more often reminding me that “Lo’ He is with me always.”  Though I feel especially close to Him at church, meditating before the crucifix, or, in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel during Adoration; Jesus reminds me that I should not lose sight that He is always with me.  He comes to us just as He came to His disciples so many years ago.  He walks with us and I feel that presence more every day.

Today Mass was at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth.  I slipped back down to the grotto of Mary’s house after Mass and prayed a decade of the rosary.  Today we also visited the Jordan River.  Some like to be re-baptized here.  But, my childhood baptism is so etched in my memory [and a Polaroid photo] that I’ve no desire to be dipped in the Jordan.  I even surprised myself to realize I feel that strongly about it.  We are all baptized in the same water – once for all time.

I’ve been reflecting on the words I wrote in regards to feeling especially close to Jesus in church.  I do feel the presence of Jesus in the Catholic Church in a way I never felt it in my Baptist church.  In February 2000, it was all still so new to me.  It is hard to describe.  I was on staff at my Baptist church and had a key.  I spent time in the sanctuary alone.  After completing my weekly bulletin printing, I would often walk in to the sanctuary and sit.   It was a profound emptiness when compared to the feeling I get upon entering a Catholic Church.   I can’t stress enough the fact that Jesus is fully present in the Catholic Mass and in the Tabernacle.  We are invited to a meal, a banquet, and the Host is there. 

There are things I recall which I did not write.  We were scheduled for Mass at the Church of the Annunciation.  When we arrived, another pilgrim group from New York, led by our same tour company, was preparing to begin Mass in the same chapel.  After some quick inquiries about the schedule conflict, it was decided we would join them and our priests con-celebrated.  Never in my life could I have imagined myself in Nazareth, at the place venerated for the Angel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary, with a group of strangers from New York — celebrating Mass.  That may have been my first “a-ha” understanding of the Universal Church.

The other thing I recall and did not write — the baptismal site at the Jordan River smelled really bad.  I wrinkled my nose and managed to get close enough to fill a few small bottles.  That was close enough for me.